What’s to Love: Located about 2 hours east of Seattle with less rain, more sunshine, and a lifetime-worth of outdoor recreation, the small town of Leavenworth is the “Bend, Oregon” of Washington state. If that were not enough, Leavenworth is one of the most family-friendly towns I’ve ever visited. While gas is cheap, I highly recommend taking the family on a 5-hour drive for some exciting winter fun including (depending on your experience): snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing, ice climbing, alpine climbing, downhill skiing, sledding, sleigh rides, snowmobiling, and some of the wildest tubing you’ll ever experience!
Sure, you could just drive up to Mt. Hood; however, Leavenworth provides a small, Bavarian-style village that will make you feel like you’re on a trip in the alps (well…almost!). All the winter activities can be had right in town or within a 45 minute drive. This town provides a cozy, winter wonderland that you just can’t experience at larger destinations.
I have to admit that I’ve had a love affair with Leavenworth even before I set foot in the city limits. Leavenworth is a well documented rock climbing destination in the Pacific Northwest known for it’s long, moderate, traditional-rock-climbing-routes. As a climber, I knew of its reputation as an “outdoor town” long before moving into the area. Similar to Bend, Oregon and Durango, Colorado (where I moved from), Leavenworth offers endless outdoor recreational activities very close to its downtown. In pleasant weather, these include: backpacking, rock climbing, bouldering, road biking, mountain biking, paddling, fishing, hiking, etc. Opportunities abound wherever you strike out for the day. Unlike many small outdoor towns, Leavenworth has maintained its character and charm despite being focused primarily on tourism.
Certainly, I could get hung up on all the outdoor activities, and I will detail some of our favorites. However, Leavenworth’s Bavarian Village is what clearly distinguishes it from other outdoor destinations. Just check-out some of the pictures of the buildings in this article (click on them to enlarge). After a fun day out on the slopes, bring the family back to a nice German-style, family dinner (we recommend Andreas Keller and King Ludwig’s) with an authentic polka-band, Bavarian outfits, and dancing.
Your family will be delighted with the friendliness of the restaurant owners and staff members. They take customer service seriously in this town, because they know that tourism is a vital part of their economic picture. Plus, who wouldn’t be happy in this truly festive atmosphere enjoying a sausage and some very fine micro-brews! We recently spent 4 days here with another family. Of course, we couldn’t experience everything, but here is a short video clip of the Bavarian Village followed by details of our favorite places, activities and restaurants.
Mission Ridge Ski Area: Mission Ridge invited us and our friends up to ski for the day. After a very eventful day, our friends made the comment, “That was THE most family-friendly ski resort we’ve ever visited.” I had to agree. The ski school brings the word “organized” to a whole new level. Our two (5) year old children were in and out within 10 minutes (forms completed, waivers signed, registration completed, skis and boots fitted) it was literally a miracle! They were so patient and kind with all the children. If you want to teach your kids to ski, I highly recommend bringing them to Mission Ridge.
The ski school lessons seemed more like 1-1 instruction to me. There were groups, but both our son and our friends’ daughter received loads of 1-1 teaching and encouragement. I personally watched both lessons and as an educator, I was extremely impressed with their methods and interactions. When you come, you’ll want to enroll your children in the “Kids’ Club.” They have several packages – some of which include lunch. Please contact them directly or check-out their website here. Save yourself time, space and energy and just use their rental gear. It was high quality and worked perfectly. It’s hard lugging kids’ ski gear all over the place.
While your kids are taking lessons, parents can hit the slopes! I tried snowboarding for the first time and found some really sweet green runs for beginners. There is also plenty of intermediate and advanced terrain (here is a map of the area). If your kids are too young for lessons, or they don’t want to ski, don’t worry….Mission Ridge has you covered with the nicest childcare facility I’ve ever seen at a ski resort. Our friends didn’t hesitate putting their 10 month old in after checking it out. The childcare has been in operation for 14 years at Mission. The folks keep it extremely clean and tidy with plenty of policies to ensure your kids are safe and sound while you’re having fun!
Not quite ready for day care, my wife and I did a little switching on-and-off with our childcare responsibilities. Luckily, there is a nice lodge with an attached restaurant (pub food). We did have lunch at this pub and found the food to be above average for this type of setting. I didn’t hear one complaint from a group of fairly picky eaters! Of course, there were plenty of options for the kids. Here is a video clip of Mission Ridge.
