Leavenworth, Washington is a small town (pop. ~2,000) about 120 miles east of Seattle. Nestled in the western foothills of the Cascade Mountains, the area is graced by mountains rising to 5,000 and 8,000 feet. The area is known for sunshine, low rainfall (9 inches per year), and nearby fruit orchards. The town of Leavenworth is located approximately 130 miles west of Seattle.
One way or the other, you have to travel over a mountain pass, or two. Especially during winter months, be prepared for winter driving and check the weather for your route, via US2 (over Stevens Pass) or I-90/US97 (over Snoqualimie Pass and Blewett Pass).
A short history of Leavenworth, WA
The area was originally inhabited by the Yakama, Chinook and Wenatchi tribes, who hunted the land for deer and elk, and fished Icicle Creek for salmon.
During the 1860s gold rush, white settlers came to the area. From 1890-1892 the town became known as Icicle Flats and the Great Northern Railway laid tracks across the Wenatchee Valley and over Stevens Pass. In 1893, the town was platted and re-named by a group of financiers led by Captain Charles F. Leavenworth. The booming pioneer town was supported by logging and a sawmill.
Around 1910, the railroad re-routed operations, bypassing the community. The sawmill closed in 1920 and the Great Depression further decimated the commercial district. The town struggled for decades.
In the 1960s, the town worked with the Bureau of Community Development at the University of Washington and conceived a plan to draw visitors to the area. In addition to re-making the downtown area as a Bavarian village, the community created a series of festivals in spring, fall, and winter to encourage regular visitors.
Over the next few decades, more festivals and events are added. The alpine town further revises Leavenworth to ensure it is authentically Bavarian.
Today, Leavenworth is a top tourist destination in the Pacific Northwest with over a million tourists each year. They come to enjoy a Bavarian experience in a breathtaking alpine wilderness setting. Activities include river rafting, snow sports, alpine and river walks, birding, art, cultural events, and seasonal festivals.
Annual Festivals in Leavenworth
Some of the key annual Leavenworth festivals include:
- January: Bavarian Icefest on Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend
- May: Maifest on the 2nd weekend in May (usually Mother’s Day Weekend)
- October: Oktoberfest during the first three weekends in October
- November: Christkindlmarkt on Thanksgiving Day weekend
- December: Christmas Lighting Festival each of the first three full weekends in December.
More details and links to each of these festivals is listed below. Upcoming festivals are listed on our calendar.
Bavarian Icefest in Leavenworth, WA
IceFest in Leavenworth, WA is the Bavarian-themed towns winter celebration every year on MLK Jr. Day Weekend. The village is still dressed in over half a million twinkling holiday lights. And the weekend is a flurry of frosty frivolity, including Snow Sculptures, IceFest Games & Activities, Snowmobile Sled Pull, Live Ice Carving, Stevens Pass Grom Playground and Fireworks are just some of the fun for the weekend.
Admission is free. Fees for Games & Activities: Active duty military $0.01, adults 18+ $5, youth 11-17 $3, kids 6 and under are free.
Maifest in Leavenworth, WA
Maifest in Leavenworth, WA celebrates spring…and not a moment too soon! The sun is out, wildflowers are bursting, apple and pear blossoms are springing to life, and the Bavarian Village is ready to celebrate.
Maifest is a German tradition dating back to the 10th century, when villagers would gather to celebrate the arrival of spring by planting flowers, playing music and games, and raising a “maipole” in the local square. The pole would be decorated with sausages, cakes, flowers, and ribbons. Villagers believed that dancing around the maypole would bring good luck and wealth to their town.
Admission is free.
Oktoberfest in Leavenworth, WA
Oktoberfest in Leavenworth, WA is the next best thing to being at the world’s largest beer festival in Munich, Germany. Leavenworth celebrates Oktoberfest every autumn on the first three weekends of October. Your Oktoberfest admission ticket gets you a wristband for entry into the Oktoberfest grounds offering multiple venues, each with non-stop live entertainment, food, and of course plenty of beer. Enjoy free live entertainment from American and German music and dance groups. Please remember to drink responsibly and be kind to those around you.
