Long Weekends: Backyard Bavaria

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Outside magazine, July 1994

Long Weekends: Backyard Bavaria

The best and wurst of Leavenworth, Washington, 100 miles east of Seattle
By Johnny Dodd

In the early 1960s, the townsfolk of Leavenworth, Washington, hoping to drum up a little commerce, acted on a hunch. They’d always heard that the town’s setting gave it the feel of southern Germany, and so they decided to go ahead with full-scale Bavarianization. New building codes were enacted, beer halls were erected, and as hoped, the little town soon became a tourist trap.
But kitsch notwithstanding, the true appeal of Leavenworth, surrounded on all sides by the Wenatchee National Forest, is still its location, which makes it a hub of outdoor action in the southern Cascades.

Climbing is particularly big in Leavenworth, since it’s ringed by peaks ranging from 6,000 to 9,000 feet. Peshastin Pinnacles State Park, ten miles east of town on U.S. 2, has more than a dozen routes, from The Gully, a beginner-friendly 5.0, to White Lightning, a 5.11 rock-jock haunt on the north side of the park. Or head two miles west of town on U.S. 2 to the cool granite
face of Tumwater Canyon’s Castle Rock, where there are more than 60 established routes ranging in difficulty from 5.5 to 5.10. Leavenworth’s fount of climbing wisdom and gear is Der Sportsman (509-548-5623); stop by for a copy of Viktor Kramar’s Leavenworth Rock Climbs($19.95), a guide to the area’s routes.

If you prefer to ascend at a lower adrenaline level, you’ll find plenty of suitable trails in the Wenatchee. An easy five-mile day hike on the Icicle Ridge Trail starts one mile southwest of town on Forest Road 7600 and takes you to the Icicle Ridge Lookout for a view of the cascading creeks crisscrossing the mountainsides. For a long weekend’s worth of hiking, head 12 miles
northwest of Leavenworth on U.S. 2 to the Chiwaukum Creek trailhead; the trail meanders along the eponymous stream for 30 miles on its way to Larch Lake, which sits in a small subalpine basin among stands of pine and fir trees.

Though the variety is a bit more limited, mountain bikers will also find enough to keep them busy. But be forewarned: The pedaling in the Wenatchee is not for the faint of quad. Close to town is the 14-mile loop from Icicle Ridge Trail to Fourth of July Creek Trail, which ends back on Forest Road 7600. The area’s toughest ride is the Devil’s Gulch-Mission Ridge loop, a 20-mile
route that hits you with a 3,000-foot climb near the halfway point. To get there, take U.S. 2 southeast 12 miles to Cashmere, then head south on Mission Creek Road to Forest Road 7100. In Leavenworth, rent bikes at Der Sportsman ($20-$30 per day) or Leavenworth Sports Center ($20 per day; 509-548-7864).

Whitewater enthusiasts also flock to Leavenworth for a ride on the Wenatchee River, known for both its playful Class III rapids and migrating salmon, which are feted each October during the town’s Salmon Festival. A number of outfitters run trips on the river; try Leavenworth Outfitters Inc. ($60 per day; 800-347-7934) or Alpine White Water ($65-$75 per day; 800-926-7238).

To get to Leavenworth from Seattle, take I-5 north 25 miles to U.S. 2 and then head east for 100 miles. Your first stop should be the Leavenworth Ranger Station (509-782-1413), on U.S. 2 at the east end of town, where you can pick up a Forest Service map, guides to hiking and biking trails, and a backcountry camping permit. Fees and restrictions depend on your destination; call
for details. About 250 drive-in campsites are also available at eight campgrounds along U.S. 2 and Forest Road 7600 on a first-come, first-served basis. For a more civilized stay, try the All Seasons River Inn ($90 per night; 509-548-1425), one mile west of town on the banks of the Wenatchee. Finally, after a long day on the trail you’d be wise to stop by the Leavenworth Brewery
(509-548-4545), where you can Bavarianize your aching body with any of the seven varieties of beer brewed on the premises.

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