How to Have More Fun in Leavenworth WA in the Winter

Jennifer Keller Avatar
Leavenworth winter activities - corner view onto light park at night.
It’s not called the “Village of Lights” for nothing! Behold Winter Karnevale in Leavenworth. Photo credit: Jennifer Keller

The writer was hosted.

I’d heard the hype about Leavenworth for years, but hadn’t made it to the Bavarian-themed village in Washington’s Cascade Mountains until my preschooler’s love of Christmas lights prompted me to check out the rumored magic. After a lifetime of global travels, Leavenworth is one of those few places that surpassed my expectations!

My first night in town, after a delicious meal at Watershed Cafe, I strolled down Front Street to behold the spectacular light display at the town center. With snow falling all around, as couples and families delighted in the scene, I fell in love with winter again.

If you’re lucky enough to visit Leavenworth in winter, bring your layers, your mittens, and let your winter wonderland cup get filled! Locals have plenty of stories and tips to share—everywhere I turned I met someone with a festive spirit and helpful hand.

Read on about how to make the most of the winter wonderland that is Leavenworth! With no shortage of winter activities, fabulous dining and fun options for winter cozy time, you might make Leavenworth your must-do winter trip in the Pacific Northwest too.

It’s rich with options for family trips, a couple’s getaway, a girls weekend or even a solo sojourn.

Leavenworth winter activities - taking a carriage ride with a mountain view.
Snow-blanketed Cascade Mountains form the backdrop of Leavenworth. Photo Credit: Jennifer Keller

Winter Wonderland Activities in Leavenworth

There’s so much to do in Leavenworth you’ll have no shortage of options for snow fun. Craving a less active winter getaway? You’re in the right place for that too!

Whether winter sports are your thing or you’re content with cocoa and a fire (or, both!) Leavenworth has a place for you.

Leavenworth winter activities - strolling through the lights on Front Street.
Play & stroll through the lights on Front Street. Photo Credit: Jennifer Keller

Lights at Night + Town Stroll Anytime

Perhaps the most enjoyable and beautiful aspect of a stay in Leavenworth is that you could show up, park your car and savor the town by foot (or sled!) the entire time.

The Bavarian village’s walkability is a prime reason it feels European. Stroll at your leisure, poke around and let the day or night unfurl from one delight to the next.

Downtown Leavenworth is a haven of eateries, distinctive shops, breweries and wine/cider tasting rooms. With convenient Front Street Park as the town anchor—and epicenter of the Village of Lights Festival—you can roam without a plan and have a great time.

SheBuysTravel Tip: For a memorable tour around town, try a horse-drawn carriage ride! Catch a ride at the end of Front Street and see the sights an old-fashioned way. Just note that the wait for these rides can take hours in December. Yet another reason for slightly off-season trips!

Leavenworth with Littles

Front Street Park is the place to be. With mini sled runs and a pedestrian-only cocoon, you’ll love having the freedom to let young children run around and discover the joys of snow.

Bring your own sled! We often towed our young daughter around town by sled during our visit.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Public restrooms are centrally located next to the warm-up gazebo at the center of Front Street Park.

Leavenworth winter activities - sledding at Front Street Park at night.
Front Street park at night is great kid-sized fun and blast for everyone! Photo Credit: Icicle TV

Sledding & Tubing

Is there anything more gleeful than sliding down snow with friends and family? Regardless of age, getting in some sledding during your visit to Leavenworth will be sure to add some laughs and joy to your trip.

Bring your own sled and pop on the small runs right downtown in Front Street Park! This easy and amazing option for everybody lets you get your snow fix in between cocoa fixes and meals. The atmosphere here—day and night!—is convivial and casual. One of the best things to do in Leavenworth!

Need a little more height or action in your sledding hill? Check out the tubing park at Leavenworth Ski Hill or the nearby, public Sno Park on Chiwawa Loop Road.

Leavenworth winter activities - horse drawn sleigh ride
Doesn’t get more winter wonderland than a sleigh ride! Photo Credit: Icicle TV

Sleigh Ride!

What could say “Winter Wonderland” more than a horse-drawn sleigh ride? Lucky for you, several local outfitters offer the chance to fulfill your Christmas lyric dreams.

Leavenworth Sleigh Rides, Eagle Creek Ranch and Icicle Outfitters offer sleigh rides throughout the winter season.

