Seattle does the holidays pretty well, but just two hours out, Leavenworth is by far my favorite place to go in the winter season. I visit the area often throughout the year, as I’m all about Oktoberfest vibes there in the fall and, I make it a point to swing by every summer when I’m en route to my annual camping trip in Lake Chelan. However, there are so many fun things to do in Leavenworth in winter that I find it impossible to stay away.
Picture this: a Bavarian-style town, decked out like Santa’s own vacation spot, tucked away in the Washington mountains. We’re talking Christmas lights on every timber-framed building and the aroma of bratwurst and spiced cider filling the air. The area has a magical feeling when you spend a winter weekend in Leavenworth, from all the festive German food available to carolers singing in the main square.
It’s almost like those cheesy holiday rom-coms that take place in a mountain town, minus the cheesy plot twists. One second you’re sipping a peppermint mocha, walking around to all the shops in town, and the next, you’re contemplating whether to hit the ski slopes or go on snowshoe trails.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere that has the same charm as this cute town in Washington, especially during the holiday season. This guide will show you how to visit Leavenworth in the winter and the best Leavenworth winter activities you won’t want to miss.
This article was first written in 2019 and last updated in August 2023.
15 Best Things to Do in Leavenworth in Winter
There are numerous things to do in winter in Leavenworth, whether you’re coming up for a long vacation or just doing a Leavenworth day trip.
1. Pretend You’re in Bavaria at Christmas
My favorite part about Leavenworth is how adorable all the buildings are. You’ll feel like you’re in the Bavarian area of Germany, from the decorations to the food. You can find everything from German beer to sausages when you’re here, so make sure to indulge. I love doing a Leavenworth day trip from Seattle during this time of year when I’m feeling bored during the dreary months in Seattle.
While there are many fun Christmas things to do in Seattle, one of the best parts about the holidays in Leavenworth is seeing how many people dress up in traditional Bavarian outfits. Leavenworth in December is particularly a blast, as they offer holiday specialties like mulled wine (which I always get) and spiced nuts.
Head to the Front Street Gazebo to hear carolers sing traditional holiday songs and sing along with them. If you haven’t done it already, you’ll need to put this on your Washington bucket list. It’s by far one of my favorite things to do in Leavenworth during winter that you can’t experience at other places.
2. Go Sledding in Town
It snows a ton here during the winter, so take advantage of sledding for free. There’s a small hill in town that kids like to go on, but adults can go too. You can bring your own sleds or buy them from the stores in town.
Just make sure you’re bundled up in a warm coat, gloves, hat, and scarf, as it does get in the low 20s and even colder sometimes. This is a fun activity when looking for what to do in Leavenworth in December.
Sledding at night is fun too, especially when you’re surrounded by all the trees that are lit up. I love seeing the kids whizzing down the hills while their parents look on with a warm beverage in hand. This is one of the best Leavenworth winter activities to get all their energy out before they go to bed as well.
3. Start Your Morning at The Danish Bakery
I dare you to walk into the Danish Bakery and try not to buy anything. Everything smells so good, especially in the morning when it’s freshly baked. They have special themed pastries during December, which is another reason to visit Leavenworth during Christmas (believe me – I struggled not walking away with a box last time I was there).
I recommend one of the pastries, especially when it’s still warm from that morning. They’re a great place to go for breakfast or a snack, and they offer many holiday specialties during the winter. It’s hard to decide on just one, so you can get a few and split them with your fellow travelers.
Need coffee to go with that? Head across the street to J5 Coffee, which always has delicious seasonal drinks I love ordering. This has become my go-to spot when I need a caffeine boost in Leavenworth.
4. Admire Holiday Lights Everywhere
When looking for what to do in Leavenworth in winter, all you have to do is head outside. One of the main reasons people come to Leavenworth in the winter is that the town is beautiful to walk through during this time of year. While they used to have lighting ceremonies on the weekends, they now have the lights on from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve.
You can find out more see the Leavenworth Christmas lights and other holiday events in Leavenworth on the town’s website.
The lights make the town feel even more magical. Considering we don’t get too much snow in Seattle in the wintertime, coming here to see snow-covered trees and holiday lights everywhere makes you feel like you’re far away from home. This is probably my favorite reason for driving to Leavenworth in winter.