Leavenworth Ski Hill (Crazy Tubing!): I’m sure there are tubing hills like this one located at the “Leavenworth Winter Sports Club” (aka: Leavenworth Ski Hill); however, I have never seen one! This is one WILD and fast ride! For $10 and a waiver, you’ll get towed up part of the ski hill where they’ll cut you loose down a run that feels like a luge or bobsled run. It’s super fast with some wild banking-turns near the bottom. It will get your blood pumping for sure! It will probably scare you to death watching your kids go down the hill, but our kids had such a great time with absolutely no problems whatsoever. It’s possible that they just don’t have enough weight to go out of control. We took a risk, and it paid off for us. You may want to survey the scene and make the decision yourself. Certainly, a helmet would be a smart idea.
The Leavenworth Ski Hill also has the longest rope tow I’ve ever seen. It’s unbelievable…and scary looking near the top. Most people bailed near the top of the hill, forgoing the steepest section. If I were skiing, I would have bailed for sure. This does look like a great place for beginners, because you can leave the rope tow at any time. Plus, it’s very relaxed, and you certainly won’t have to wait around getting on a lift. In addition to downhill action, there is cross-country skiing (26km of trails!) and snowshoeing. Plus, they have a really nice lodge/warming area to hang out while your kids are having fun. See their website for more information. Definitely include a trip to the town hill – it’s just a 5 minute drive from downtown! Here is a short clip of the tubing hill.
Sledding at the Town Park: Want to tour the downtown village without the kids? Bring some sleds, because there is a decent little hill right in the downtown park on Front Street. Take turns watching the kids and check-out all the delightful little businesses and restaurants. The sledding is free! When you get cold, there is a place right across the street where you can get a hot cocoa. Before you go, you might want to check the condition of the hill. If it hasn’t been snowing much, it will probably be a bit messy with lots of ice.
Winding Down at the Solstice Spa: The best way to sum up our experience at the Solstice Spa…Ahhhhh! We’ve been to some very nice spas including 10,000 Waves in Santa Fe and Portland’s perennial favorite “Aequis.” The Solstice is right up there with these destination spas. Plus, it has the benefit of being walking distance to the downtown, Bavarian Village. It was also featured in the book “Best Places to Kiss in the Northwest” – a very deserving award I might add!
We were treated to the “Couples Massage with a Steam,” and it’s an experience I’ll remember for a long time. If you go to Leavenworth, it would be a crime to miss out on the Solstice! Their prices are usual and customary for the quality of service. Don’t view this as a luxury, but rather, a necessity…something you deserve as parents working hard to raise your kids. Spend the money and the time to take care of yourselves. You won’t regret it! The picture of the bed is from one of three gorgeous guest rooms inside the spa. These rooms are on the upper floor and available for overnight stays whether you’re using the spa or not. Please contact the Solstice for more information about rates.
Make sure you arrive a bit early – they have a very nice retail area with some great clothes, music, jewelry, and other accessories. You’ll receive some spa slippers and one of their cushy robes. I highly recommend arranging some time in their steam room, which is included in the Couple’s Massage Package – it’s digitally controlled and very responsive to temperature changes. The eucalyptus blend that is mixed with the steam will awaken your senses and help to clear out your sinuses! The therapists will give you approximately 20 minutes to benefit from the steam, which has a shower inside the steam room, just in case you get too hot and want to cool off. It’s very peaceful, warms your muscles for the massage, and you’ll have that entire time to relax and spend healing time together.
After the steam, we were given 60-minute, simultaneous massages that were choreographed beautifully. Before the massage, you’re asked to close your eyes while they have you smell several scents. Whatever you like best, that one is chosen for your massage oil. This is a first-class place with high level of professionalism – there were some nice touches included: sparkling (local) cider, chocolate truffles, and apple slices. They even make filling-out paper work relaxing – at the time, our feet were being soaked in a warm foot bath. We highly recommend the Solstice!
Fueling Up (our favorite restaurants): We were fortunate to eat at several excellent restaurants – all of which, I highly recommend, especially for families with small children.
Andreas Keller: We ate here for dinner on Friday night, January 9th, 2009. I won’t forget the date or the experience. Our party of 8 was treated with such kindness by the staff. Due to some very nasty weather, it was a slow night, and our kids had free-reign of the entire place. The two (5) year old kids basically played hide and seek in the very cool circular booths (see picture). They also advertise the restaurant as having the most live music in town. Because of the weather, it was a lone accordion player the night we were there. Based on our experience, this is a very family-friendly place with excellent service and great food.
