Ever since we started our Risk Blossoming adventure three years ago, we have welcomed destination recommendations from friends and followers. One that has repeatedly come up is Leavenworth, Washington. This year, we included it on our itinerary and planned both a rendezvous with our family and an extended stay for ourselves in this charming Bavarian-themed town, two hours east of Seattle.
Leavenworth, Washington simply looks like a town from the Alps of Southern Germany was scooped up and planted along the western slopes of Washington’s Cascade Mountains. Every structure in town looks Bavarian. The dramatic mountains that abruptly rise next to the town resemble the Alps. In an age where corporate logos must always match, national companies who want to be part of the Leavenworth landscape change their fonts for the Bavarian theme.
Leavenworth: The Back Story
Leavenworth was founded as a logging town and reached a population of 1,551 in 1910. Today, Leavenworth hasn’t grown much and posts a current population of 1,995. But this small town boasts lodging for an estimated 15,000. More than 25,000 visitors show up on December weekends for the Christmas lighting festival. Oktoberfest in the fall is another huge draw. Annually, more than 1.5 million people visit this themed hamlet.
Project LIFE (Leavenworth Improvement for Everyone) was formed in 1962 when the logging activity declined and the town struggled. A think group collaborated with the University of Washington, and together they came up with the idea of a themed town.
The most amazing thing is that everybody bought in. Residential homes and businesses alike came together and made the investment. There just isn’t anywhere you look that you don’t think and feel that you are in a Bavarian village filled with American tourists.
Leavenworth: The Theme Town
We arrived at the Leavenworth KOA on a Friday to enjoy a weekend of family camping with our daughters and grandsons. After they returned to Seattle on Sunday, Deborah and I stayed the following week. Every spot at the KOA was reserved on the weekend, and from the size of the crowds in town, I’m sure most hotel rooms were also taken. It seemed that almost everyone left Sunday or Monday morning, and by Tuesday, we pleasantly felt like we had the place to ourselves.
That day, we went to town for the first time. We parked around 11:30 am and purchased a ticket for two hours. As we strolled Front Street, we went into several shops, all Bavarian themed. There were Christmas shops, which seemed totally okay here in July. Then we went in Kestrel Vintners where in the back we found salted caramel German chocolates at Schocolat. There were more shops between stops for German beer at the Bavarian Ritz Hotel, bratwurst and kielbasa, more beer at the Leavenworth Sausage Company, and a parking ticket for exceeding two hours.
Later that week, we returned to Front Street, buying a longer pass for parking. Once again, we enjoyed the charming shops, enjoyed the salted caramel German chocolates, and more beer, bratwurst, and kielbasa! We could easily return to Leavenworth many times without ever tiring of the place.
Leavenworth: Day Trips
During the week, we also took several explorational day trips. To the south is the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery and Icicle Creek. We found the hatchery to be an interesting and entertaining stop. It was completed in 1940 to keep salmon and steelheads in the Columbia River system. Grand Coulee Dam blocked their natural progression up the river. At the time the hatchery was constructed, it was the largest salmon hatchery in the world. 1.2 million fingerlings are released yearly, and those surviving will eventually come back up the Columbia to the Wenatchee and finally the Icicle before returning to the hatchery to spawn. To the north and west, we drove up to the summit of Stevens Pass as Highway US 2 winds its way over the Cascades. It actually snowed while we were there.
Grand Coulee Dam
Finally, we took a day trip to the northeast to see the Grand Coulee Dam. It was an interesting day driving through an area that was once covered with ice. Former Ice Age glaciers left giant boulders in what are now vast wheat fields. The fields offered unending waves as the wind moved over the hills. To the south of the dam is an immense gorge area called the Grand Coulee that was carved by the ice. The namesake dam is not here. It blocks the Columbia River, which snakes around but does not flow through the Grand Coulee.
The Grand Coulee Dam is a mile wide and 550 feet tall from bedrock. At the time it was completed in 1940, it was the largest concrete structure in the world. Still today, it is only surpassed by the Three Gorges Dam, completed in 2012, in China. The strange thing about Grand Coulee is, because it’s so long, it doesn’t seem as tall as it is. Initially. I expected more. At the same time, its size left me amazed at what I saw.
We returned to Leavenworth traveling along Columbia River. It is often hard to tell whether Columbia is a river or a lake. The river has more than 35 dams with Grand Coulee Dam and its resulting Lake Roosevelt being the largest.
Still, every time I see any portion of Columbia River, I am overwhelmed by its size. All told, the dams on the river produce more than 40% of all hydro-electric power in the US. They have a capacity to produce 29 gigawatts, enough to power 20,300,000 homes for a year!
Thanks to our friends and followers who have consistently asked, “Have you been to Leavenworth?” I am so grateful that Tim included it on our “Risk Blossoming 2019 World Tour” itinerary—and gave us ample time to explore the town and the surrounding area.
My inner world traveler loved the vibe that the citizens of this town have so successfully invested in and created. As Tim and I walked down Leavenworth’s Front Street, with the beautiful hanging flower baskets and store clerks in Bavarian costume, it was easy to imagined that we’d been dropped into the center of a European Alpine village.
I would love to visit Leavenworth in October and experience one of their Oktoberfest celebrations! And our daughter has already made reservations for her family to return for Leavenworth’s magical Christmas lighting festival in December.
You can bet that we will return! I can’t wait to experience another magical “Bavarian” afternoon! An afternoon where we can wander, relax, and enjoy the amazing German food and beer, and share in the fun of this beautiful themed town in the Cascade Mountains of Washington!!