Leavenworth, Washington in winter is a magical wonderland – imagine charming architecture, twinkling lights, snow-capped peaks, and enchanted forests. It is almost like living inside a fairytale.
Located a few hours outside of Seattle, Leavenworth is best known for its Bavarian architecture, visiting Leavenworth will make you swear that you’ve transported yourself to Germany – without the expensive plane ticket. Much like Montreal and Quebec City, you’ll be able to get a taste of those European vibes without leaving North America.
Leavenworth is also known as one of the best Christmas cities in the United States (along with New York City). Over a half million lights illuminate the buildings in town, meant to resemble an alpine village in Bavaria (it actually did kinda remind me of Fussen, the town near Neuschwanstein Castle). There are also plenty of Leavenworth Christmas events throughout the month of December, to help you get into the holiday spirit.
The best part? The lights stay on and illuminate the town through February, so even if you’re not visiting Leavenworth in December, you’ll have a chance to experience the festive magic throughout all of winter.
Apart from that, the town is located in the heart of the Cascade Mountains, one of the most beautiful in all of Washington. This means that there are tons of winter recreation opportunities in and around town. Some of the best Leavenworth winter activities include snowshoeing, Nordic and downhill skiing, sledding, and more.
Given that it’s a village meant to look like Bavaria, you’ll find plenty of delicious German food (and beer!) to help you warm up after all of those winter activities.
In short – Leavenworth offers something for everyone, and visiting in the winter is truly the best time to visit!
Keep on reading for everything you need to know about visiting Leavenworth in winter, from the best activities, where to eat, travel tips, and more!
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About Leavenworth, Washington
When you see all of the Bavarian-styled buildings in town, you may find yourself wondering – how exactly did Leavenworth come to be what it is today?
Located in the heart of the Cascade Mountains, Leavenworth, WA once used to be known as “Icicle Flats” during its heyday in the late 1800s-early 1900s. The town enjoyed its boom thanks to its thriving logging and sawmill industries, as the arrival of the railroad.
Eventually, the railroad was rerouted and moved out of town, and Leavenworth virtually became a ghost town.
It was not until the 1960 when the town’s leaders decided to come up with a plan to revitalize the area, and to save it from extinction. Due to its location in the mountains, the town underwent a transformation into a Bavarian-themed alpine town in order to attract tourism to stimulate its economy.
In addition, the town started playing host to a number of annual festivals, including Oktoberfest, Maifest, and the immensely popular Christmas Lighting Festival.
The plan worked – today, Leavenworth is one of Washington’s top tourist destinations, and draws more than a million visitors each year.
Best Time to Visit Leavenworth in Winter
While there really is no bad time to visit – the town retains its charm year-round – winter in Leavenworth has extra charm. Seeing all of the alpine hills, along with the Bavarian architecture being dusted in a layer of snow makes the town seem especially magical.
Christmas in Leavenworth is especially magical, and December is the most popular time to visit. The town plays host to a number of holiday events, including the Christmas Market and the Village of Lights. This means that you’ll find more crowds looking to experience a Leavenworth Christmas, along with higher accommodation prices.
If you want to visit to see the Christmas lights, then December is not the only time to see them – the lights stay on through President’s Day weekend in February! Therefore, visiting Leavenworth in January and February is an ideal way to still experience a bit of that festive magic while saving a bit of money.
However, do note that the snowiest months are usually December and January, and you’ll have the best chance of seeing fresh powder during those months. This makes it ideal if you want to partake in some winter recreation – by February, the snow tends to get slushy, brown, and icy.
However, you can still see plenty of snow all around and up in the hills, and it is still a beautiful sight to see!
In January, the town also hosts the Winter Karneval, which honors a German tradition dating back to the thirteenth century. You’ll find plenty of happenings during the festival, including live ice carvings, fireworks, live entertainment, and more.
I visited in early February and loved seeing the town lit up, and enjoyed the lower-than-normal crowds and hotel prices. However, we found that there were a few activities that we wanted to do, but conditions were less-than-ideal. If I were to visit Leavenworth in winter again, I would probably visit in January next time.
