Leavenworth – Washington’s German-Bavarian Town

Saying goodbye to Seattle is always hard for us.  Over the past 7 years since my Dad has been working out there Julie and I have visited at least once a year.  It feels like our west coast home.  As always with Julie and I however, the road was calling, and it was time to get moving.

We were not planning on going too far for our 1st night from Seattle.  We had plans to make a 2-hour drive to Leavenworth, a German-Bavarian styled village on the east side of the Cascade Mountain Range.  We had never been to Leavenworth before but just about every single one of our Seattle friends said that it was worth a visit.  So, with that in mind we headed east.

Like most drives in the pacific northwest the drive to Leavenworth was spectacular.  Our journey started by driving north through the Seattle suburbs before heading east and connecting with Washington Route 2 which winds east through the mountain range.  At first this road wound through the western foothills past small towns and farms.  The closer we got to the actual mountains though the towns disappeared, the forest thickened, and the road gained elevation faster and faster.

Willkommen in Leavenworth/Welcome to Leavenworth

Before long we were passing the crest of the mountains and heading down the other side.  The first glimpse of Leavenworth was mind blowing for Julie and I.  We had been told by all of our friends that it looked like little Bavaria but actually seeing it was a whole different story.  Julie had lived in Munich, Germany during college and I had visited a few times, so we knew what a Bavarian town looks like, we just didn’t expect Leavenworth to look so real and get it so right.  If we had been dropped down into Leavenworth and didn’t know any better, I would have sworn we were actually in Germany.  It was pretty amazing.

This did get me thinking though…why is there a German looking town in north-central Washington state?  None of the other towns in the area look like this.  I decided to do some research.  Leavenworth was incorporated in 1906 as a railroad and logging town.  By the late 1950’s almost every logging company had left, and town was struggling greatly.  A committee was put together and it was decided that the town should try to draw its income from tourists and turn the town into a themed town.  As the town was in the mountains it was decided that the town should have a German-Bavarian theme.  Town leaders visited the Danish themed town of Solvang, California for help and inspiration of how to make the transformation and by the mid 1960’s the transformation of the town from logging to Bavarian had started.  Today just about every building in the town is built in the German style which draws in thousands of people who want to see this magical little town.

Julie and I were certainly in awe as well.  We wandered around the town taking tons of pictures making sure to get the high cascade peaks in the background behind the buildings.  For dinner my cousin Evan had suggested a restaurant called the München Haus; a brat and beer garden kind of place.  We each got a brat, a side of German potato salad and a beer and sat down on one of their picnic tables.  It was a really cool feeling sitting there in that environment.  It was hard to believe that we were only 2 hours east of Seattle.  After finishing up dinner we headed to our campground, the Leavenworth/Pine Village KOA Holiday for the night.

River Camping at its Finest

The next morning, we woke up and packed up.  While initially planning on heading south down to the Columbia River Gorge, the universe seemingly had different plans for us.  As we were unable to get a campground near the gorge until the next night, we decided to spend a 2nd day in Leavenworth.  We were glad we did.  We hadn’t explored much of the campground the day before as after checking in and setting up camp it was already dark.  As the campground was on the banks of the Wenatchee river and we saw some trails on the campground map we decided to check it out.  Once we made our way down to the river we were stunned.  It was by far the most beautiful river setting on a campground that we had ever seen.

A short path wound down from the RV area about 200 feet down to the river itself.  Here the banks of the river were sandy with huge 3-4 foot boulders strewn about.  The river itself was a beautiful bluish green color and there were already people setting up beach chairs and getting ready to spend the day swimming.  It was incredible.  Julie and I hiked back up to Bubbles, threw on our swimsuits and grabbed our camp chairs.

We headed back down to the river, set up our chairs in a nice sandy spot between two big boulders and put our feet in the water.  To say that we were enjoying ourselves would be an understatement.  We were loving it!  After sitting in the sun for a bit we joined a few other people in the water.  It was a bit chilly and a shock to the system at first but after the initial chill had worn off it felt pretty darn good.  We swam to the other side of the bank, walking around on that side for a bit before swimming back over to our chairs.  It was a bit of a workout as the current was moving pretty fast, but we made it no problem.  Around noon we headed back up to Bubbles and made a little lunch.

Leavenworth Wineries

As we hadn’t seen all of Leavenworth the day before we decided to head back into town.  The campground was less than 1 mile away from town, so we put our things in a backpack, put on our walking shoes and walked into town.  As we were not driving, and Leavenworth is well known for wine tasting rooms we decided to have ourselves a bit of a tasting day.  After stopping at a few gift shops for a few post cards and other German related things we found Broken Barrel Cider Shop and started our tasting tour.  The cider was excellent!  From Broken Barrel we stopped at Baroness Cellars where we split a tasting.  Here they had cold, white glühwein.  I never have had chilled glühwein, so it was a treat!  For those unfamiliar, glühwein is the German form of mulled wine or warmed & spiced wine.  They also sold a few hundred nutcrackers.  This was an interesting winery/gift shop to say the least.  We were told at Baroness that Bergdorf Cellars had great hot glühwein, so we then headed over there.  We ended our tour at Leavenworth’s most famous pastry & coffee shop, oddly named The Danish Bakery.  Julie had a delicious cannoli while I went for a coffee.  Both were excellent.  We then headed back to the campground where we made dinner and relaxed the rest of the night.

Washington’s Desert

The next day we headed out of Leavenworth towards our final destination in Washington State.  We were headed to White Salmon, a small town directly on the Columbia River.  Central and western Washington are amazing in how different they are in the way that I think of Washington State as an east coaster.  When I think of Washington State, Oregon and British Columbia as well as the entire pacific northwest I think of dense northern rain-forest, the Pacific Ocean and green everywhere.  I do not think of desert, which is what half of Washington is.

Driving southeast from Leavenworth we left the mountains behind and entered the Washington desert.  There is just something magical about the desert to me.  Not sure why I love it but I do.  The seemingly inhospitable climate that is actually teeming with life if you just look a little closer.  The mountains, the sun, the unique plant and wildlife.  Just awesome!  We drove south through central Washington stopping at an overlook for lunch before continuing south.

As we arrived in the Columbia River Gorge area in mid-afternoon, we decided to stop at one of the many wineries.  When you think of Washington State wine, the Columbia River Gorge area is where most are located.  We stopped at Waving Tree Winery.  We expected the mood to be a bit subdued in there as it was the middle of the week, but we walked into a party.  It was a small winery and the people behind the service counter were in a great mood.  There was a small winery pug dog walking around greeting everyone and every new group that came into the winery got a big hello from everyone inside.  We had a blast there!

From the winery we made our way to our campground in White Salmon, set up camp and made dinner before settling down for the night.

Next up…A fun few days exploring Hood River, OR and northern Oregon’s Fruit Loop!

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