Located east of Seattle in the heart of Washington State, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover a quaint German-themed town nestled in the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Inspired by the Danish-styled aesthetics and Europeanesque charm of Solvang, California, Leavenworth’s allure comes from its faux Bavarian buildings and Alpine feel, especially when snow blankets the region in the wintertime.
Admittedly, I had never heard of Leavenworth before. But after seeing stunning photos of the town bedazzled in Christmas radiance, I was compelled to make arrangements for my tyke and I to visit. After my initial research, I decided for our trip to coincide with the town’s Bavarian IceFest – a celebration of winter that occurs yearly during the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
I have to say, pictures can’t do this place justice. Leavenworth during the holiday season is simply gorgeous. With over half a million twinkling lights adorning the village core all the way through Valentine’s Day weekend, it’s a winter wonderland that even the most hardened of scrooges can’t deny.
Just to be clear, Leavenworth is lovely all year round with activities for every member of the family to enjoy. However, we were there only briefly in the winter and so our suggestions are cold-season specific. So willkommen and hope you find our recommendations of winter activities in Leavenworth with kids useful.
Join in on the Icefest Activities
During the two-day winter festival, there are lots of games and activities to participate in or simply spectate. Just a few of the fun things to do include the Great Frisbee Sweep and Ice Cube Scramble for kids, and snow sculpturing and smooshing race for entire families. There’s also sled pulling offered by the local snowmobile club and certified snowsports instructors on hand to teach little would-be groms the basics in skiing and snowboarding.
Explore Downtown Leavenworth
Downtown Leavenworth is small, so everything can easily be accessed on foot and there’s certainly no shortage of hotels, restaurants and cafes, and beer gardens. The town’s Bavarian storefronts also reveal art galleries, shops specializing in cheeses, meats, and chocolates, several wineries and tasting rooms, and more. Just explore and see what you might discover. In the unfortunate event that you or a family member fall ill during your trip (like I did), the Village Pharmacy is there to help. They also stock travel essentials and cheap souvenirs. And if you’re wanting to prepare your own meals, there’s Dan’s Food Market, the supermarket chain Safeway, and a Mexican tienda all within a mile and a half east of downtown on Hwy 2.
Play in the Snow at Front Street Park
Considered the heart of Leavenworth, Front Street Park is the entertainment and recreation hub of the town. All the major events, including festivals, parades, and live entertainment take place here. And in the wintertime, the gentle slope on the big lawn transforms into every little boy’s and girl’s favorite spot to sled on and have fun in the snow. Ry loved swooshing down the slight gradient and just getting his hands on the cold powder.
Take a Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride
Icicle Outfitters and Guides
7935 East Leavenworth Road, Leavenworth, WA
Direct: 509-669-1518 | Toll Free: 1-800-497-3912 | icicleoutfitters.com
Hands down our most memorable activity in Leavenworth was the horse-drawn sleigh ride with Icicle Outfitters and Guides. Ry loved it so much that we did it two days in a row and with the same guide. We chose Icicle Outfitters because of their complimentary transportation to and from our hotel and Ry’s immediate attachment to our assigned guide.
The sleigh ride itself wasn’t long enough though, only 30 minutes. But the route meanders through open meadows and along the Icicle River, providing riders with stunning and breathtaking views you’d normally only find in the movies. At the end of the magical journey you’re offered a hot beverage inside a heated tent.
Visit the Nutcracker Museum
735 Front Street, Leavenworth, WA 98826
Direct: 509-548-4573 | nutcrackermuseum.com
Nussknacker Haus (nutcracker store)
735 Front Street, Leavenworth, WA 98826
Direct: 509-548-4708 | Toll Free: 1-800-892-3989 | nussknackerstore.com
A unique attraction in Leavenworth, the Nutcracker Museum pays homage to the ever so useful nut-busting tool. The museum, founded by village locals, George and Arlene Wagner boasts a collection of several thousand nutcrackers from all over the world with some dating as far back as 500 years. My little guy liked roaming up and down the aisles of glass display cases and was particularly amused by the Disney and Star Wars themed nutcrackers. He also got a kick out of all the life sized ones too. And if you’re willing to shell out a few hundred bucks on an authentic German-made nutcracker, you can do that at the Nussknacker Haus below the museum.
Have a Cookie at The Gingerbread Factory
The Gingerbread Factory
828 Commercial Street, Leavenworth, WA 98826
Direct: 509-548-6592 | gingerbreadfactory.com
The Gingerbread Factory, a cafe serving baked goods and savory dishes, and offering a full espresso bar makes for a sweet stop on your Leavenworth visit. Tucked behind the shops of Front Street, part of the bakery’s draw is its charming facade resembling that of a … you guessed it – a gingerbread house. Since we were still full from our lunch we just opted for a snickerdoodle and a few of the mini gingerbread cookies. We loved the soft sugar cookie, but the cute gingerbread cookies were a tad too spicy for our taste. FYI, there’s free WiFi here.
Dine at Watershed Cafe
2221 8th Street, Leavenworth, WA
Direct: 509-888-0214 | watershedpnw.com
Considered one of the best restaurants in town, the Watershed Cafe is a farm to table establishment that prides itself on serving locally sourced food from the Pacific Northwest. Watershed’s menu is inventive, but not pretentious. For families, they offer a kid’s menu and coloring placemats with crayons. I ordered Ry a PB&J sandwich with apple slices and a juice box, but he was just too tuckered out to take a bite of anything and immediately fell asleep on the comfy bench seating with ample pillows. Delectable food combined with fantastic service in a casual atmosphere makes this restaurant my top choice of where to eat in Leavenworth.
Order a German Sausage at München Haus
Since this is a German-themed community you must get a taste of Bavaria at any one of the beer gardens in town. A tourist and local favorite is Munchen Haus, specializing in sausages and offering craft beers on tap, as well as an exciting condiment bar featuring apple cider sauerkraut and a wide selection of specialty mustards such as champagne honey, amber ale, and more. My personal pick is Helga’s Giant Kelbassi, a 1/3 pound pork and beef Polish sausage with a little apricot and ginger mustard.
Watch the Fireworks Display
IceFest concludes with Leavenworth’s auf wiedersehen (farewell) to winter with a fireworks display over the village. Gather at the Front Street Gazebo for the perfect viewing spot and photo opps. Unfortunately, we were late getting out of our hotel that we just decided to watch from the sidewalk on Hwy 2, which offered similarly fantastic views.
Did you see the fireworks tonight to cap off Icefest 2017? Hope you enjoyed the show! #leavenworth #bavarianvillage #christmaslights #fireworks #events #icefest #sledding #ncwpics #pnw #washington #thingstodo #cascadeloop #boom #familyfun #winter #snow #frontstreetpark #highway2 #travel #explorewashington