As you can see in the picture, I had the Bavarian Beef Goulash. Other folks stuck to various sausages. The Octoberfest beer was outstanding, and we did our best to sample as much as possible! The children’s menu is a bit scant, but don’t let that deter you from stopping in. There is plenty of food that kids will enjoy eating or sharing on the main menu. Generally, kids love sausage, and they do offer a kids’ sausage with fries. For a slightly larger appetite, your kids might enjoy the “Small Sausage Plate,” which includes potato salad and rye bread. For immediate gratification, start the kids off with a round of pretzels – they were top notch and the kids loved them! Also, kids will love their homemade spaetzle noodles, which like most of their food is made from scratch, including our soups and all the sauces.
While dinner satisfied our entire crew, the desserts were definitely the hit of the night, and the best we had in Leavenworth. We had black forest cake and an almond torte (sorry, don’t remember the German name) that we all shared. The desserts are made in-house, or they have a selection in their display case from a local Bavarian bakery.
King Ludwig’s: Advertises as the “…best German food in Washington state…guaranteed” and “…you’ll be treated like royalty.” I found the food to be the same high quality of Andreas Keller with similar Bavarian-style entree. I’ll let you be the judge of which restaurant you prefer. I can definitely support their “…you’ll be treated like royalty” statement. I don’t think I’ve ever been treated so well by an owner of a restaurant and staff!
The owner went out of her way to make sure we were comfortable with our kids. Again, because of the weather, it ended-up being a slow night. She thought we’d be more comfortable downstairs where the kids could run around the dance floor. She was right! Your family will find big benches, a great dance floor, and plenty of room in this massive space! I can imagine it getting very rowdy and fun when a band is playing and drinks are flowing.
I had a chicken schnitzel dish with homemade noodles, and it was excellent. The kids stuck to noodles and pretzels, which worked out fine. The Rotkraut (red cabbage) was the highlight of the meal for me, along with a delectable, apple strudel dessert. If your family is feeling adventurous, they have some “family-style” dinner options that might help satisfy everyone.
Munchen Haus: We loved this outdoor beer garden/sausage hut! If you want a brat on a bun, this is your place to go! Don’t worry, even though it’s outside, your family will stay warm under their heat lamps. They also have an outdoor fireplace to keep everyone nice and cozy. Again, we were treated like royalty at this place, and we certainly ate like kings!
They have an excellent selection of high-quality, Bavarian sausages and lots of condiments and different kinds of mustard. I couldn’t decide which mustard to use, so I just put about 10 different drops all along my bratwurst. I think my favorite was the jalapeno mustard. Just like many places in this town, there is no shortage of excellent beer, and I recommend getting a sampler before ordering. Here is how serious they take their beer…as stated on their website:
“We serve only the best premiere northwest draft microbrews and the finest German draft beers which adhere to the strict 1516 Bavarian purity law. We also try to take advantage of some of the distinctive seasonal beers which are offered by breweries throughout the year.”
Can’t decide which sausage to order? I too had trouble while staring at all the different options. The owner recommended the “Munchen Haus Beer Brat,” which was mind-blowingly-good! I don’t know if that’s official food critic language, but that’s the best way I can describe it. They boil it in beer and then grill it up. I had to have a second one – it was that good. For kids, I recommend the hot dog. This isn’t your typical wiener…just taste it, and you’ll thank me later.
South: After a couple of days of Bavarian food, we were ready for something different, and South definitely fit the bill. Just look at the pictures of their pretty food – plus, it tastes as good as it looks! If you go online looking for reviews, as you’ll see here, you’ll see the raves for yourself. This is a dining experience you do not want to miss in Leavenworth, especially if you’re looking for a Latin/Hispanic/Puerto Rican/Mexican-inspired menu. Whatever you want to call it, the food is fantastic.
South makes everything from scratch using the freshest ingredients, even their cocktails use fresh-squeezed juice. Their meats are all-natural meaning the animals are raised without the use of synthetic hormones or antibiotics. Just wait until you bite into their hot, flour-based chips that taste like they were made while you were ordering. If you want to experience an authentic, chocolaty but not overly sweet sauce, order their enchiladas with the house-made mole. I’ve actually had dreams about this mole since I left!
Again, there was not a single complaint or issue with our food. Everyone was happily enjoying the ambiance, food, and good company. On weekend evenings, a reservation is a good idea. They have a couple big tables that are excellent for families. We found South to be very family-friendly and welcoming to our kids. They have a children’s menu with pretty much what you’d expect (beans and rice, quesadillas, tacos, etc.); however, they do offer a fish filet and fresh drinks.
