The teeny, Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth is one of the most popular destinations in Washington state. Located a little over two hours east of Seattle and tucked away in the Cascade Mountains, there’s several different options of how to get to Leavenworth, each having their own benefits—and some drawbacks as well. Here’s everything you need to know about getting from Seattle to Leavenworth, from what to know if you’re making the drive in the wintertime and not-to-be-missed stops along the way to how to get there if you don’t have a car!
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With its kitschy Bavarian charm; over-the-top celebrations, like Christmas in Leavenworth and Oktoberfest; and incredible outdoor adventures, like the nearby Colchuck Lake Trail and the rest of the Enchantments, this small town of just 2,400 residents is massively popular—in fact, it draws more than 2 MILLION visitors per year!
Many visitors head here from Seattle, either as a day trip or short getaway from the city or from flying into Seattle Tacoma International Airport—yup, people literally fly from all over the world to visit Leavenworth! But how do you get from the Emerald City to Leavenworth?
My husband, Justin, and I have lived in Seattle for four years and annually make the trek to Leavenworth—and have picked up all the tips and tricks you need to make your journey as smooth as possible.
How to Get from Seattle to Leavenworth
Driving from Seattle to Leavenworth
Whether you live in the Seattle area or are visiting from afar, the most popular way to get to Leavenworth is by making the two hour drive east through the mountains. Accordingly, if you’re flying in, I’d suggest considering renting a car.
There’s actually two routes that you can take from Seattle—a northern route, along US-2 or a southern route, along I-90 E and US-97 N.
While both routes are quite beautiful, I would definitely recommend driving along the northern route of US-2, which is absolutely stunning, with towering granite mountains and charming alpine towns. I-90 E also has some jaw-dropping sites, like Snoqualmie Falls or the quirky town of North Bend (which the TV show, Twin Peaks, was based on!). Of course, you could always consider taking one route to Leavenworth and the other one back.
Both of the highways have steep and winding sections (they are through the mountains, after all!), but are generally well-maintained. In non-snowy conditions, you’ll be fine in any kind of passenger vehicle.
If you’re driving in the wintertime, though, I’d suggest checking the weather conditions in the mountain passes, via the Washington Department of Transportation website, to help decide which route you should go (and whether it’s safe to make the drive at all!).
US-2 crosses Stevens Pass, whereas I-90 E crosses Snoqualmie Pass and Blewett Pass. US-2 will almost always be the winner here—while both Stevens and Blewett are pretty high in elevation and can get a lot of snow in the colder months, Stevens tends to be a lot better maintained, with fewer accidents in inclement weather. In fact, it’s not uncommon for Blewett to be closed entirely for several hours at a time, due to snowfall and safety concerns. But, again, please check the WDOT site for the roads’ statuses before choosing your route!
Regardless of which route you go, if there’s snow in the forecast, your best bet is having a vehicle with four-wheel drive and tire chains—you’re actually legally required to carry them on any of the passes that may require them in the wintertime. That said, do some research to make sure your vehicle’s manufacturer doesn’t recommend against using them for your model.
I’d also recommend bringing along a collapsible shovel, just in case (better safe than sorry, friends!).
Taking the Train from Seattle to Leavenworth
If you’re looking for a way to get from Seattle to Leavenworth without a car, consider taking the train.
Amtrak operates the Empire Builder train, which has only one daily departure from downtown Seattle at 4:55 PM, arriving in Leavenworth’s Icicle Station around 8:15 PM. Similarly, there’s only one train that departs from Leavenworth each day, leaving at 7:23 AM and arriving in Seattle at 11:30 AM. You can buy tickets online at Amtrak’s website.
Taking the train can be an absolutely magical experience—instead of focusing on the road or worrying about the weather, you can just stare out the window, trying to spot wildlife amongst the pine tree forests and the epic mountain slopes. You’ll even pass through the country’s second longest tunnel, the Cascade Tunnel (almost eight MILES in length!).
On the other hand, there can be some not so great aspects of taking the train.
