Our summer road trip traversed 5,090 miles across seven states — California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming — which had us in eleven different hotels, all so we could go to six Dead & Company concerts, Dinosaur National Monument, Rocky Mountain National Park, and a whole slew of other things along the way. While many of the stops we made were planned, some we discovered on the road and were a last minute addition.
One of our last minute road trip discoveries was a Bavarian Village in Washington State that is similar to California’s Danish Village of Solvang.
For Dead & Company’s concert at The Gorge Amphitheater, we stayed in the nearby town of Ellensburg, which has many buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Our plan was to spend the day exploring Ellensburg before heading over to The Gorge, but after walking around the Historic District, visiting the Kittitas County Historical Museum, and stopping by Dick And Jane’s Spot, it was only lunchtime. The only other thing we had planned was to visit the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park on the way to the venue, but it wasn’t going to be more than an hour or so for that stop, so I googled things to do near Ellensburg and discovered Leavenworth.
Leavenworth didn’t originally make it onto my road trip itinerary because it was an hour north of Ellensburg and in the complete opposite direction we were traveling in. But, now that we had 3-4 hours to kill, we decided to make the drive into the Cascades on Highway 97 and check out the town. Our drive was one of the most scenic drives we have done in a while, with lush green mountains and farms flanking both sides of the highway. Once we were deep into the mountains, dark grey clouds formed and rain poured down on us. Thankfully, on the other side of the mountains as we approach Leavenworth, the clouds dispersed a bit, blue skies peeked through, and the rain stopped.
Nestled in the heart of the Cascade Mountains between Seattle and Spokane, Leavenworth is a Bavarian-themed village featuring alpine-style buildings, German food and beer, a Nutcracker Museum, a Gingerbread Bakery, horse-drawn carriages, and tourist shops galore.
The quaint town also has several pressed penny machines and because Carter collects them, we were hunting them all down, sampling snacks, cookies, and Bavarian pretzels along the way. We peeked in many of the cute shops, picked up a Christmas ornament (I collect them), and marveled at the beauty of the Disneyland-looking town (complete with workers in costumes) and the beautiful mountains towering in the background.
Brian and I both were chatting about how Leavenworth reminded us of Solvang, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that the town in Central Washington wasn’t always a Bavarian Village and that the transformation was inspired and assisted by the Danish village of Solvang, California we visited back in 2016.
The History Of Leavenworth
The towering mountain peaks and bountiful land was first home to the Yakama, Chinook and Wenatchi tribes who hunted the land for deer and elk and fished Icicle Creek for salmon. Then settlers hungry for gold, timber, and furs settled the area, and by 1890, Icicle Flats was born. Three years later the construction of a rail line to the town was completed, bring even more people to the area.
In 1903, Lafayette Lamb arrived from Clinton, Iowa to build the second largest sawmill in Washington state, and in 1906, the small timber community of Leavenworth was officially incorporated. The town became the headquarters of the Great Northern Railway and for a while, the logging and sawmill businesses boomed and the town grew. Unfortunately, in the 1920s the railroad relocated to Wenatchee and almost turned Leavenworth into a ghost town.
For more than thirty years, the town scraped by, always on the brink of extinction. But in the early 1960s, town leaders decided to investigate strategies to turn the town around.
The idea to transform Leavenworth into a theme town was the brainchild of two Seattle business men, Ted Price and Bob Rodgers, who had bought a failing cafe on Highway 2 in 1960. A committee was formed and in 1965, the pair led a trip to the Danish-themed town of Solvang, California to build support for the idea.
Because the gorgeous alpine hills surrounding the town resemble those in German Bavaria, they decided to turn the town into a Bavarian Village and tourist destination. The downtown area was completely renovated and the first building to be remodeled in the Bavarian style was the Chikamin Hotel, which was renamed the Edelweiss after the state flower of Bavaria. The town also created a series of festivals to bring even more tourists into town, like the Autumn Leaf Festival, Maifest, and the popular Christmas Lighting Festival, which all continue to this day.
Needless to say, their efforts worked. Leavenworth is now a top tourist destination in the Pacific Northwest, with more than a million tourists visiting each year.
Know Before You Go
- The Bavarian village of Leavenworth is located on US Highway 2 in Washington 98826 in Chelan County.
- In November 2007, Good Morning America went to Leavenworth for Holiday Gifts for the Globe where the show helped light up the town for the Christmas Holiday.
- Leavenworth was named the Ultimate Holiday Town USA by A&E.
- The town is home to the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, which opened in 1995 and contains more than 5,000 nutcrackers dating from prehistoric to modern.
- Leavenworth’s transformation into a theme town was inspired and assisted, by the Danish Village of Solvang, California.