But how cold is it in Leavenworth in winter?
When visiting Leavenworth in winter, keep in mind that it can get cold, although the highs are not often below freezing.
Here are average Leavenworth winter temperatures:
- Leavenworth in December: 34°F (1°C) high / 21°F (-6°C) low
- Leavenworth in January: 34°F (1°C) high / 20°F (-6°C) low
- Leavenworth in February: 43°F (6°C) high / 22°F (-5°C) low
You will want to pack plenty of warm layers that you can peel on and off and can withstand the Leavenworth winter weather. I visited in February and found it kinda warm in the afternoon with the sun shining, but freezing cold once it went down. There is also a bit of (slushy) snow in places, and ice on the streets, so wear sturdy winter boots (ice grips will also help at times)!
How much does it snow during winter in Leavenworth?
Leavenworth receives an average of 89 inches of snow each year, which helps transform the area into a beautiful winter wonderland.
Snow usually starts falling in mid-December and continues falling until February, but this depends each year. In talking to the locals the year we went, they said they had huge snow storms during Christmas and early January (during which they experienced single digit highs), but snow had not fallen since then in early February.
To check current weather conditions, you can view this live webcam.
What to Pack for a Leavenworth winter getaway
While it does get pretty chilly in winter in Leavenworth, it’s completely possible to stay warm and comfortable if you pack the right things!
Here are some of the winter weather essentials + gear that I recommend packing when visiting Leavenworth, WA in the winter:
- Base layers/thermals: I’ve been wearing the Uniqlo Heattech shirts for years and they definitely came in handy during my time in Leavenworth! I love that they are lightweight but keep you warm without making you sweaty and moist.
- Warm Winter Coat: I wear a coat similar to this one, that has served me well on my winter trips.
- Puffy Jacket: For winter days that are less cold, OR as an extra layer of warmth under your coat. I recently got a Patagonia Nano Puff jacket and LOVE it – it is lightweight and packable, but super warm!
- Thermal tights or underwear: These Uniqlo Heattech tights are perfect for wearing underneath your pants on extra cold days.
- Snow Boots: You NEED something that will withstand the snow. These (they’re being discontinued so stock is low, but here is also a similar pair from the same brand) are my winter boots and I love them – they’re waterproof, sturdy, and comfortable!
- Ice Grips: We encountered quite a bit of ice on the streets, and some ice grips would definitely have been useful.
- Fleece Lined Leggings: These are my favorite pairs – they come in a bunch of colors (and you can even choose ones with pockets), and are super warm and comfortable!!
- Sweaters: For a warm, stylish layer.
- Fleece zip-up: I love, love, LOVE my Columbia fleece zip-up for an extra warm layer under my outerwear!
- Wool socks: I packed these and never once did my feet get cold.
- Leg warmers: Not only do they add a cute element to your outfit, they add another warm layer.
- Beanie: I also packed a knitted headband to switch it up a bit.
- Warm Gloves: These also allow you to use your touchscreen smartphone without taking them off.
- Scarves: I packed a thick infinity scarf, as well as a blanket scarf (this one is my FAVE)
- Power Bank: To keep your devices charged as you explore Leavenworth in the winter! The cold makes your battery drain faster, so this is a must. I never travel without this one – one charge will give five full charges to your devices.
- Lotion: Winter weather tends to dry out your skin, so be prepared with some good moisturizing lotion!
- Lip balm: Same with your lips. This is my favorite lip balm, especially for those winter months.
Getting to Leavenworth, Washington in Winter
Leavenworth is located in the heart of the Cascade Mountains, just a few hours from Seattle, making it an ideal destination for a winter weekend getaway or even day trip.
The nearest airport is Sea-Tac International Airport, located 139 miles away. You’ll find plenty of flights to many domestic and international cities from here.
From Seattle, you have a couple of options to get to Leavenworth:
Driving will give you the most flexibility during your stay in Leavenworth and is especially convenient if you plan on taking advantage of the ample winter recreation activities in the surrounding areas.
If you are flying into Sea-Tac, it is served by all of the major rental car agencies, including Enterprise, Avis, Budget, Thrifty, Hertz, and others.