Sometimes I love nothing more than just walking around and people-watching. People get so excited to see this town during this season, so it’s fun to watch kids and adults alike be in awe of all the decorations.
5. Explore a Gingerbread Factory
If you want to feel like you’re in a fairytale, visit the Gingerbread Factory. They have gingerbread houses and cookies galore, making it one of the best things to do in Leavenworth in winter.
It’s hard not to stop here every day when you’re in town! I recommend buying a gingerbread house to bring home and checking out their other holiday treats while you’re in Leavenworth at Christmas.
They can even do custom gingerbread designs if you contact them in advance. I recommend not coming here on an empty stomach because it smells too good. You’ll end up buying all things gingerbread (although that’s not a bad thing!).
6. Take a Stroll Along the Waterfront Park
To get one of the most scenic views, head behind the town to Waterfront Park to see the Wenatchee River. It’s a beautiful place to walk around, no matter what the weather is.
No one else was here when I came by in the morning, which made it very peaceful. I loved grabbing coffee and then strolling down here each morning to start the day.
The trail that goes along the Waterfront Park is a great way to get in some exercise when it’s cold out during a Leavenworth winter. While it’s tempting to go down to the edge of the river when it looks like a mirror like this, you have to be careful.
The edges can freeze over when it gets really cold, so you may step on what you think is solid but fall through. The last thing you want is to fall into the river when it’s freezing out in winter in Leavenworth.
7. Visit the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum
You’ve never seen so many nutcrackers in your life until you visit the Nutcracker Museum during the holidays in Leavenworth. They have everything from antique nutcrackers to clown nutcrackers, and it’s perfect when looking for indoor activities to stay warm. It’s fascinating to see so many different nutcrackers that have been collected from all over the world and from various decades.
If the museum puts you in the mood to have your own nutcracker, you can go next door afterward to buy your own nutcracker. They make good decorations for the holidays or as a gift for someone you know who loves nutcrackers.
Admission rates: Adults 17-64 years old: $5; Seniors 65+ years old: $3.50; Youth 6-16 years old: $2; and children 5 years old and younger: free
8. Eat Unlimited Candy at the Alps Candy Store
While this isn’t in the main part of Leavenworth, you’ll pass it as you’re leaving to go back west. If you decided that you still haven’t had enough sweets from the Danish Bakery and Gingerbread Factory, why not continue your sugar high and stop at the Alps Candy Store?
They have some of the freshest fudge and taffy I’ve ever had, so make sure to stock up. When you visit Leavenworth in the winter, they’ll have plenty of holiday-themed treats to take home as well. The store is also by a beautiful river, which makes it an excellent place to take pictures.
9. Stop at Multiple Scenic Pull-Offs
There are some gorgeous places to pull off on the way to Leavenworth if you want to take pictures. The river runs parallel to US-2, so there are plenty of pull-offs to stop at safely. This bridge was about 15 minutes west of Leavenworth.
While the summer is gorgeous as well, the snow makes winter in Leavenworth even more beautiful! Again, use common sense if you walk off a trail or road and make sure the ground below you isn’t a frozen river. That said, this is one of the best things to do in Leavenworth in winter if you love photography and want stunning photos.
The sides of the road can also accumulate tons of snow as the snowplows push them off the road, so don’t walk in them just to get a picture. You’ll sink really deep really fast, which can be dangerous.
10. Downhill Ski at Leavenworth Ski Hill
If you’re an active person and looking for what to do in Leavenworth in winter, you’ll be excited to know you have several ski hills nearby. Many people might not know that there’s a ski hill in Leavenworth itself.
While it’s not the most challenging, Leavenworth Ski Hill is a great place to go if you want to work on your skills or go somewhere that’s not so crowded. You can also warm up with hot chocolate at the nearby Leavenworth Ski Hill Lodge after.
The ski hill is only about 10 minutes away from town, so you could easily go for a half-day if you want. This activity is great for when you’re looking for what to do in Leavenworth in January after the holiday events are over, or it could be a fun addition for things to do in Leavenworth during Christmas if you purposely go for the holidays.
Stevens Pass is about half an hour west of Leavenworth and a popular place to ski. This tends to be one of the more popular places to ski in Seattle, so you’ll need to go early to get a spot in the parking lot.