Group size varies by outfitter and sled—book early in the high season!

Live out your Christmas carol or Frozen dreams while in Leavenworth! Photo Credit: Leavenworth Reindeer Farm

Leavenworth Reindeer Farm

Maybe you have a Frozen-crazy child. Maybe you didn’t know reindeer could even live here in the lower 48. Whatever your reason, get yourself to Leavenworth Reindeer Farm during your Leavenworth trip—the tour is rare because guests get to go into the reindeer enclosure, gaining an up-close view of these majestic creatures.

Family-owned and operated, this local gem is a must-do.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Advance booking during high season/winter is a must and the farm closes in March during birthing season!

Leavenworth winter activities - nighttime, torchlit snowshoe tour.
Nighttime, torchlit snowshoe tour at Icicle Ridge Winery. Photo Credit: Don Wood

Snowshoe Trails & Tours

Craving some outdoor time and exercise at a slower pace? Snowshoeing is your answer! A beautiful way to get in some steps while enjoying the sights and snow-hushed sounds of nature in winter.

Leavenworth and the nearby area has several amazing options for snowshoe trails. Lake Wenatchee State Park, Plain Valley Ski Trails and Leavenworth Winter Sports Club all offer snowshoe trails. Waterfront Park just off downtown, the nearby National Fish Hatchery and Icicle Gorge Nature Loop are other local snowshoe options.

Need to rent showshoes? No problem. Many local outlets can outfit you for your visit.

Leavenworth in winter - breaking a snowshoe trail through the grapevines.
Snowshoeing through the vines! Photo Credit: Jennifer Keller

Shoeshowing + Wine = Winter Wonderful

Looking for an especially unforgettable snowshoe tour or winter magic experience? Coordinate your trip with one of Icicle Ridge Winery’s renowned night snowshoe and wine-tasting events!

Offered only in the month of January, this annual series gives you a behind-the-scenes tour of this local, esteemed winery—the area’s first.

Owners Kristen and Don Wood host these special events (snowshoeing in the winter, hiking and live music in the summer) and regale guests with authentic, first-hand glimpses into the winery’s history. The hospitality is remarkable, the wine and food are fantastic, the shared stories rich and the torch-lit tour by snowshoe unforgettable. One of the best travel add-ons I’ve ever experienced!

SheBuysTravel Tip: Booking in advance is recommended—these tours sell out months in advance (ask to get on the waitlist if needed; winter weather can mean cancellations are common.) Can’t make it at night? Visit the winery for wine tasting during daytime hours! The original hand-built, log-structure winery is unique, stunning and full of personality. Or, visit the two downtown locations to enjoy Icicle Ridge wine in town.

Leavenworth winter activities - Iced Icicle Ridge Winery port in iced glasses.
Iced Icicle Ridge Winery port in iced glasses! Winter recycling at its best. Photo Credit: Don Wood

Downhill Skiing & Snowboarding

Curious to try skiing or snowboarding for the first time? Have kids who need a beginner’s hill? Local Leavenworth Winter Sports Club has you covered for all your winter sport needs.

Leavenworth Ski Hill has two rope tows and affordable lessons. Non-skiers in your group? No problem—Leavenworth Ski Hill has a tubing hill for children and sledding on its golf course as an option for younger children, as well as fat-tire biking and snowshoe trails.

Looking for more advanced ski trail options? Stevens Pass ski area is about an hour west from Leavenworth for a day trip.

Want some speed through the snow without the hassle (or bodily fatigue!) of skiing? Leavenworth Snowmobile Tours offers daily tours of the snowy backcountry. Leavenworth Snowmobile Rentals can hook you up if you prefer to explore this stunning area on your own.

Pristine cross-country conditions make Leavenworth a Nordic skiing destination. Photo Credit: Icicle TV

Cross-Country Skiing

The Leavenworth area is a nordic skier’s dream—with no shortage of groomed trails and delightful après-ski culture in town, you can ski, drink, eat and repeat.

Leavenworth Winter Sports Club’s Icicle River Trails and the nearby Plain Valley Ski Trails area are great options for Nordic skiing and skate-skiing.

