What's Chillin' In Chelan County, Washington - My Family Travels

This scenic road trip promises recreation, offbeat cultural festivities and learning opportunities for all ages around Leavenworth, at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state.

Sometimes I hear about a place via word of mouth, from other moms or vacationing parents, and it sounds so great that I want to research more and share it with others. That’s how I feel about Chelan County, a great family destination in Washington State.

This county straddles the famous 400-mile-long Cascade Loop scenic highway, and is located about midway between Seattle and Spokane in the foothills of the Cascade Range. The tourist destination of Leavenworth is located in the eastern Cascades and with all of its services, makes a great base for roadtrips throughout the scenic county.

Leavenworth, Washington: Yodel-odel-eh-ee-oh!

A four-season destination, busy little Leavenworth attracts more than 2 million visitors with its colorful annual festivals and outdoor recreation opportunities. The county’s best known town is  known not for its prison but for its Bavarian Village, where they take their German heritage really seriously. Imagine “Heidi”-style white stucco homes with little ornate wood balconies, horse-drawn carriages, guys in lederhosen marching with an oompah band. Yes, you can eat wiener schnitzel and buy cuckoo clocks.

Although we know it as a great roadtrip, in fact, Amtrak’s Empire Builder train began service to Leavenworth’s Icicle Station from Seattle, Washington in September 2009. It’s about a four-hour train ride and a fun way for little (and big) “Thomas the Tank Engine” fans to approach the region.

Under a blanket of snow each winter, the village of Leavenworth also hosts a cross-country ski course at its golf course, a small downhill ski area, snowmobiling and horse-drawn sleigh rides in town. The larger Stevens Pass (206/812-4510) and Mission Ridge (509/663-6543) mountain resorts are each about 35 miles away. Leavenworth itself can be explored by foot, but to make a base for learning more about the region, a car is essential.

Driving Tours & Daytrips

Summer days are spent mountain biking, whitewater rafting, or kayaking on the Wenatchee River, rock climbing or backpacking in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, horseback riding or hiking.

Note that the four-mile-long Icicle Gorge Scenic Interpretive Trail maintained by the Forest Service is an especially good hike with kids.

Nearby scenic drives can be made to Entiat on the Columbia River, and Chelan or Manson, both on the shores of pretty Lake Chelan and surrounded by national forest and the North Cascades National Park.

One of the best daytrips, when you are weary of the Great Outdoors, is to the Aplets and Cotlets Candy Kitchen (800/888-5696, 509/782-2191) at Liberty Orchards in Cashmere. You can actually see these popular gummy-bear-like candy confections being made daily, and samples are free.

The town of Cashmere on the banks of the Wenatchee, named for its resemblance to the idyllic Vale of Kashmir in northwest India, also boasts a Pioneer Village comprising 20 authentic homes and a Museum with a surprisingly large collection of Native American artifacts.

The Rocky Reach Hydro Project on the Columbia River is an interesting stop for preschoolers because it has exhibits about hydro electricity, a fish viewing room and a fish ladder for salmon to cross, and its own well-equipped playground.

Apple Festivals & Year Round Events

Wenatchee is the self-proclaimed Apple Capital of the World. Families will find that kids love to visit some of the town’s 3,500 growers and watch the sorting and packing of apples for distribution all over the world.

The Washington State Apple Commission Visitors Center (509/663-9600, 2900 Euclid Avenue, Wenatchee, WA 98807) offers a souvenir shop and free samples of fruit and juice.

To commemorate the area’s agricultural roots, the Chelan County Fair (509/782-3232, 5700 Wescott, Cashmere, WA 98815) arrives each September.

Then, the first weekend of October brings Cashmere’s famous Apple Days Celebration. In the springtime, when flowers bloom in all the orchards, there is the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival (509/662-3616), an 11-day carnival that occurs in late April and early May.

And beyond apples and agriculture, the region’s German heritage is celebrated. Leavenworth hosts a Bavarian Ice Festival in January and in July, a hearty Kinderfest on July 4th. Fall events in Leavenworth include Oktoberfest and an annual Autumn Leaf Festival.

Leavenworth, Washington Family-Friendly Lodging

Our top choice is the 92-room Best Western Icicle Village Resort (800/558-2438, 505 Highway 2, Leavenworth, WA 98826); how could you not love this place? There’s a heated pool, Jacuzzi, masseurs on call, an arcade and a big breakfast buffet year-round, and a mini-fun park with bumper boats, a train and mini-golf in summer. Plus, rates are a bargain (about $540 for 3 nights’ stay in 2009) and children 17 and under stay for free with parents.

The Enzian Inn (800/223-8511, 590 Highway 2, Leavenworth, WA 98826) has indoor and outdoor pools with their own Jacuzzis, suites and rooms with four-poster beds, down comforters, oriental rugs and lots of Bavarian charm. Right in downtown, they offer guests a complimentary round of golf on the local putting range, or use of cross-country ski gear in winter. For 2009, family rooms start at $125/N plus $10/child over 6 years and include a complimentary breakfast buffet.

The Lake House at Chelan (509/293-5982; 402 W. Manson Highway, Chelan, WA 98816) is located next to Don Morse Park and Lake Chelan. This alpine-style condo complex has rental units that offer more of the comforts of home. Their Splish Splash Family package starts at $1,059/4P and include a three night’s stay, “First Night” dinner service (housekeeping can also shop and stock the condo fridge for you); and four one-day passes to Slidewaters waterpark in Lake Chelan. The resort has its own Splash Zone water feature in a year-round heated pool, a BBQ grill and nearby, the lake for boating and watersports.

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