From Seattle, there are two main roads to get to Leavenworth:
- Take the I-90 E and US-97 N via Snoqualmie Pass
- Take US-2 via Stevens Pass
The trip takes just over 2 hours, but can take longer depending on traffic and weather conditions. Allow extra time for delays, especially during inclement weather and busy times.
Keep in mind that for either of these options, you will have to drive through snowy mountain passes. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you drive a SUV with 4WD or AWD that can easily handle the snow. Keep chains on you as they are sometimes needed to drive over the pass.
Also be sure to check the road conditions before you go for any advisories or road shutdowns.
If you don’t wish to or feel uncomfortable driving through winter weather, then you’re in luck – daily train service is offered to and from Seattle on Amtrak’s Empire Builder Route.
We ended up taking the train, and while it does take a bit longer than driving, it was so nice to be able to sit and relax (with some wine, no less) potentially dealing with snow and traffic.
There is one departure to Leavenworth, and one back to Seattle every day:
- Train no. 8: departs Seattle at 4:55pm, arrives in Leavenworth at 8:17pm
- Train no. 7: departs Leavenworth at 7:23am, arrives in Seattle at 11:29am
Keep in mind that the train leaving Leavenworth back to Seattle often has delays since it is coming all the way from Chicago. If you are planning to fly back from Seattle the same day you return from Leavenworth, allow extra cushion time for delays. We were actually pleasantly surprised we didn’t encounter any delays!
The train will drop you off at the Icicle Station, located about a mile outside of downtown Leavenworth. There is a shuttle service offered by Leavenworth Shuttle & Taxi to get to your accommodations in town.
Reservations are recommended to ensure space from the train station into town. You must reserve a spot for the morning shuttle – call the day before. They will also alert you if there is a delay and when to expect pickup. The service cost $9 per person, each way.
Getting Around in Leavenworth
The downtown area is relatively small, so you can easily get around to many of the best things to do in Leavenworth on foot.
There are a few Leavenworth winter activities that are located just outside of the town center. For getting to these locations, you can call for a taxi via Leavenworth Shuttle & Taxi.
If you want to partake in some of the winter recreational activities in the surrounding areas and mountains, you will need your own car.
Where to Stay during your Leavenworth winter getaway
You’ll find plenty of places to stay during your Leavenworth winter getaway, whether you are looking for a luxury stay, cabins, family-owned inns, and everything in between.
Downtown Leavenworth has plenty of accommodation options, but if you want a bit more peace and quiet, you can stay in the surrounding areas a few miles out. Because we did not have a car we stayed downtown as we could easily walk to access some of the best things to do in Leavenworth.
Here are some suggested places to stay in Leavenworth:
LOGE Leavenworth Downtown: I stayed here and loved it! It’s located close to everything downtown, and super affordable, with a range of room options to suit your budget, from suites, standard rooms, and even rooms with a shared bathroom for those really on a budget.
Aside from the fact that it’s super cute (which is why I booked it), I also loved that they encourage you to get outdoors and to explore the area. They even have a selection of outdoor equipment that you can try out (and purchase if you like it!) – while we didn’t get to use any of it, I thought it was a fun idea.
They also have a cozy downtown lobby area, with a cafe/bar that is perfect for hanging out after a day of exploring Leavenworth. Gear and complimentary bike rentals are also offered.
Posthotel Leavenworth: The adults-only Posthotel is perfect for those looking for a bit of luxury and R&R! Featuring a stunning spa and wellness area (inspired by wellness concepts from the Alps), along with beautiful rooms and suites with views overlooking the Wenatchee River.
Some of the amenities included are a daily complimentary breakfast + light lunch, evening coffee, access to the pool and wellness area, gear rentals, and more
Do note that this is one of the most popular hotels in Leavenworth and does tend to book up quickly!
Bavarian Lodge: This lodge-style hotel is situated in the heart of downtown, close to many of the top things to do in Leavenworth in winter.
Rooms are homey and feature Bavarian-styled decor, with a village or mountain views, and option for a fireplace. Complimentary breakfast is included, and beverages available in the lobby. There is also a heated pool and multiple hot tubs.
Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort: Located 3 miles outside of downtown, the Sleeping Lady is an ideal option if you are looking to escape the crowds and want a more secluded getaway.
Featuring large rooms with a rustic feel, along with a spa, bar and restaurant, common area with pool tables and ping pong, and a pool and hot tub.
This is a fantastic place to stay if you are looking to explore the surrounding mountains and ski areas. They sell ski passes here, and offer equipment rentals as well.
Things to Do in Leavenworth, Washington in Winter
Admire all the Christmas lights
Leavenworth is known as one of the best Christmas destinations in the US, mostly due to the festive lights and decorations that take over the town every holiday season. This is what initially attracted me to visiting Leavenworth in winter – I’d seen so many photos of the lights on Instagram over the years, and I knew I’d have to see them for myself one day!
Every year, thousands of people flock to the town to experience Christmas in Leavenworth. The Village of Lights illuminates Leavenworth each year from Thanksgiving weekend to President’s Day weekend, with over half a million lights covering the town’s Bavarian-styled buildings. It is truly a breathtaking sight, and truly a magical experience to witness them!
In the past, the town has put on an annual Lighting Festival taking place on weekends in December, however, they have indicated that this will not be taking place in 2022 in order to alleviate the crowds. Instead, the festivities will be spread out over the month, taking place both during the week and on the weekends.
Plenty of holiday fun will still be had! There will be tons of festive activities and events taking place, such as gingerbread houses, photos with Santa, crafts, selfie stations, live entertainment, and more taking place. See upcoming events here.
The lights stay on through February, and it’s the perfect way to still experience that holiday cheer in the dead of winter (or, if you’re like me, experience some winter magic when every day in So-Cal is 80 degrees. Yes, people think I’m crazy to complain, but I need to experience SOME of winter to make it feel like winter)!
While the town is at its busiest throughout the month of December (especially on the weekends), the lights stay up through February. So, if you are looking to escape the crowds, I suggest visiting in January or February – the town even puts up a “Love from Leavenworth” display for Valentine’s Day!
Visit the Christkindlmarkt
The Christkindlmarkt, the Bavarian-style Christmas Market, takes over Leavenworth’s Front Park and Festhalle each year on Thanksgiving weekend. You’ll find tons of vendors selling authentic German foods and treats, homemade crafts, and handcrafted gifts. There are plenty of activities and entertainment as well.
It’s one of the top Leavenworth Christmas activities, and is one of the things that the town is known for!
One of my favorite things about visiting Europe in the winter is to go to all of the Christmas Markets, and I love that there are opportunities to experience those traditions a bit closer to home. Leavenworth is supposed to have some of the best and most authentic (I mean, the town is themed after Bavaria after all)!
Since I visited in February, I missed the Christkindlmarkt, but I do hope to return to visit it some day, as it is one of the top things to do at Christmas in Leavenworth!
**note: The Christkindlmarkt will not be taking place in 2022. Instead, a scaled back version will be taking place as part of the Village of Lights throughout the month of December.
Indulge in authentic German food + beer
This is a Bavarian themed town, so obviously, you are going to find some amazing German food (+ beer) here! You’ll find plenty of authentic German restaurants and biergartens to enjoy around town, and they are some of the best places to eat in Leavenworth. It’s some of the best German food you’ll find outside of Germany!
Both Rhein Haus and Munchen Haus are traditional biergartens, with dozens of craft beers on tap, as well as authentic German food such as pretzels, sausages, sauerkraut and more. Both have an outdoor patio as well, which are great spots to hang out on, yes, even in winter!
Another must-try is Andreas Keller, which offers a more full-service dining experience. They have an extensive menu of German specialties here. We ordered a Jagerschnitzel and a Schnitzel Cordon Bleu, and both were delicious but the Cordon Bleu was TO DIE FOR and you must order it!
…Or try the other local cuisine
Despite the fact that it looks like Bavaria, German food isn’t the only thing to eat in town. If you find that you’ve hit your limit of sausages and schnitzel (not gonna lie, we certainly did), Leavenworth has plenty of other food spots worth checking out!
