Leavenworth in December

A panoramic view of the center of Leavenworth, Washington.

There is a darling Bavarian town in Washington state called Leavenworth. It is two hours’ drive east of Seattle, where we were staying at a hotel for two nights.

Well, the village at least appears Bavarian, though beneath the surface it’s not as authentic as one would hope. And as the years go by, it becomes more and more a purely tourist trap filled with overpriced gift shops and so many wine tasting shops. Still, it’s worth a look. I have been there often, mostly because one of my favourite wilderness areas has a trailhead just outside of town. But I had never seen it decked out for Christmas. Christmas, it turns out, is the peak time of year for this place.

We left the Seattle area, headed East, and were excited when we began seeing snow on the mountains around us.
The sky was mostly cloudy, but often still bright, and it lit up the canyons as we approached Leavenworth.

Our plans were to arrive a little before sundown, so that we could go exploring and see the town in daylight, then not have much of a wait to see the town at night. I was looking forward to the Christmas light display. In previous years, Leavenworth had an official lighting ceremony, in which all the lights came on at a particular time each Friday, and stay lit for the weekend, so thousands would show up all at the same time and gather. This is clearly a bad idea during a pandemic. Their current policy is: lights on 24/7. That means people get to see them whenever they show up, and thus the crowds are much smaller. We arrived on a Tuesday and there was no crowd at all.

Approaching downtown Leavenworth, you’ll notice the signs are in German.

The area was heavily settled in the late 1800s when white people arrived to take advantage of the treasures here: furs, timber, and gold. When those resources were used up, the town had to come up with a way to survive. After almost becoming a ghost town, town leaders in the 1960s thought to take advantage of the atmosphere of the surrounding mountains and complete the Bavarian theme. The whole town was redesigned, and festivities were invented throughout the year, to keep people coming back. It totally worked. A million visitors a year show up here.

This woman checking her phone while eating a sausage next to a bear was adorable. I asked her permission to take her photo.

Today the entire town center has building restrictions that require new facilities to complement the theme. From the Safeway to the Subway and the 76, every building looks traditionally European from the outside.

The sign says, “Starbucks Coffee.”
This metal structure on the roof of the small hospital is designed to hold snow. Note the timbered roof and lamp fit right in with the town’s design.
Even the sign for the skate park says, “Willkommen”
In one building we found this display of costumes for Santa Claus-type characters.

We walked a couple of streets to get a good look at it, then decided to hike Waterfront Park while we still had a little daylight. It had snowed the day before, and a dusting remained on the trail. It was cold the whole time we were there, hovering around 30-31 degrees (-1 to -0.5 C). By the time we completed the park trails, we were ready to head back into town and find a warm place to sit.

After we finished our beers, we headed back out and now it was time for the lights. The sun dropped quickly and night advanced.

We had a brief glimpse of both the lights and the mountains before it grew dark.
The shops began to glow.
The central square is filled with trees, and those trees are filled with lights.
Here is the same tree from the other direction.
Gustav’s German restaurant is a main attraction.
Cold, but smiling.
Pedro’s favourite was the red and white tree.
Leavenworth glistens at night in December.
Every single one is a tourist trap. But so pretty, we didn’t care. We stayed mostly on the outside and looked.

We were happy and satisfied. We climbed back into the Jeep, cranked up the heater, and made the drive back over the snowy pass toward Seattle.

18 thoughts on “Leavenworth in December

    1. Oh I’m so glad you liked the photo of her. She was sitting there, looking at her phone, chatting with her adult son standing nearby. I told her that the scene was wonderful and I begged her to let me take a photo. I’m sure that my delighted face was part of what caused her own.

  1. I love the photo of you two the most. Indeed, quite a European feel. I’d say that many of the Alpine towns are just as much tourist traps. Funny that the signs are in German. You did well to come for both day and night.

    1. I think the German on the signs is a nice touch, and yes, it turned out to be a good idea to see both day and night. The lights were lovely, but those mountains are not to be missed! I’m glad we had that photo taken. It went just like the one in the colosseum: a couple asked us to take theirs, and in return they offered to take ours.

  2. I’ve been there twice but never at Christmas time. Always afraid it would get snowed in. We stayed in a room over the bookstore. Doesn’t get any better than that. I loved visiting there. Glad you had a chance to see all the lights.

    1. OH how neat, a room over the bookstore. That sounds perfect for you! Since Pedro and I are both from snow country, we felt comfortable with the possibility of a snowstorm. Between the two of us, we would have been able to navigate the pass, even in snow. But we got lucky and the roads were good the whole time. On the way in, it was pretty slushy, but not icy.

  3. Peggy and I passed through there three years ago, Crystal, but we didn’t stay. We came if from the eastern side of the Cascades and crossed over. Very scenic route. My favs: The park trails (what can I say, I’m a nature boy :)), the trees lit up (always love it when towns do that), the last panoramic shot, and you and Pedro, (naturally). –Curt

    1. I can relate, Curt. I often prefer the trail scene even when I’m visiting a city, like these here. The lit up trees were remarkably beautiful. I loved how they adorned the weeping birch trees, so the lighted branches bent over: very cool look. And yes, it seems that the pic of me and Pedro was a hit. 🙂

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