When it comes to holiday celebrations, few cities hold a candle to Leavenworth. Visiting the Bavarian-themed village during winter is like stepping inside your favorite holiday storybook: Snowflakes swirl, the scent of roasting chestnuts is the air, carolers stroll the streets, and the city literally glows thanks to thousands upon thousands of twinkling lights.
If you prefer adventure to holiday nostalgia, awesome winter activities are everywhere as well. Strap on snowshoes to explore miles of trails, hit the slopes for downhill skiing, or try your hand at snowmobiling. If you get chilly, warm up with a cup of hot mulled wine, a plate of cheesy fondue, and a roaring fire. Take in a concert, browse one of the world’s largest nutcracker collections, and shop for gifts you won’t find anywhere else.
Check out the ideas and photos below, and a trip here might make it to the top of your holiday wishlist this year.
The dazzling light display is seriously next level.
Leavenworth’s aesthetic stands out any time of year, what with its brick-paved streets, traditional Bavarian architecture, and alpine setting — remember, this is an American city we’re talking about — but add half a million twinkling lights to the equation, and there are no words. The incredible display kicks off Thanksgiving weekend, the first of three weekend Christmas Lighting Festivals, when Leavenworth officially becomes the Village of Lights. No need to rush, though — the city remains lit up seven days a week, all winter long, through Valentine’s Day weekend.
Exploring the rugged backcountry is even more fun in the snow.
Snow isn’t meant for looking at. Trekking through fresh powder on snowshoes or gliding across groomed trails on cross-country skis is what winter is about, and Leavenworth has hundreds of miles of trails to explore and plenty of options for equipment rentals and instruction.
A solid recommendation for any Leavenworth first-timer is Plain Valley — 13 miles of groomed cross-country ski and skate trails make it a popular spot for all ages. Day passes are $12 for adults, $5 for ages 7 to 18, and free for 6 and under. You can rent cross-country skis or snowshoes or book a lesson to gain skills and confidence.
Then there’s Blue Sky Outfitters on Front Street, offering snowshoe tours for all experience levels — complete with shoes, poles, passes, and snacks. Got a grownups-only group? Kick it up a notch with the snowshoe/wine package, which features a guided trek followed by lunch and winery visits. If you’re serious about adventure seeking, consider a day-long backcountry ski class with Northwest Mountain School, or book a snowmobile tour with one of the operators in town.
There are nutcrackers. Thousands of nutcrackers.
Maybe you’ve cracked open a few walnuts in your day — or maybe you’ve never even seen a nutcracker. Either way, you’ll be blown away by the vast display at the Nutcracker Museum on Front Street. Star Wars nutcrackers, Wizard of Oz nutcrackers, Disney nutcrackers — they have pretty much all the nutcrackers, including some that are over 2,000 years old.
It’s open every day from 1 to 5pm, and tickets are cheap ($5 for adults, $3.50 for seniors, $2 for youth, and free for kids 6 and under). You can also buy a few souvenir nutcrackers for the traditional Christmas lovers on your list.
Christmas magic comes to life in Leavenworth.
Remember how much you used to look forward to Christmas? Now take a look at the kids’ faces when they notice Santa, Mrs. Claus, Father Christmas, and other characters wandering around Front Street Park during the lighting ceremony — pure magic.
Even better is touring the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm, where you can get up close and personal with a herd of reindeer. Petting, feeding, and taking selfies with the sorta-kinda-magical creatures are all fair game. Tickets are $10 (or $15 for the tour that features Santa, which should be booked in advance).
The hills are alive with the sound of…well, you know.
Local musicians are everywhere during Leavenworth’s holiday season, whether you’re window shopping downtown, sipping a German-style beer at a local pub, or taking in a show. Icicle Creek Center for the Arts puts on some noteworthy holiday performances, including a handbell ringer concert, a Bavarian-themed Christmas show, and a Celtic Yuletide concert. Leavenworth Community United Methodist Church on Evans Street hosts several harp concerts during the season, too. Plus, every morning at the Enzian Inn, you can see a lederhosen-clad musician play the alphorn. (It’s as legit as it sounds.)
You also don’t want to miss Leavenworth Village Voices. Catch this talented local choir performing at the gazebo at Front Street Park during weekend lightings, hear small groups of them caroling, or attend one of their “Christmas in the Mountains” concerts in December at the Nazarene Church on Ski Hill.
Dining on hot cheesy fondue is the best way to warm up.
It’s a cold day, and you’re craving hot cheese. It happens to everyone. When it comes to the traditional Swiss delicacy, you can’t really go wrong. But there’s something special about the fondue you’ll find in Leavenworth.