Things to know about Leavenworth Oktoberfest
- Don’t miss the free Oktoberfest procession every Saturday at noon down Front Street, followed by the traditional keg tapping ceremony at 1 pm in the Festhalle.
- If you plan to stay overnight, be sure to book accommodations as far in advance as possible.
- Food and beverages are not included with admission.
- Shop Leavenworth vendor booths offering crafts, souvenirs, and German goods, plus local food favorites and traditional German sausages.
- Kid Activities: Kinderplatz play area for kids features a climbing wall, bouncy toys, clowns, and magicians.
- All MINORS (meaning, anyone under 21 years of age, including babies, yes babies) must exit the Oktoberfest gates by 9pm each night.
Tickets: Friday $10 6pm-Midnight, Saturday $20 noon-1am, Children under 12 free with an adult. Active Military and their family members and Retired Military (with valid ID) are FREE. Purchase tickets for each day, online in advance or at the gate with cash only. The ticket price is just your admission into the event. Food/Beverage tickets are sold separately once you’re inside the gates.
Christkindlmarkt in Leavenworth, WA
Cancelled in 2020. Christkindlmarkt in Leavenworth, WA is the Bavarian town’s Christmas Market for the whole family is held in Front Street Park and the Festhalle on Thanksgiving Weekend – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This popular northwest tradition features delicious and authentic Bavarian foods, handmade arts & crafts for gift giving, kids activities, authentic music, and plenty of family-friendly fun.
History of Christkindlmarkt
Christmas markets have been a German tradition since at least the mid 1500s. Known as Christkindlmarkts, they were a festive meeting place for people. Towns, cities and villages across Germany celebrate unique Christkindlmarkts. Local tradesmen sold their wares at the market, which gave each market an individual flavor. Food and beverages served were produced in the region. So, each town’s offerings are a little different. Larger cities, such as Munich, have more than one market.
Christmas markets are a delightful way to begin holiday festivities. The crisp, cold air fills with the fragrance of sizzling sausages, sweet pastries, spices and hot spiced gluhwein. Booths sell sweet treats, such as chocolates, cakes, pastries,cookies and candies. Music of Christmas fills the air, in preparation for Christmas. In traditional fashion the Christkind (a younger, child-like counterpart to Santa Claus) will welcome all to the Market and share wishes for the Christmas holiday season.
Admission is free. There is plenty of free family-friendly Bavarian- and Christmas-themed entertainment. You can also shop craft booths for handmade arts & crafts and other gifts, and buy authentic Bavarian foods to keep you fueled for fun.
Christmas Lights in Leavenworth, WA
The Bavarian village of Leavenworth is truly an unforgettable experience in any season. But especially in winter with plenty of outdoor snow activities and beautiful Christmas lights during the month of December.
In 2020, the town is adapting to circumstances and doing things differently. Since the Christmas Lighting Festival typically draws very large crowds, they are postponing the events usually scheduled the first three Saturdays and Sundays of December 2020 (4-6, 11-13, 18-20). This year, to give people the gift and the magic of Leavenworth, the town will be hanging beautiful Christmas lights throughout downtown!
Expect to see Christmas lights EVERY NIGHT from Thanksgiving weekend through Valentines weekend! They will come on every evening, seven nights a week. This means you can come anytime and see them when the time is right for you!
Leavenworth is the outdoor recreation epicenter in every season. Winter has lots of sunny days, deep snow, and fun winter activities for the whole family. If a winter getaway is in your plans, the Village of Lights will be shining bright!
But wait, there’s more! If you prefer to stay at home, they will also be providing a virtual experience!
Half-price Christmas Lighting Tours to Leavenworth, WA
Want to leave the driving to someone else? Take a bus tour to one of Washington’s most popular annual holiday traditions for families: the Christmas Lighting Festival in the picturesque Bavarian-themed village of Leavenworth. During this full-day event, browse through the village’s quaint shops, savor German food from the street stands offering delicious creations, enjoy live outdoor entertainment, let your kids sled down the snow hill, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, and then gather at dusk (on Saturdays and Sundays) for the lighting ceremony as the town becomes ablaze in twinkling lights. Afterward, relax back on the bus as you return home filled with the holiday spirit. Find Goldstar discount tickets.