Caveats: To get to Leavenworth, Washington, it’s a long drive with kids – plan on at least 5 hours with breaks. Do yourself a BIG favor and consult the website www.tripcheck.com before you leave. If there are road closures (especially 97), you may want to reconsider your trip. It’s mountainous terrain, if a road is closed, it could add hours to your trip. Because we had to circumnavigate highway 97, it took us almost 6 hours to get there. Surprisingly, our kids managed it pretty well.
Make sure you bring snow boots in the winter. You’ll want a good, non-stick sole or some slip on traction devices for shoes. It appears that Leavenworth doesn’t use much (if any) salt on the roads or sidewalks. It was very icy everywhere we went in town. They do a great job of clearing out the snow on the roads and sidewalks.
The Bavarian Village is a lot of fun! My guess is that on busy weekends, it’s probably impossible to find a space along Front Street – the main street through the village. You may want to consider riding a bus into town. Talk to your hotel representatives, and I’m sure they can point you in the right direction.
Website: Leavenworth’s Official Site
Distance from Portland: About 279 – 289 miles going north on I-5 (Google Map). If you’re planning on hitting Seattle during rush hour, you may want to consider heading east on 84 to the Dalles (Google Map) instead. On our way to Leavenworth, we went out 84 and came back I-5. It’s about the same amount of driving time.
Recommended Ages: As a winter trip, this is perfect for the whole family from infants all the way to teenagers. There is so much to do in and around town.
Parental Stress Factor: Medium to High – this depends on the condition of the roads while traveling in winter. And, it depends on how well your kids handle long periods in the car. Our kids usually don’t do very well in the car, but on this trip, they did fine. This is a tourist town where things can get busy. If you like excitement, come during the summer or during Octoberfest. If you want it more relaxed, take the winter trip with the family.
Family Fun Factor: High…there is such diversity of activities in this town. Most activities involve engaging the whole family in fun adventures.
Pet Friendly: Best Western’s Icicle Inn will allow pets for an extra fee. They are not allowed in the condominiums – just the hotel. Personally, I don’t think it sounds like a good idea to travel with a dog for 5 hours in a car. However, I guess that’s up to you.
Weather Considerations: It’s pretty mountainous terrain up near Leavenworth. Obviously, it would be far easier to make the trip in the summer, but then, you’d miss out on all the great winter activities. Check the forecast, check road conditions and plot a route that will get you there safely.
Insider Info: In the Family Tips section, I write in more detail about the Best Western Icicle Inn and Aspen Suites Condominiums at the Icicle Village Resort. However, as a piece of insider information, I want to recommend the newer (less than 1 year) condos. As you can see in the photo, these units are beautiful and a bit more sexy than the older units. The newer units have granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances, hardwood kitchen floors and dining tables, leather furniture and beautiful detailing. If these new units are in your budget, please check them out! Here is a short video clip of the Icicle Village Resort, which features the Aspen Suites Condominiums.
Family Tips: While we were in Leavenworth, we stayed at the Icicle Village Resort. There is a Best Western hotel located within the confines of the resort property, which is very nice. The Icicle Village Resort has plenty of activities to keep your kids busy including a “Family Fun Center” with a cinema, arcade games, and soda fountain. There is a miniature golf course and a heated, outdoor pool, which is covered in the winter with an inflated dome. A Bavarian-style breakfast is included with your stay featuring self-serve waffles – kids will love these.
If it’s within your budget, book one of the Aspen Suites Condos! We stayed in 411/412, which opens up into a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom unit with an adjoining door. These units are only about 5-6 years old and have gas fireplaces. This is an excellent option if you’re traveling with another family, friends or grandparents. If you can split the cost, it becomes a fairly reasonable option for lodging. The living room sofa folds out into a decent-sized bed, which is perfect for younger siblings or friends. The condos come equipped with a full kitchen (including: dishwasher, refrigerator, oven, coffee maker, all necessary cooking utensils, and place settings for 6 in two bedroom units and 4 in one bedroom units), washer/dryer, and a jet-tub in the master bedroom suites. Here is a list of various packages.
Technorati Tags: Leavenworth, Washington, outdoor, towns, bavarian, German, Octoberfest, Mission Ridge, skiing, tubing, Solstice Spa, Munchen Haus, Andreas Keller, King Ludwig’s, South, restaurants, Icicle Inn, Best Western, Condo
Other Posts of Interest...
Hood River - Outdoor Playland on January 2nd, 2008
Timberline Lodge on December 12th, 2007
Cooper Spur: A Family Resort on March 5th, 2012