For example, less than half of the train’s riders arrived on time in June 2022, per Amtrak’s own report. If you want to actually see or do anything in Leavenworth, the limited train schedule means you’ll need to stay in the town at least two nights (pssst… planning on staying overnight? Check out our post all about the best hotels in Leavenworth for all budgets!). Plus, the tickets are pretty pricey (starting around $60 one-way) and can sell out months in advance, especially for popular times, like around Christmas.
Joining a Tour from Seattle to Leavenworth
If you’re just looking to go on a daytrip to Leavenworth, one of the best options is joining a guided tour, where a knowledgeable local will (quite literally!) sit in the driver’s seat and share interesting facts about sights that you’ll pass on your way to Leavenworth and, of course, about the town itself.
- Leavenworth Tour from Seattle: This tour lasts about nine hours, with about two hours to enjoy all the town that Leavenworth has to offer. Along the way, your guide will share information about the Pacific Northwest and the Cascade Mountains and you’ll make plenty of stops along the way, like in the charming town of Gold Bar or at the multi-tiered Deception Falls.
- Luxury Leavenworth Day Trip: Similar to the option above, you’ll get round-trip transportation from Seattle on this nine hour tour, with two hours to explore Leavenworth, plus some stops to see the incredible sites en route, like the 269-foot Snoqualmie Falls.
- Leavenworth Day Trip from Seattle: If you’re looking to maximize your time in Leavenworth, this option takes you directly to the Bavarian village, providing about five hours for you to leisurely get a meal, peruse its quirky shops, and try some of the wineries in its downtown.
Taking the Bus from Seattle to Leavenworth
Greyhound operates the Northwestern bus line, which departs from the Seattle Bus Station at 8:50 AM and 9:15 AM every morning, both of which arrive in Leavenworth at 12:10 PM. The tickets are $59 one way.
I’ve never personally taken this bus route, but have anecdotally heard some not great things, ranging from uncomfortable seats and rude drivers to extreme delays. I’d probably only recommend taking the bus as the last resort.
If you’ve personally taken the bus to Leavenworth, I’d love to hear your experience in the comments below!
Best Stops while Driving from Seattle to Leavenworth
If you’ve decided on driving from Seattle to Leavenworth, there’s tons of incredibly beautiful things to see along the way—in fact, even though the drive’s a little over two hours, I’d suggest making a road trip out of it!
As mentioned above, there’s two different options to get to Leavenworth—a northern route, along US-2 or a southern route, along I-90 and US-97 N.
I’ve explored both of these options extensively and have rounded up the best stops along both routes.
Best Stops Along the Northern Route, using US-2
You could spend a couple days (or even weeks!) making your way from Seattle to Leavenworth, seeing the tiny mountain towns and enjoying all of the outdoor adventures they have to offer.
1. Gold Bar, Washington
Distance from Seattle: 50 minutes
The teeny town of Gold Bar was initially a gold prospecting town from the early 20th century and now is home to about 2,000 residents.
While the town itself is pretty quiet, there’s all kinds of awesome outdoor adventures to be had here, like:
- Wallace Falls State Park: The Wallace Falls Trail is one of the most popular hikes near Seattle, taking you through a lush rainforest to three(!!) stunning waterfalls. The trail is moderate, with the most challenging inclines located between the Lower and Middle Falls and the Middle and Upper Falls—so if you’re looking for a chill trail, consider just hiking to the Lower Falls. Best of all, this trail generally stays snow and ice-free most of the year, so you can enjoy it no matter when you visit!
Heads up—you’ll need a Discover Pass, which is an annual pass to Washington’s amazing state park system, to park at or near the trailhead!
- Lake Serene and Bridal Veil Falls Trail: For a more challenging hike, try the Lake Serene and Bridal Veil Falls Trail, which is a few miles longer and has more elevation gain than Wallace Falls. While the path can be steep and quite rocky, you’ll be rewarded with both a beautiful waterfall, tumbling down a 100-foot rock face, and a jaw-dropping alpine lake, surrounded by craggy, snow-capped mountains.
As compared to some of the higher elevation trails around Seattle, like the vast majority of the incredible hikes in Mount Rainier, the Lake Serene and Bridal Veil Falls trail typically has a much longer season where the path remains snow and ice-free. Still, I’d suggest trying to visit this trail between May and early November for the best chance of having a clear pathway.
