Leavenworth: Four seasons of outdoor adventures
By Roddy Scheer
Photo at right: Rafters cool off with a slow float down the Icicle River in Leavenworth. Photo by Carolyn Price
The faux Bavarian village of Leavenworth, a half hour drive east of Stevens Pass, is a year-round destination for outdoors enthusiasts. Though many think of it for its kitschy décor in town, its outdoor recreation options are a huge draw for those who enjoy natural splendor via boots, bikes, rafts, kayaks, skis and snowboards.
Some of the best hikes around Leavenworth involve trekking into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, a 400,000-acre swath of mountains and lakes where development and motorized transport are not allowed.
While spending the night camped beside one of 700 or so alpine lakes in the area is a right of passage for some, the area can be accessed just as easily by day hikers. Lake-happy hikers shouldn’t miss the 3.3-mile tramp to Eight Mile Lake (6.6 miles out-and-back) or the 5-mile hike to Lake Stuart (10 miles out-and-back), both of which are accessible via trailheads along the four-mile long Forest Road 7601, a well-rutted dirt spur off (paved) Icicle Creek Road outside of town. Another notable hike is nearby Icicle Ridge (four-plus miles out-and-back), which gains height quickly, yielding near-aerial views down into Leavenworth and the surrounding Wenatchee Valley. Also don’t miss Icicle Gorge (a four-mile loop) which traverses both banks of the roaring Icicle River without as much huffing and puffing.
For a less intense hiking experience, Leavenworth’s Waterfront Park affords plenty of opportunities to cool off aching feet in the river along a flat three-mile trail network that serves as a good intro to hiking for splash-happy kiddos.
Mountain biking is huge in Leavenworth, and it’s no wonder, given the wide range of trails through beautiful landscapes. A local favorite is Freund Canyon (nine-plus miles), which starts out climbing an old dirt road before finally meeting up with more than eight miles of single-track bliss.
The trail cuts through a verdant forest and over a rest-worthy ridge with hundred-mile views. While the trail is well maintained, there is a lot of medium-grade uphill climbing involved. The 20-minute screaming descent at the end makes the two hours of dogging it up to the crest worthwhile.
Some other Leavenworth area rides worth mentioning include Devil’s Gulch to Mission Ridge (17.8 mile loop, all single-track, lots of climbing followed by a rocket ride down), Nason Ridge (18 miles, all single-track, another thigh-pumper with killer views at the top and an exhilarating, brake-burning descent) and Chikamin Ridge (13-plus miles, mostly single-track, seemingly endless system of ridge-running single-track loop trails complete with hairpin turns on banked corners).
Rafting and Kayaking
Another way to take in the wonders of nature in and around Leavenworth is by rafting, kayaking or tubing the wild Wenatchee River. Leavenworth-based Osprey Rafting leads half- or full-day excursions (April-September depending on snowpack melt-out) that get participants well-versed in just how turbulent Class III–IV rapids can be while offering up plenty of riparian scenery between the frothy action.
To top it off, trip participants can chill out with the guides afterward at Osprey’s private take-out point, where they can enjoy build-a-burger BBQ, s’mores and riverside hammocks. Brave souls might consider renting their own raft, inflatable kayak or inner tube from Osprey and tackling the local rapids guideless.
Rock and Ice Climbing
Leavenworth is also Washington’s hot spot for rock climbing, given the preponderance of glacier-carved granite valleys and accessible pitches ranging in difficulty.
Some locals’ favorites include Castle Rock, Outer Space, ROTC, Supercrack, Never Never Crack, Midnight Rock, Pearly Gates, Careno Crag and Icicle Creek Buttress. Ice climbers make their way to Hubba Hubba for waterfall climbs on the winter ice that forms on Cashmere Mountain’s lower slopes in the Icicle Creek Valley.
In winter, outdoors enthusiasts leave Leavenworth’s blizzard of twinkling lights and head out for the snow-blanketed hills. In town, kids and beginners looking for an alpine speed fix can hop aboard the rope tow and get in a quick downhill run at the town’s Ski Hill. It’s run by the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club (LWSC) and accessible via single-run, daily or seasonal lift tickets. Not far off are bigger ski and snowboarding hills including Stevens Pass to the west and Mission Ridge to the east.
The Leavenworth area also has a variety of cross-country ski trails. LWSC sells day tickets and season passes to its 16-mile network of groomed Nordic trails spread across four locations—three-plus miles are lit at night. Snowshoers can get their kicks at Icicle Road, Eagle Creek, Hatchery Creek, Chiwaukum Creek and Wenatchee River Road.
Beyond town, hundreds of miles of backcountry, cross-country and snowshoe-accessible trails beckon throughout the neighboring national forests. The Ranger Station in Leavenworth is a good source of information for which areas and trails are best suited for an activity given the snowpack and other conditions.
After a day in the outdoors, the town of Leavenworth has creature comforts that make it a great place to relax. A soak in the hot tub at the Obertal Inn followed by a late dinner of smoked salmon tacos with a couple of margaritas at South in downtown Leavenworth is a great way to smooth out the kinks. The Munchen Haus down the block often features rocking live music.
If you ask me, there just might be no better getaway for the outdoor enthusiast than a weekend in Leavenworth.
Cool Your Jets
Obertal Inn: www.obertalinn.com
Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort: www.sleepinglady.com
Destination Leavenworth (cabin, house & condo rentals): www.destinationleavenworth.com
U.S. Forest Service Campgrounds in Wenatchee River Ranger District: www.fs.usda.gov/detail/okawen/passes-permits/recreation/?cid=stelprdb5308540
(Note: Hikers and other trails users should note that parking at National Forest trail heads requires a Northwest Forest Pass visible through the windshield. The pass costs $5 for a single day use or $30 for the year, and is available at the Ranger Station in Leavenworth as well as at Der Sportsmann on Front Street and other retailers.)
Fill Your Tank
Munchen Haus: www.munchenhaus.com
O’Grady’s Pantry & Mercantile: www.sleepinglady.com/ogradys-pantry.php
Der Sportsmann: www.dersportsmann.com
Leavenworth Mountain Sports: www.leavenworthmtnsports.com
Das Rad Haus: www.dasradhaus.com
Osprey Rafting: www.ospreyrafting.com
Northwest Mountain School: www.mountainschool.com
Get Out There
U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station, Wenatchee River Ranger District: www.fs.usda.gov/okawen
Leavenworth Winter Sports Club: www.skileavenworth.com
Leavenworth Chamber: www.leavenworth.org/
Roddy Scheer is a Seattle-based writer and photographer specializing in nature, outdoors, travel and the environment. Check out samples of his work at www.roddyscheer.com