Want a great day excursion? Head to Plain Hardware in nearby Plain, WA to rent equipment and then hop on the Plain Valley Ski trail system. Enjoy breakfasts before or after at the locally beloved Old Mill Cafe!

Traveling with children who want to try out nordic skiing? Ask for Cyndi with the Plain Valley Ski lesson roster—she’s great with kids and is a former coach of the local youth ski team!

Leavenworth winter activities - Plain Valley Ski Instructor, Cyndi.
Plain Valley Ski instructor Cyndi—your go-to for kids’ lessons! Photo Credit: Jennifer Keller

Indoor Things to Do in Leavenworth in Winter

Need a non-shopping, cheap way to get inside from the cold that has a big “Wow!” factor? Head to the Leavenworth Nutcracker museum just off Front Street, across from the downtown snow park.

With 9,000+ nutcrackers, an endearing history and a low entry price (children are free!) you can’t miss this local institution and global showcase of all things nutcracker.

Leavenworth winter activities - local legend, Kris Kringl store.
Local legend and gem Kris Kringl — yes, this store is worth the visit. Photo Credit: Jennifer Keller

Kris Kringl!

Even if you’re not a Christmas store aficionado, or much of a window-shopper, locally-owned legend and Santa-approved Kris Kringl is worth a visit.

I’m not much of a shopper, and my threshold for sensory overload is low, and I still adored this store. It blew my mind, in the best way!

Second-generation owner Jessica Evans oversees this long-standing, two-story Christmas extravaganza, with a fantastic staff who’s eager to help you find the perfect ornament from the thousands of options on hand.

From museum-piece works of art to delightful, family-friendly baubles, the eye candy in this store will lift your spirits. Don’t miss the snow globe alcove!

SheBuysTravel Tip: Traveling with children and don’t want to have to say “no” at every turn? Tell them it’s a Christmas museum, for looking and not buying. That got me about an hour there without incident!

Leavenworth winter activities - snowglobe alcove at Kris Kringl.
Is there any better Christmas decoration than a snow globe? Photo Credit: Jennifer Keller

Drink Some Wine (or Cider or Beer)

Need some downtime from all the snow play? Just want to curl up with loved ones and enjoy some indoor, winter elixirs? There’s no shortage of great beverage options in Leavenworth, whether you’re with your family, your bestie or a group of friends.

Looking for wine tasting, given Washington’s premier status as a global wine producer? You’re in luck—dozens of wineries have tasting rooms downtown or in the hills nearby.

In the winter months be sure to try each location’s version of Glüwein (mulled wine). For local wineries and tasting rooms with local owners head to WineGirlWines, Eagle Creek’s d’Vinery, or Icicle Ridge Winery’s downtown and uptown locations to begin your mulled wine introduction!

Some wine for your snowshoe picnic or hotel room? Head to locally-owned Broken Barrel wine and cider shop.

Want to taste your wine in an igloo? Head to Silvara in the nearby hills.

More in a cider kind of mood? Leavenworth Cider and Bushel & Bee Taproom are not to be missed!

Are beer and spirits on your drink list? Need a good lager to pair with your Bavarian brats or pretzels? Icicle Brewing (and its beloved food branch, München Haus) and Blue Spirits Distilling are your go-to spots.

Leavenworth winter activities - gingerbread treats at the Gingerbread Factory.
Treats from Gingerbread Factory (and cider for the parents!) = great post-sledding pitstop. Photo Credit: Jennifer Keller

Hot Chocolate and Treats

Want something on the sweet side, for the whole family? Hot chocolate tour! The gingerbread house and cookie treats at the Gingerbread Factory are not to be missed and pair perfectly with something from their cocoa and coffee bar. Nearly next door is local purveyor Schocolat—serving up delectable chocolate candies and cocoa.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Need to unwind with a good book over your mulled wine or cocoa? Head to locally-owned bookshop A Book For All Seasons, right on Front Street and adjacent to the downtown snow park. Want to dig into a mystery series featuring Leavenworth? Check out Ellie Alexander’s Sloane Krause series. Prefer a good romance? Don’t miss Sheila Roberts’ Life In Icicle Falls 10-book series! Want to learn about how this Bavarian wonderland came to be? Pick up Ted Price’s Miracle Town: Creating America’s Bavarian Village in Leavenworth, WA.

