For Seattle adventure junkies that evaluate their weekend prospects using an equation of wilderness, snow-covered granite, mountain bike trails, whitewater, and the availability of stout European microbrews, Leavenworth is arguably the most magnetic town in the entire Pacific Northwest. Located scarcely 3 miles away from Seattle along scenic Highway 2, the characteristically Tudor bedecked architecture of Leavenworth suddenly manifests to the eastbound traveler, shortly after Stevens Pass. A sudden break in the terrain signals the start of this seemingly misplaced Bavarian village.
Leavenworth is a classic example of a boom-and-bust community, originally established by settlers in nearby Cashmere in the early 1880’s, when the town was known as ‘Mission.' Leavenworth was homesteaded a few years later, bringing logging, mining and the Great Northern Railway set up a divisional headquarters in town in 1893. Becoming a major rail depot, the town grew until 1921, when the railway decided to move its operations to Wenatchee and the town’s only sawmill was closed. Insult was added to injury when Great Northern re-routed its line to bypass the township, and after the great Depression and war years, Chelan County started sending welfare recipients to settle in Leavenworth.
In 1962, Leavenworth residents started a local effort that turned the cycle around. Turing to the University of Washington’s Community Development Bureau for help, citizens agreed on establishing a Bavarian theme in architecture and started marketing their town as an alpine getaway, cultivating a grass-roots economic turnaround without any government funding or assistance. Today, the town of 2,100 averages more than 1.5 million visitors each year, and it is estimated that 35% of this crowd come to the region in search of some form of outdoor recreation.
Surrounded by the enchanted peaks of the Leavenworth-Lake Wenatchee Ranger District, Nola and I established a base camp for a sorely needed getaway in the Leavenworth periphery. As parents of two insatiably curious toddlers, the prescribed antidote for our exhaustion was a weekend adventure/romantic interlude at Leavenworth’s much heralded Run-of-the-River Inn, located just east of Leavenworth in this world class hiking and mountain biking region. Our technique of staging weekend expeditions from a bed-and-breakfast is extremely effective, and in Leavenworth, it was marvelously strategic; your morning breakfast is effortlessly obtained, preparing us bright-eyed explorers for a days worth of adventure on a well-rested and full stomach. After the day of rugged exploring, this posh inn was an appealing destination to refresh and set forth for an evening jaunt of the alehouses and boutiques of this Germanic township.
Run-of-the-River Inn is a picturesque log cabin style bed-and-breakfast, owned by Karen and Monty Turner, and is featured in a myriad of periodicals as one of the finest sanctuaries to connect with nature in the entire northwest. Cradled in the heart of the Cascade range, just east of Leavenworth, this charming retreat is best described as a Martha Stewart-meets-Eddie Bauer style hideaway. Beautifully ornated with hand milled log walls and rustic shelves, chandeliers and sundry furnishings all crafted with the charm and flavour of an alpine chalet, Run-of-the-River has earned recognition in both Country Living and Northwest Travel magazines. Basing our own adventurous weekend out of the inn’s luxurious Tumwater suite, Nola and I began a quick, two-day sojourn away from the maritime rainshadow of Seattle.
At our first breakfast, our hosts Chris and Jennifer greeted the full complement of the inns’ guests, six enthusiastic couples, in the sun-warmed great room with casual talk of the weather. “Did you hear the woodpecker this morning?” someone queried. Most of the group chuckled acquiescence. Chris informed us that the little visitor had a rather notorious reputation for serenading guests by pecking on a tin roof, but that know one seemed to mind much. I suggested making an alternative suet-type feeder log filled with peanut butter (which attracts and holds bugs, ergo woodpecker food), and Chris readily stated that innkeeper John would have a new project the following day.
After a gourmet breakfast of apple crisp, fresh fruit, cinnamon French toast and a delightful yogurt smoothy concoction, Nola and I planned to tour the Icicle creek, departing on beefy-tired mountain bikes supplied by the Inn.
The Leavenworth region is a Mecca for mountain biking and hiking. Trails throughout the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the Peshatin area and the Enchantment Range abound. For cyclists, skill levels range from low elevation gains along the developed but picturesque corridor between Cashmere and Leavenworth, to more aggressive off-road crunches like the Boundary Butte-Mountain Home Road route outside Leavenworth, a 10-mile circuit that leads through fragrant Ponderosa pine forest, upward to a glorious saddle ridge that spans both the Icicle and Tumwater Valleys. While the final 3/4 mile is a steep push, the downhill run on this route is fast and exhilarating.
Other bike routes in the area include high elevation runs around Cougar Inn at the northeast corner of Lake Wenatchee, here various scenic bike trails provide stunning views at an average of 4200 feet. Swauk Pass, along Highway 97 south of Leavenworth also has a number of steller bike trails starting at the snow park at Forest Service Road 9716. Recommended routes include the Hainey Meadows run at 4000 feet, where the relative isolation and assents approaching the Diamond Pass overlook may yield privileged views of elk herds and the peaks of the Stuart Mountain Range.
