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Inside Leavenworth: Washington's Own Bavarian Village

Leavenworth WA
Leavenworth WA | © Michael G Winters / Flickr
The Evergreen State is overflowing with recreational oddities, the most prominent of which might be the entire town of Leavenworth.

Leavenworth is a town unlike any other. Sitting quite literally in the middle of Washington State, tucked into the Cascade Range with a population of just 2,000, it has all the characteristics of a standard mountain village. But there’s a kick. Leavenworth is an exact replica of a Bavarian village and the German-inspired town hosts almost 2 million visitors every year.

Travelers come from all over the world to meander through the colorful, timber-framed shops whose entryways don hand-painted Bavarian-style signs and oversized planters packed with Petunias. Summertime visitors drive for hours to inner-tube down Icicle Creek—which runs along the town’s backside—and hike the Cascade mountains that encircle the village. Leavenworth is the definition of a quaint, small town, but that wasn’t always the case.

Originally, the land was home to the Yakama, Wenatchi, and Chinook tribes, who lived off of the deer and elk roaming in the surrounding forest and the salmon in Icicle Creek. But in 1890, white settlers made their way to the already occupied area and hunkered down. Uninterested in the food resources, the new settlers put their efforts towards mining gold, chopping timber, and skinning furs.

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Soon after their arrival, construction began on a local railroad that would, in the early 1900s, become the Great Northern Railroad‘s main base. Like so many railroad hubs, the town’s transportation resulted in a population boom, as well as the town’s officiation. This may seem like a cheerful beginning for the Bavarian village that tourists know and love today, but it’s not. Shortly after the railway construction, The Great Northern Railroad uprooted to a different location, leaving a ghost town in its wake. Leavenworth remained vacant for decades following.

In the 1960s, the town decided to give itself a large-scale makeover to jumpstart its economy. If the townspeople couldn’t profit as a timber community, then hopefully they could profit as a tourist destination. And just like that, inspired by the Swiss Alp-like mountains surrounding the town, Leavenworth brought a bit of Europe to the Pacific Northwest.

Decades later, Leavenworth continues to function as a tourism hub. From their annual Oktoberfest to their Christmas Lighting Festival to their Summertime International Accordion Celebration, the Bavarian-styled village is chock-full of seasonal events that draw visitors year-round.