Here are some recommended (non-German) spots to eat while in town:
- Larch: You’ll find fresh, homemade pasta dishes here with a Northwest twist. I loved everything we ordered here, but the pappardelle with ragu was soooo good!
- Yodelin Broth Company: There is nothing like a warm bowl of soup during winter in Leavenworth – sooo warming and comforting! Yodelin serves healthy cuisine with practices, and the broth-based dishes are the star here. I had the Rooster Comb here, which is basically a chicken noodle here and it was SO good!
- Mana: If you’re looking for fine dining, here is where you’ll find it. Mana offers veggie-forward, prix-fixe dining using quality, locally-sourced ingredients. I didn’t get the chance to go, but I’ve heard soooo many people rave about Mana!
- Argonaut Coffee & Biscuits: We went here for coffee and breakfast every morning and loved the unique specialty drinks (they had one that was essentially a mocha with orange peels that I can’t remember the name of), and breakfast sandwiches. The biscuits are sooo flaky and buttery and SO good!
- The Danish Bakery: You can’t go wrong with a danish or strudel from here!
- Whistlepunk Ice Cream: Even on a chilly night, we really enjoyed the ice cream here! You’ll find tons of amazing flavors here, from traditional to unique.
Visit the Gingerbread Factory
This is not only one of the best things to do in Leavenworth at Christmas, but also year-round! The outside of the Gingerbread Factory not only resembles a gingerbread house, the inside is a Christmas wonderland.
You’ll find beautifully-decorated gingerbread cookies and houses, as well as a selection of other cookies that are almost too cute to eat (but taste even better than they look!).
They do custom designs as well if you contact them in advance.
Drink some local craft beers
Combine the fact that this is a German-themed town and that Washington is known to have a thriving craft brewing scene, and you know that you’re going to find some amazing beers to try in Leavenworth.
They brew their beers using local ingredients, and superior malts, hops, and yeasts. They even use water from Icicle Creek, which elevates it even more! They have a cozy tasting room which also has an outdoor space with fire pits, perfect for cozying up during winter in Leavenworth.
We also stopped by Bushel & Bee Taproom and really enjoyed the vibe there! They have a unique selection of about 25 beers and ciders on tap, mostly from Washington and Oregon, and also had live music when we were there. Another plus – they’re open pretty late (11pm), so it’s a perfect spot to stop for a nightcap!
Taste some local wines
If beer isn’t your thing, then maybe wine is! Washington state is home to several amazing wine regions, one of which surrounds the Leavenworth area.
We stopped by for a tasting at the Icicle Ridge Winery tasting room downtown, and really enjoyed it! We did a mixed flight of two reds and two whites for $15, and really liked all of them. The staff is friendly as well – it was a slow day and we were having such a great time chatting them up that we ended up ordering a bottle as well.
The downtown tasting room is meant to resemble a mini version of the main winery location in Peshatin, located about 5 miles out of town. The tasting room is inside a log cabin, and I loved how they brought over the cozy touches in the downtown location. It’s an awesome spot to relax and escape the cold for a bit!
You’ll find several other tasting rooms in downtown Leavenworth, including WooHoo Winery (they’re supposed to have gluhwein too!), Goose Ridge Winery, Patterson Cellars, Ryan Patrick Wines, and Chateau Faire Le Pont.
Wine enthusiasts can even plan a whole wine tasting day by visiting the wineries located in the vicinity, or even check out nearby wineries in regions such as Lake Chelan. See here for a list of wineries located close to Leavenworth.
Enjoy a cocktail at a hidden bar
While wine tasting, we found out about Pika Provisions, an unassuming craft cocktail bar hidden in a plaza amongst a group of wine tasting rooms right off the main street. This is basically Leavenworth’s version of a speakeasy!
Pika Provisions is tiny but they have an extensive spirits list and impeccably crafted cocktails. The cocktails are all unique and well-made and you really can’t go wrong with any of them!
