Holiday lights everywhere in a snow-covered Bavarian village seems like something you can only enjoy when you visit Germany, but one of Seattle’s best-known secrets is we have our own Bavarian village in the mountains. Only two hours east of Seattle, visiting Leavenworth in winter is one of the best ways to spend a weekend.
I’ve visited Leavenworth multiple times over the years, and exploring the town during the winter is the best time to go. 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.
This guide will show you how to visit Leavenworth in the winter and the best Leavenworth winter activities you won’t want to miss.
Travel Tips for 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 headed over a mountain pass and will need chains depending on the weather.
Rent a car – You can rent a car from a company like Alamo or Hertz and get a SUV or large vehicle equipped for driving in the snow.
Take the train – Alternatively, you can take the Christmas train to Leavenworth. The Leavenworth Christmas Train is the best way to get to the town during the holidays in my opinion. You’ll have a fun morning of eating breakfast on board while cruising through the mountains to get the 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. (Note – As of November 2020, the train has stated they won’t be in operation this year but hope to resume in 2021.)
Go on a tour – This is the easiest way to get to Leavenworth, as you’ll get picked up in Seattle for the Leavenworth Christmas Tour and spend the entire day in town without worrying about driving in the snow.
Leavenworth Winter Weather
If you’re wondering is there snow in Leavenworth, the answer is yes. One reason people often head to Leavenworth in winter is to experience the snow that Seattle doesn’t often get. While the town is in the mountains, it’s not often below freezing. In fact, the average weather in Leavenworth in December is 34°F, so as long as you have warm enough clothes you’ll be fine walking around town.
I do recommend dressing in layers so you’re warm outside when looking at the Leavenworth Christmas lights, but 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.
Where to Stay in Winter in Leavenworth
Leavenworth in the winter is one of the most popular times of the year to visit, so make sure to look into places to stay in Leavenworth well in advance. 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 have a hot tub, 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 minute’s drive outside of town, but is nice when you need 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 Airbnb 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 two-story cabin that is newly built and has a private hot tub to enjoy outdoors. (rates start at $101 per night)
Leavenworth in winter is one of the most magical times to visit, so make sure to add this to your bucket list! From Christmas lights everywhere to listening to carolers, you’ll love all the Leavenworth winter activities in town.
The Best Reasons to Visit 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 here during this time of year when I’m feeling bored during the dreary months in Seattle.
A fun part 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 and spiced nuts. Head to the Front Street Gazebo to hear carolers sing traditional holiday songs and sing along with them.
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 a scarf, as it does get in the low 20s and even colder sometimes.
Sledding at night is fun too 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 Each Morning With Danish Pastries
I dare you to walk into the Danish Bakery and try to not buy anything. Everything smells so good, especially in the morning when it’s freshly baked.
I recommend one of the pastries or a giant pretzel. 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 with your fellow travelers.
4. See Holidays 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 due to the town being beautiful to walk through during this time of year. They have several lighting ceremonies in December, but you can see the Leavenworth Christmas lights at night throughout the winter.
The lights make the town feel even more magical. Considering we don’t get too much snow in Seattle in the winter, coming here to see snow-covered trees and holiday lights everywhere makes you feel like you’re far away from home.
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. It’s hard not to stop here every day when you’re in town! I recommend buying a gingerbread house to bring home, and check out their other holiday treats while you’re there.
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 Beautiful Winter River Walk
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.
The trail that goes along the Waterfront Park is a great way to get in 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. Learn About Nutcrackers
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. 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 stop 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 located by a beautiful river, which makes a good 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 safely stop at. 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.
The sides of the road can also accumulate tons of snow as the snow plows 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. Ski on Nearby Ski Hills
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.
Stevens Pass is about half an hour west of Leavenworth and a popular place to ski. This does tend to be one of the more popular places to ski in Seattle, so you’ll need to go early in order 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 come back to your hotel in Leavenworth at night to relax.
In addition, many people might not know that there’s a ski hill in Leavenworth itself. While it’s not the most challenging, it’s a great place to go if you want to work on your skills or go somewhere that’s not so crowded. The ski hill is only about 10 minutes away from town so you could easily just go for a half day if you want.
Make sure to review your ski trip packing list before you go so you have everything you need.
11. Attend Non-Stop Holiday Events
While visiting Leavenworth anytime in the winter is fun, the most popular time of year and my personal favorite visiting Leavenworth in December. There are numerous events going on this time of year, and there’s nothing quite as special as a Leavenworth Christmas.
Christmas Lighting Festival
You can’t visit Leavenworth in December without being present for the famous Leavenworth tree lighting. During the first three weekends in December, come to the main square at 4:30 p.m. from Friday to Sunday to see the village light up. Bundle up and bring your camera to capture this magical town come to life. (note – as of September 2020, this has been postponed until next year)
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 a fun way to pass the time in Leavenworth in the winter, particularly on a colder day.
12. Visit a 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.