I was thinking about the little tourist town of Leavenworth, Washington the other day, and so here I am to present my travel experiences to “Little Bavaria.” Leavenworth is nestled along the eastern slopes of the Cascades of Washington. To give a point of reference, if you start from Seattle, travel north on Interstate 5 to US 2 and head east. Give yourself a leisurely two hour drive. You’ll pass through several small towns in the foothills of the Cascades, many of which are connected to a long history of the Great Northern Railway Company. Speaking of trains, I’ll get to that a little bit later in this blog. The highlight of the road trip is driving through Stevens Pass with its spectacular views. Then as you descend down the eastern side of the Cascades, you’ll notice the Wenatchee River following along the side of the road. This is a popular rafting river. If you really want to be amazed, travel this route in the spring when the river is roaring with raging, tall rapids. It really is spectacular! There are a few spots to pull off the road to snap a few photos, but not many, and only enough space for one or two cars. As you pull into the town of Leavenworth, I suggest using the large, unpaved parking area on the left side of the road to avoid parking and traffic hassles just up the road, and walk a bit to the businesses. During the busy summer season, finding a parking space close to all the shops can be elusive. Another hint: arrive early in the day before noontime.
What is Leavenworth, and why is it such an attractive tourist town? First a bit of history. Leavenworth had a bustling logging and sawmill industry, and the Great Northern Railroad helped to spur its economy in the late 1800’s. When the rail line decided to move its route away from the town, the town’s economy took a turn for the worst. Sawmills shut down and the town lived on the brink of financial disaster for decades. It was in the early 1960’s that the townspeople voted to do something to bring tourists into town as a last ditch effort to keep the town going. They used their imaginations, and with the inspirational views of the Alpine-like scenery as the backdrop for their town, they decided to transform Leavenworth into a Bavarian style village. What a fantastic idea! But would it work? It certainly did!
People who have visited Germany exclaim how similar the town’s architecture style is to the real Bavaria. Even German born nationals are impressed. The streets of Leavenworth are lined with all sorts of unique shops featuring international gifts and food items. Here you will find famous Black Forest cuckoo clocks, nutcrackers, steins, music boxes, and lots of Christmas ornaments all year round. And did I mention the street musicians? No lack of oompah music here! There is the May Fest, and yes, there is a traditional May Pole dance. Octoberfest is probably their biggest celebration. And then there’s Christmas! The whole town is done up in a beautiful light display and Santa is eager to greet you. There are even sleigh rides! It snows on this side of the Cascades, unlike its damp, rainy western counterpart. Want to stay a while? I don’t blame you. There’s no lack of European style hotels, resorts, and bed-and-breakfast inns.
I did mention trains a while back. If one doesn’t want to drive, especially during the precarious winter season, you’re in luck. Amtrak has recently added a new stop in Leavenworth. The Empire Builder train makes a daily stop eastbound at 8pm and 6:08am westbound. There is shuttle service at the small Leavenworth Icicle Station. For more information about this unique little Bavarian town, visit www.leavenworth.org
© Peggy A Thompson