Explore the local trails (on snowshoes or cross-country skis)
The Leavenworth area is known for its ample winter recreation opportunities, and is home to some of the best snowshoeing and Nordic skiing trails in Washington. If you are looking to work off all that German food and beer, both of these Leavenworth winter activities are ideal ways to get in a workout in a winter wonderland.
While experienced snowshoers may choose to explore nearby areas such as the Colchuck Lake Trail, the best part is that you don’t have to necessarily go far. There are plenty of trails both in and around Leavenworth, suitable for all skill levels, with plenty of options located just minutes from downtown.
You’ll find that many cross-country areas also have snowshoeing trails and are an ideal option for those looking for flat terrain. However, snowshoeing is essentially winter hiking, so you can explore more traditional trails with a bit of elevation gain.
Some local cross-country ski opportunities include:
- Waterfront Park: Head over to Waterfront Park if you want to ski without leaving the downtown area! The park has 2 miles of well-groomed cross-country trails right along the river.
- Leavenworth Winter Sports Club Trails: They maintain 16 miles of trails, suitable for different levels. The Icicle River Trails is ideal for beginners, with scenic views at the base of Icicle Canyon. Nordic lessons are also available here. The Golf Course trail network is suitable for intermediate skiers, tucked along the Wenatchee River. Ski Hill has advanced trails and has trails that are open until 10pm.
- Lake Wenatchee State Park: This is a popular park for winter activities and has 15 miles of terrain, with four loop trails.
- Plain Valley Ski Trails: Offers 15 miles of trails, including beginner trails.
And some snowshoeing trails to check out:
- Leavenworth Winter Sports Club Trails: The three trails mentioned above (Icicle River Trails, Golf Course Trail, Ski Hill) are all appropriate for snowshoeing as well.
- Icicle Gorge Trail: This 4 mile trail is ideal for beginners, with flat and gentle terrain. The interpretive trail has signs pointing out the ecology in the area, and the views of Icicle Creek are scenic throughout.
- Eagle Creek: A 4 mile trail with tons of beautiful vistas in an often overlooked area of Leavenworth.
- Lake Wenatchee State Park: The park is a haven for winter activities, and has a number of scenic trails.
Equipment rentals are available at Der Sportsmann on Front Street in downtown Leavenworth. They can give you advice on trails and current conditions as well. Some hotels also have a gear rental program, and you can see other rental outlets here.
If cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are at the top of your list of things to do in Leavenworth, check the current conditions before you go! Visiting in December and January will have a higher chance of soft snow that is more appropriate for these activities. We visited in February, and after indulging in too much eating and drinking, we decided that maybe we should go snowshoeing, but were told that the snow was too hard and icy for us to go.
Hit the slopes
If downhill skiing or snowboarding are more your thing, then you’re in luck – there are a number of ski areas located in and around Leavenworth!
You can even ski right in town at the Leavenworth Ski Hill, located just a mile outside of downtown and has two groomed ski runs, powered by rope tows. This is a perfect spot for beginners to hit the slopes (lessons are available as well), or those looking for an easy and convenient skiing opportunity.
At $26 for a day pass, it’s also way cheaper than going to the bigger resorts in the area, which is also a plus! There are also activities here as well, such as tubing, snowshoeing and more. An all-inclusive pass which includes all the activities at the Ski Hill costs $47.
Do note that the Ski Hill does not have equipment rentals on site – you can see where you can rent skis/snowboards here.
If you are looking for more variety or difficulty, head to Stevens Pass, which is one of the largest ski areas in Washington. The resort has been in operation for over 80 years, and boasts 1100 acres of skiable terrain with over 50 runs There’s something for skiers and snowboarders of all levels, with advanced runs and programs for novices.
Stevens Pass is located about a 45 minute drive from Leavenworth, and there is even daily shuttle service offered.
Another option is Mission Ridge in Wenatchee, which draws far fewer crowds.
Slide down a hill
Sledding or tubing is one of the most fun winter activities that will make you feel like a kid again!
If there is fresh snowfall, you can even go sledding right in the middle of downtown at Front Park. You’ll be able to see all the twinkling lights that illuminate downtown as you slide down on a sled or tube! Do note that this is depending on weather conditions – if there is no fresh snow, this is not possible (the snow was all brown and slushy when we were there). You’ll have to bring your own sled to do this, and many stores in town sell them as well.