JJ Hills Fresh Grill at Icicle Village Resort makes their fondue from local Aasgard (Alpine gruyere) and adds a shot of Kirsch (brandy) for extra flavor. It’s served with bread and sliced apples and pears. At Uncle Uli’s Pub on Front Street, you can dunk chunks of rye bread and order a salty soft pretzel to soak up the extra fondue. (Rumor has it they carefully guard their secret recipe.) Mozart’s is a great stop, too — fondue pairs nicely with jazz — and Pavz Café Bistro goes the extra mile by making their own cheese. Plus, most restaurants along Front St. offer outdoor and indoor seating, so you can accidentally drizzle warm cheese sauce all over your chin wherever makes you happiest.
You can go on an old-fashioned sleigh ride.
Jingling bells. Clip-clopping hooves. A cozy blanket to keep you warm. No matter how old you are, there’s something fairy-tale-esque about gliding across the snow in a horse-drawn sleigh. If you plan ahead and make reservations, you’ll have options in Leavenworth. All the basic rides range from about $18 to $25 per adult, and they invite you to warm up with a hot drink afterward.
Eagle Creek Ranch offers various tours through meadows and woods, including a group ride on a big sleigh and a private tour for two. Mountain Springs Lodge runs daily sleigh rides, with options that serve breakfast before or dinner afterward. Red-Tail Canyon Farm does 30-minute rides through snowy fields and woods. Icicle Outfitters and Guides has sleigh trips through meadows and along the Icicle River.
The snow-covered hills are begging for fresh tracks from tubes, skis, and snowboards.
Like the best ski towns, Leavenworth caters to virtually every age and skill level. The little ones can get their thrills on the small sledding hill downtown, while bigger kids will enjoy the Leavenworth Ski Hill and Tubing Hill. (Ropetows make this a great spot for young skiers intimidated by chairlifts, as well as tubers who don’t like trudging back up the hill after a ride.) There’s some pretty great cross-country trails, too, and when they light up at night, the experience takes on a whole new feeling.
To give the bank account a break, check out Leavenworth’s discount Getaway and Stay & Play packages. Depending on the dates you want, you can snag half-off lift tickets for Stevens Pass, up to 25% lodging discounts, and a VIP activity card (starting in January) with discounts on dining, shopping, and activities.
Nutcrackers, music boxes, cuckoo clocks — the Leavenworth holiday shopping scene is the best.
For those who’ve elbowed their way through a crowded mall during the holidays, Leavenworth is a welcome reprieve. You can wander at your leisure in and out of delightful little stores that line pretty much the entire downtown.
Kris Kringl is particularly awesome because they sell Christmas items all year long — think 6,000 square feet of every type of holiday decoration you could imagine. (Where else could you find a beer drinker cuckoo clock?) Die Musik Box is also mandatory, featuring thousands of unusual musical items: jewelry boxes, clocks, ornaments, and more. If a bartender ornament that plays “Show Me the Way to Go Home” doesn’t delight you, nothing will.
Other spots you have to check out include The Bubblery for handmade goat milk soaps (if you’re not a believer yet, you will be), and Cup & Kettle when it’s time for a tea break. This probably only dents your shopping list, but it also only dents the list of shops in Leavenworth.
No hot drink has ever tasted so good.
When it’s cold outside in Leavenworth, you should be ordering a mug of red wine infused with cloves, cinnamon, citrus, and sugar. This is Glühwein — or mulled wine, if you prefer — and you have a multiple options to get your fix. While you’re wandering through downtown taking in the light display, stop at the Glühwein stand (they also serve hot cider). If you’d rather relax in a warm tasting room, head to Goose Ridge Estate Vineyard & Winery or Swakane Winery (both on Front Street), or check out Baroness Cellars — they do a fantastic white version of Glühwein called Engelwein, made with Gewurztraminer and ginger.
For the kids, it’s all about the hot cocoa. Try J5’s Coffee Shop and Espresso Bar on Ninth Street — theirs is made with steamed milk and 5 Sparrows House Chocolate. O’Grady’s Pantry & Mercantile (at the Sleeping Lady Resort) also makes a mean cup of cocoa, with just the perfect amount of sweetness.
The Bavarian Icefest is the coolest winter festival around.
Once the holiday excitement ends, the winter blahs can set in. But you don’t have to let them — keep the fun going at the annual Bavarian Icefest on January 13 and 14. The whole family can get in on the ice carving, snow sculptures, snowmobile sled pull, and fireworks. And remember those half a million twinkling lights? They’re still lit. This is Leavenworth in winter.