Leavenworth winter activities - salad from Watershed Cafe.
Best salad of my life? Quite possibly. Watershed Cafe farm-to-table goodness. Photo Credit: Jennifer Keller

Where to Eat in Leavenworth WA

No visit to Leavenworth would be complete without exploring its wide range of high-quality eateries, at all price points.

For German-inspired fare, the well-regarded, 30+ year-old Andreas Keller restaurant (with the fancier option Mozart upstairs) is the go-to choice for a classic, sit-down experience. (Call ahead to get on the waitlist.)

Need a brat fix but want something more casual? Check out München Haus for stand-out sausage, pretzel, and beer options.

Want an extensive beer list, in a casual atmosphere, with great rootbeer-barbeque ribs? Try Sasquatch-themed Stein (my husband swears by their camp beans).

Need a break from all-thing-Bavaria and want a nice meal? For Mediterranean-inspired fare head to Sulla Vita for the wood-fired pizza, stand-out menu and outdoor eating options (heated in winter!).

For a PNW foodie-Italian experience Larch is the place to check out.

Curious to try a farm-to-table menu with fabulous cocktail and wine options? Let Chef Rodrigo at Watershed Cafe make you the best salad you’ll ever have (bison carpaccio & arugula with shaved parmesan!) and consider trying the local classic “Million Dollar Meatloaf.” Each item on the rotating, locally-sourced and seasonal menu is fantastic and prepared with a stellar touch. My meal (and perfect martini!) here kept me talking about it for days. Thank you Rodrigo!

Want some good ol’ comfort food to match the winter vibe? Head to Yodelin Broth Company for body and soul-nourishing soups and more.

Need some great pizza for the littles (and yourself!)—fantastic wood-fired pizza at Tumwater Bakery in a casual setting is your best bet. (Dealing with hangry kids? Call ahead to order!) Classic margherita/cheese, plus an array of “adult” topping combos means there’s something for everyone in your party. Tumwater makes out-of-sight bread as well (featured at Watershed Cafe).

Leavenworth winter activities - Pension Anna hotel.
With museum-quality Bavarian decor, and chapel suites for rent (!) Pension Anna is a lovely, perfectly located hotel option just off Front Street. Photo Credit: Erika/Pension Anna

Where to Stay in Leavenworth: Pension Anna

The convenience of staying downtown, just off Front Street, especially with included parking, can’t be overstated. It lets you forget about parking, walk out the door and explore by foot (or sled).

The family-owned Pension Anna is a fantastic option for families and couples. Have a group or special occasion? Ask about their suites in the adjacent chapel! They offer a truly one-of-a-kind opportunity for small groups to stay together in an unforgettable, Bavarian setting.

Owners Erika and Martin have sustained the museum-quality decor within the entire hotel, and along with staff create a welcoming atmosphere with memorable, non-kitschy details.

Baby, child, adult—everyone can take delight in something at Leavenworth! Photo Credit: Jennifer Keller

Where is Leavenworth in Washington State?

Nestled at the foot of the Cascade mountain range, and along the Wenatchee River, Leavenworth is a picture-perfect mountain town about 2.5 hours east of Seattle (depending on traffic and weather conditions) or 3.5 hours west of Spokane.

Curious to get there old-school style? Take Amtrak’s Empire Builder route and disembark at Icicle Station, just a few minutes away from downtown Leavenworth!

Driving there? Make sure you check out the weather forecast — snowfall can impact local driving conditions dramatically.

When is the Best Time of the Year to Visit?

Leavenworth is a fantastic year-round destination. Note that December is an especially high season. If your travel schedule allows, visting in January and February for Winter Karnevale lets you enjoy the famed lights without quite as much hubbub or wait-time at local businesses.

Able to travel during the week? Even better! Crowds diminish and parking is easier.

Visiting Leavenworth on a weekend? Just be aware that numbers increase on weekends, but with a little gumption and patience the winter magic glosses over the parking search. For featured winter weekend events check out the festival calendar here.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Arrive in the morning if you can to snag a great parking spot. The lots are much more open then!

A writer, educator and mama living in Walla Walla, Washington, Jennifer has spent the past decade living in the shrub-steppe deserts of California, Colorado and Washington. But she’s really most at home in the tropical forests of Indonesia and coastal Washington. Check out recent nonfiction at The Threepenny Review and
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