They have multiple places to eat breakfast and lunch, so you can head out for the day and then return to your hotel in Leavenworth at night to relax.
11. Attend Non-Stop Holiday Events
Leavenworth is popular for its Oktoberfest events in the fall, but my personal favorite for visiting Leavenworth in December. Numerous events are going on this time of year, and there’s nothing quite as unique as a Leavenworth Christmas.
Christmas Lighting Festival
You can’t visit Leavenworth in December without being present for the famous Leavenworth tree lighting. Starting on Thanksgiving, come to the main square to see the village light up in thousands of lights for some of the best Leavenworth Christmas activities. Bundle up and bring your camera to capture this magical town coming to life.
Before the Leavenworth lighting festival, make sure you’re around at noon to see Santa arrive. Little kids (and even adults) will love greeting him and seeing all the costumed friends he brings with him. It’s a fun way to start the day before you head off to try roasted chestnuts or hot chocolate during winter in Leavenworth.
In addition to visiting the Nutcracker Museum, you can participate in a nutcracker hunt. These self-guided tours give you a list of nutcrackers to find within the museum, so the whole family can walk around to search for them. This is one of the best winter activities in Leavenworth to pass the time, particularly on a colder day.
12. Visit the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm
One of the best things to do in Leavenworth in December is to visit a reindeer farm. I never knew this existed until my last visit to the area, but it’s now one of my most recommended activities for visitors. You can read reviews on TripAdvisor and will want to book tickets in advance before your visit.
While you’re there, you’ll be able to feed reindeer and take plenty of pictures with them. There’s also a gift store where it’s Christmas year-round, so make sure to stop there on your way out.
My kids love the movie Frozen and felt like this was straight out of it, so it quickly became one of the top things to do in Leavenworth during the winter for our family.
13. Go Holiday Shopping
There are many places to stock up on holiday gifts while you’re in town. Here are some of the best ones, in my opinion:
- Kris Kringl – If you know someone who loves all things Christmas, you’ll want to stop at this store that celebrates Christmas 365 days a year. They have plenty of authentic German decorations, ornaments, and cuckoo clocks, and they can personalize your gifts for free.
- The Cheesemonger’s Shop – For the foodie in your life, you’ll want to stop here for international beers, wines, sausages, cheeses, and more. They can also ship if you have someone in mind who lives far away.
- Nussknacker Haus – Do you know someone who loves nutcrackers? You’ll want to stop here to see the biggest selection of smokers and nutcrackers in the country.
14. Hit the Snowshoeing Trails
Not every outdoor activity has to be as strenuous as skiing, which is why I love snowshoeing. It’s easy to learn, and you can rent snowshoes from many places around town if you don’t have your own when you want outdoor things to do in Leavenworth in winter. This is a fun activity for kids as well, as they learn a new skill, but it’s slower-paced.
I just started getting into snowshoeing over the past few years, and I love nearby groomed trails like Icicle River Trails at the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club or snowshoeing trails at Lake Wenatchee State Park.
You can use WTA’s website to learn the basics of snowshoeing and get ideas for where to go during your trip. Just make sure to read all the alerts for the snowshoe trails you want to do, such as if there’s a chance for an avalanche or anything else important.
15. Go Cross-Country Skiing
If you like cross-country skiing, you’re in luck; there are tons of trails nearby. I first did this when I did some trails while visiting Winthrop, and I loved how much distance you can cover once you get going.
At Ski Hill Trails, you’ll have access to a 7km course and even some lit-up trails for night skiing. After you’re done, head to Ski Hill Lodge to warm up with hot chocolate.
Those with more experience will want to check out the Golf Course Trail. It’s another 8km run, but with some fun rolling hills. You can even spot some wildlife that may be out during the winter.
If you’re hanging out downtown and don’t want to go far, just head to Waterfront Park. It’s a quick 3km trail along the Wenatchee River and super easy to fit into a busy day.
Got kids or newbies in your group? Hit up the Icicle River Trail. It’s 8km, but the trail’s pretty gentle, so it’s great for a family outing or if you’re just getting into skiing.
Want even more? Go north to Lake Wenatchee and Plain. Plain Valley has a long 22km trail, and Lake Wenatchee is a monster with over 50km of groomed trails.
Tips for Visiting Leavenworth in the Winter
Here are a few tips to help you plan your Leavenworth winter trip.