After spending the morning on the bikes, hiking offered a welcome alternative to relieve the lactic acid burning and to terminate the saddle sores from a few poorly calculated pothole crossings. Gearing up in Gore-tex, we drove the extent of Icicle Creek Road to Eight Mile Creek Road. We proceeded to hike up to Eightmile Lake, a 4 mile circuit with an elevation gain of 1600 feet. The view at the Lake includes a small rock dam that channels water from this glacially-carved wilderness lake to supply a fish hatchery further downslope. A sudden change in weather brought in an unexpected and chilling snow squall.
Hiking in the Leavenworth area demands attention to changing weather conditions, since unexpected squalls and precipitation can dramatically chill the unwary hiker. The mountaineer’s creed is to remember to carry the almost proverbial ‘10 essential survival items;’ at the risk of sounding didactic, these items include extra clothing, extra food, sunglasses, knife, fire starting device and catalyst fuel, first aid kit, map, compass and flashlight. I would add to the list to include a signaling device, such as a whistle of pen flare pistol and a small water filter or purification tablets. Being prepared is crucial; during our short hike, we encountered brilliant sunlight and below zero snow conditions, both within a short span of only two hours.
After a rigorous day of outdoor activity, we returned to the inn and prepared to sample the Epicurean delights of Leavenworth’s European cuisine and alehouses. My method of selecting a restaurant was quite simple; wander Front Street and migrate toward the most prominent smell of cooking Red Cabbage. It ultimately came down to a tie between Cafe Mozart and Andrea’s Keller Restaurant; while we where hard pressed to select one over the other, I will confess that both establishments benefited from our patronage that weekend.
Pleasantly numbed by copious amounts of Bitsburger Pils and Heferweizen, Nola and I strolled amorously homeward under a mantel of brilliant stars. Rated by the Northwest Travel Magasine as one of the four most romantic bed-&-breakfasts in all of Washington state, Run-of-the-River is also reputed to be “one of the 10 best places to kiss” by the famed publication of the same name. The rating is well deserved; that night, not having shared a night alone together since the birth of our first son Erik almost 4 years before, we relaxed in our room’s oversized garden Jacuzzi, warmed and captivated by the amber glow of coals from the rustic woodburning stove. The night was ours.
After breakfast the next day, we sought out places among the Wenatchee River for future kayaking and rafting tours. Swiftwater Park, just west of Leavenworth, starts a six mile stretch of whitewater that challenges the most advanced paddlers. Flatwater paddlers or rafters will prefer runs from Lake Wenatchee to the Tumwater campground, a day-long flat that gives a splendid view of the surrounding region. I determine that the best way to sample the Wenatchee River is by having a compliant, benevolent partner who is willing to act as a shuttle pilot, allowing someone like myself to be taxied between the most enticing segments, assisting me to launch and load my boat between stretches of stagnant water or the corresponding death-traps along the river. Not surprisingly, Nola declined.
The diversity of recreational opportunities around Leavenworth are unmatched by any other single area I have yet had the privilege to visit. We determined that in the winter, the enthusiast can ice climb along Icicle Creek, ski or snowboard at Mission Ridge, snowshoe at a hundred locations around the town and even find opportunities to dogsled or snow mobile if desired. During other seasons, world-class rock climbing can be had on Icicle and Tumwater Ridge, paragliding is exquisite in Cashmere, whitewater rafting and kayaking opportunities are top-notch all along the Wenatchee River, mountain biking, horseback riding, spelunking, and any other variation of hiking, camping and photography are available in almost all the alpine regions of the Leavenworth periphery. Within a 20-mile radius of the town, the opportunity for adventure are unmatched; the natural splendor of the surrounding wilderness and the Bavarian flavour of the town all combine to make this town in the heart of the Cascades the most exquisite destination for adventurers and romantics alike.
We had come to the end of our short weekend rather quickly, but before retiring that evening, I glanced at the visitor commentary book back in the main foyer of Run-of-the-River and found, much to my delight, almost every second patron’s entry being a short poem by a grateful patron of the inn. It must be a positive testimony that Run-of-the-River can inspire visitors to such musings. That visitors become relaxed to the point of authoring verse is a clear indication the inn has the serene ability to completely charm and disarm its patrons -- a truly rare find in these days. That evening we sat on the spacious rear deck and enjoyed the serenading of frogs under a crisp, spring night sky.
On our last morning, we lounged on the rear deck of the inn and watched as a pair of Canada geese cantered like F-16s over Icicle Creek. The meadow behind the Inn was filled with birds; bank swallows spiraled over the sand while mallards and Steller Jays bickered amongst the alders. Our host informed us that deer, raccoons and even the occasional black bear are readily seen in the thicket behind the inn, a panoramic facade framed by the splendid, snow cloaked peaks of the Cascade Range. “Breakfast is served, please join us,” innkeeper Chris calls from the greatroom. Halfway through its scrumptious completion, a red-faced young man peaks his head around the corner; “Good morning folks, hope you don’t mind but I’ll just make a plate for my wife and serve her in bed.” The rest of us chuckle as he retreats back upstairs. “Newlyweds,” Jennifer explains, as we all reminisce of how romantic the weekend turned out to be.
After breakfast, we say good-bye to Chris and Jennifer, patting resident Airedale terrier Jasper while secretly each sneaking him a final, home-baked cookie. Reluctantly, we load our belongings and depart for the journey back to Seattle.
Michael Kundu, Founder & Director of Project SeaWolf
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Copyright A. Michael Kundu