The Leavenworth Winter Sports Club offers some sledding hills as well at the Golf Course area. You can bring your own or purchase one there. They also have the Lt. Michael Adams Tubing Park is also another popular spot in town, with a 100 foot hill complete with a rope tow so you don’t have to climb back up the hill. It costs $25 per person for 6 runs, and a tube is provided.
Explore the forest in a snowmobile
One of the best ways to explore the snowy forests surrounding Leavenworth is on a snowmobile! In fact, Leavenworth is known as one of the best snowmobiling areas in the country, thanks to the amount of snow it gets and the beautiful winter wonderland scenery.
If you have no experience on a snowmobile, then no problem! Leavenworth Snowmobile Tours offers a variety of tours lasting 1-3 hours, suitable for a range of experience levels. They even have a Starlight Express tour, which allows you to explore the forest at night!
For those with some experience who just want to rent a snowmobile to explore the trails on their own, check out Leavenworth Snowmobile Rentals. Delivery to your accommodations is also available.
Ride in a horse drawn carriage
You’ll see these horse-drawn carriages around town, and going for a ride in one of them is one of the most romantic things to do in Leavenworth in winter!
Hans Christian Andersen Carriage Company operates the carriages in town. We happened to see one at the town square in front of the Maipole and decided to go for a ride. The ride is pretty quick – just going from one side of town to the other and back – but it was a lovely way to see the town and the drivers were so knowledgeable about the town and the horses.
The company has been family-owned for a long time, and you can tell that they love the horses and really take care of them. They ensure that they aren’t overworked and give them plenty of time to roam around the open pastures on their farm. Our horse’s name was Aksel and he was a beautiful Clydesdale, and also super gentle and sweet.
Go for a sleigh ride
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way! Oh what fun it is to ride on a one horse open sleigh-EH! (Sorry, had to lol) I mean, is there anything that screams winter more than riding through a snowy forest on a horse-drawn sleigh?
Located 14 miles north of downtown, Leavenworth Sleigh Rides offers a variety of tours that meander through the forests and meadows of the area. Tours last 40-50 minus and you can choose from a variety of sleighs that hold up to 16 people. After an enchanted ride through a winter wonderland, you can warm up by the fire with a hot cup of cider.
It’s truly one of the most romantic Leavenworth winter activities, and one of the best ways to get into the holiday spirit!
Learn about nutcrackers
One of the most unique places to check out in Leavenworth is the Nutcracker Museum, which exhibits the largest collection of nutcrackers in the world! Most of the nutcrackers on display were donated by a local couple, who also donated the building for the museum.
You’ll find over 7000 nutcrackers and nut-cracking devices in every size, shape, and theme – everything from prehistoric nutting stones, traditional Christmas nutcrackers, giant life-size nutcrackers, and those resembling celebrities and figures from pop culture.
I will admit that I thought the museum would be kinda cheesy, but I was wrong – I actually really enjoyed seeing all the nutcrackers and seeing all the forms that they could take! I especially loved seeing the ones that were themed after popular characters in pop culture, like Disney and Star Wars characters. So fun!
They also have a gift shop where you can purchase your own unique nutcrackers, and other items.
Say hi to reindeer
Located a mile outside of downtown, the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm offers tours where you can get up close and personal about these majestic animals.
You’ll be able to feed and pet them, and learn more about them on the one-hour tour. The farm is open year-round, but understandably, this is one of the most popular things to do in Leavenworth in the winter months, especially in December.
Sadly, I was not able to do this when I was visiting because the farm was not open on the days that I was there, and it is one of my biggest regrets because it looks like such a unique experience (and the reindeer look SOOOOO CUTE!).
You must book your tour in advance. Keep in mind that the time slots fill up pretty quickly during the most popular times (especially if you are visiting Leavenworth in December), so book it ASAP!