How to Get to Leavenworth in Winter
While you can easily drive to Leavenworth in your own car, you’ll be heading over a mountain pass and will need chains depending on the weather. When wondering how far Leavenworth is from Seattle, the answer is about two hours, but that will vary with traffic in the pass.
- Rent a car. You can rent a car from a company like Alamo or Enterprise and get an SUV or large vehicle equipped for driving in the snow.
- Take the train. Alternatively, you can take the Christmas train to Leavenworth. In my opinion, the Leavenworth Christmas Train is the best way to get to the town during the holidays. You’ll have a fun morning eating breakfast on board while cruising through the mountains to get to town. The Leavenworth Christmas Train only runs on the first three Saturdays of December, so don’t wait to make your reservation if this is on your bucket list. (as of August 2023, the train hasn’t stated if they’ll run again this year)
- Go on a tour. This is the easiest way to get to Leavenworth, as you’ll get picked up in Seattle for the Leavenworth Tour and spend the day in town without worrying about driving in the snow.
Leavenworth Winter Weather
If you’re wondering if there’s snow in Leavenworth, the answer is yes! People often head to Leavenworth in winter to experience the snow that Seattle doesn’t usually get. The town is in the mountains, so it can get quite cold, especially at night.
Here’s a quick look at the winter weather in Leavenworth:
- Leavenworth in December averages between 21°F and 34°F
- Leavenworth in January averages between 20°F and 34°F
- Leavenworth in February averages between 22°F and 43°F
I do recommend dressing in layers so you’re warm outside when looking at the Leavenworth Christmas lights, but you can take some off when you come inside to eat. You’ll also want solid shoes so you don’t slip when it’s icy or snowy outside during a Leavenworth winter.
Packing List for Visiting Leavenworth in the Winter
Here are a few items you might want to bring during your winter getaway to Leavenworth:
- A fleece jacket is perfect for layering under your coat when you’re outside but thin enough to wear inside restaurants.
- You’ll want a beanie to protect your head when walking around outside.
- A waterproof jacket is essential when visiting the mountains in Washington so you stay dry.
- Snow boots are something many people don’t think to pack, but you’ll want solid footing when walking around on the snow in town.
While Leavenworth is a popular spot for some of the best fall hikes in Washington, there are also plenty of winter hiking trails as well. If you want to do any outdoor activities, I suggest looking at my list of winter clothes for hiking.
Where to Stay in Winter in Leavenworth
Leavenworth in the winter is one of the most popular times of the year to visit for a weekend trip from Seattle, so make sure to look into places to stay in Leavenworth well in advance (as in months ahead of time). There are various options, from hotels right in town to renting a house outside of town.
Staying in the heart of Leavenworth is very convenient, as you can easily walk to shops and restaurants. Just be aware that it’ll cost you more than renting a house outside of town. Some people choose to stay in the nearby city of Wenatchee to save money, but these are good options in town:
- Obertal Inn: A budget hotel good if you want to save money, but still right in town, so you’ll be close to everything. They also have a breakfast buffet and free parking (which is a plus since parking is limited during the busy months). (Rates start at $119 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- Icicle Village Resort: This hotel is a few minutes’ drive outside of town, but I liked staying here because it gave me a break from dealing with the crowds. You’ll have beautiful views of the Cascade Mountains, a breakfast buffet, and a mini-golf course. (Rates start at $143 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- Bavarian Lodge: This is located across from the main part of Leavenworth and has a large parking lot to park in. I recommend getting a fireplace suite, as you’ll love sitting by the fireplace at night during winter in Leavenworth. (Rates start at $173 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
Here are a few vacation rentals I recommend if you prefer to go that route. There are plenty of nearby Leavenworth cabins that you’ll love in addition to these options.
- You can sleep soundly in the forest with this beautiful cabin that comes with a fireplace and three bedrooms. (Rates start at $188 per night)
- This two-person apartment is one block from all the stores and restaurants in town, making it a convenient base for your trip. (Rates start at $197 per night)
- You’ll love this downtown condo that is conveniently by shops and restaurants and has a pool and hot tub to enjoy outdoors. (Rates start at $348 per night)
Hopefully, this post inspires you to plan a vacation to explore the best things to do in Leavenworth in winter! Leave a comment below and let me know what activity you’re looking forward to most.