Shop for some holiday gifts (or just ‘cause)
If you need to get some holiday shopping done (or just want to shop for yourself!), there are plenty of places to find the perfect gifts in downtown Leavenworth. There are tons of unique boutiques and shops lining Front Street, the main drag in town.
Whatever you do, be sure to check out Kris Kringl, the town’s Christmas store. Even if you aren’t visiting Leavenworth during the Christmas season, the store is well worth visiting!
Not only is it the perfect place to pick up a beautiful ornament personalized to all of the people in your life – they have tons of themes – it also has beautifully decorated vignettes that is inspiration for your own holiday decor!
The store’s facade is also charming and perfect for taking in the Leavenworth Christmas vibes. They were even filming a FedEx holiday commercial when we were here!
Other shops to check out include:
- Mountain Modern: Loved this boutique, which has some really cool PNW and outdoor themed apparel and lifestyle items. It’s the perfect place to shop for some unique Washington souvenirs!
- Nutcracker Haus: Located in the Nutcracker Museum, the Nutcracker Haus has some really unique nutcrackers and holiday items.
- The Cheesemonger’s Shop: Obviously, they are going to have an amazing selection of special cheese, both from Washington and around the world. They also have local craft beers, wines, and specialty food items (with lots imported from Germany), like sausages, sauerkraut, and more. It’s an awesome place to shop for foodie gifts!
- The Hat/Wood Shop: This is actually two shops as one. The Hat shop has a massive selection of hats – from functional to fun! I love using hats as a photo prop so I loved checking out the selection here. And, the Wood Shop has really well-made locally handcrafted wood toys and puzzles that are perfect as gifts for all the kids in your life!
- A Book For All Seasons: Every time I go somewhere, I can’t resist stopping in every time I see an independent bookstore, so obviously I had to stop in here. They have an awesome selection of new and used books, with a really well-curated Pacific Northwest section. Definitely walked out with a few books!
Attend the Winter Karneval (Bavarian Ice Festival)
Every year in January, the Bavarian Ice Festival takes over the streets of Leavenworth, celebrating German traditions dating back to the 13th century. In the past, the festival has taken place over Martin Luther King weekend, but in 2023, festivities will continue throughout the month and the event is now named the Winter Karneval.
While the events of the Bavarian Ice Festival, such as ice carving and fireworks, will still take place on Martin Luther King weekend, there will be other activities and performances that will take place throughout the month as well.
You’ll ooh and aah over the stunning ice and snow sculptures that will be displayed all around town!
Take a winter walk
If you’re looking for a chill but active activity to do during winter in Leavenworth, take a stroll in Waterfront Park. The park borders downtown Leavenworth and has walking paths all with beautiful views of the Wenatchee River and the mountains. The walking trails even connect to Blackbird Island and Enhancement Park as well.
It’s an easy way to get some fresh air (and work off all that food and drink that you’ve probably been indulging in), while walking through a winter wonderland.
Relax at a spa
Leavenworth is the perfect place to get some R&R, and relaxing at a spa is one of the best things to do after a long day of winter adventures.
The Posthotel is best known for its spa, and offers a variety of services, including facials, massages, and body treatments using European techniques. They also have a variety of indoor pools that are perfect for relaxation in between treatments. Do note that you have to be a guest to use the spa – but it is known as one of the best hotels in Leavenworth so it is totally worth it!
You could also visit the Aspen Spa in the Sleeping Lady Resort, which is located a few miles from downtown, giving you a more secluded feel. They offer a range of holistic spa treatments that are inspired by and in cooperation with nature.
More winter travel inspiration:
Winter in Munich: The Ultimate Guide
20 Magical Things to Do in Quebec City in Winter
20 Incredible Things to Do in Montreal in Winter
The Ultimate Guide to Prague in Winter
Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle in Winter (from Munich)
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Caroline is a Southern California based traveler, writer, and photographer. She travels all around California, the US, and the world in search of the most colorful places, the most delicious food, and bucket-list adventures. Her aim is to inspire other travelers discover how to add more adventure and joy to their lives. On Pictures & Words, you’ll find detailed guides + itineraries, along with vibrant photos to help you plan the the most epic trips. When she’s not traveling, Caroline also runs half marathons.