The trailhead is located in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, so you’ll need to either have a Northwest Forest Pass, which allows you to park at trailheads in Washington and Oregon National Forests, or the America the Beautiful Pass (which also includes access to over two THOUSAND federally managed properties, including all of the beloved U.S. National Parks!).
- Whitewater rafting: Some of Washington’s most challenging rapids are located near Gold Bar on the Skykomish River. Consider joining a tour, like this option, to take on some Class 4-5 rapids and see some incredible scenery along the way!
2. Index, Washington
Distance from Seattle: 1 hour
Index is one of the oldest towns in Washington, dating all the way back to the late 19th century. Again, the town is quite small—with just 200 residents. What it lacks in hustle and bustle, though, it more than makes up for in picturesqueness, with a stunning old metal bridge over a rushing river and beyond, the towering peaks of the Cascades.
There’s some really cool hiking trails in Index, like the Heybrook Lookout, a historic fire lookout with jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains. If you plan ahead, you can even get a permit to camp here!
Additionally, Heybrook Ridge is another incredible trail that, true to its name, takes you through a mossy forest up to a ridgeline, with expansive views of the rugged Cascades.
Plus, it’s the home of the Espresso Chalet, a little coffee stand—basically right across from the Heybrook Lookout trailhead—with some of the most beautiful alpine vistas you’ve ever seen on their patio.
3. Scenic Hot Springs
Distance from Seattle: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Want to hike up deep into the mountains to a little alcove, surrounded by pine trees, and soak in steaming tubs overlooking the Cascades? Well, you can totally do that at Scenic Hot Springs!
These natural hot springs are on private property, so you do need a permit to access the trail to reach and enjoy the tubs. Getting there (and a reservation) is a little tricky, but we’ve actually written a whole post all about Scenic Hot Springs so you can enjoy them for yourself!
4. Stevens Pass Ski Resort
Distance from Seattle: 1 hour and 30 minutes
If you’re visiting in the wintertime and are into downhill skiing or snowboarding, consider a stop at Stevens Pass Ski Resort, which has a whopping 1,125 acres of skiable terrain. Whether you’re a beginner or you like to whiz down double black diamonds, the resort has something for everyone, with 37 major runs and 10 chairlifts.
Even if you’re not into riding on powder, there’s also plenty of snowshoeing or Nordic skiing trails nearby so that you can get your heart rate pumping out in a snowy winter wonderland.
5. Lake Wenatchee State Park
Distance from Seattle: 2 hours
One of the best state parks in Washington is Lake Wenatchee, a beautiful lake surrounded by dense pine trees and rolling mountains. In the summertime, you can rent a kayak to get out on the water or, alternatively, explore some of the park’s beautiful hiking trails, like the Hidden Lake trail, which follows along the shoreline of the water.
In the wintertime, the park is one of the best places to snowshoe in Washington, like the beginner-friendly Lake Wenatchee North Snowshoe Route or, if you’re up for more of a challenge, the Nason Ridge Snowshoe Route, which takes you through a beautiful forest of pine trees, covered in fluffy snow.
7. Leavenworth, Washington
Distance from Seattle: 2 hours and 10 minutes
You made it! Buy yourself a pretzel and a big ol’ beer to celebrate! Prost!
Best Stops to Make Along the Southern Route, using I-90 and US-97 N
While I’d argue there are fewer points of interest getting from Seattle to Leavenworth along I-90 and US-97, this southern route does offer a much more famous stop than its northern counterpart—Snoqualmie Falls! There’s also definitely other outdoor adventures to be had along the way.
1. Snoqualmie Falls
Distance from Seattle: 30 minutes
Snoqualmie Falls is arguably the most famous waterfall in Washington State, moodily cascading 269 feet over volcanic rock into the Snoqualmie River below. The waterfall is famous for a reason—it’s one of the widest waterfalls in the state, at a whopping 100 feet wide, and was featured in the opening sequence of the trippy TV show, Twin Peaks!
There’s a short and easy trail to get to a viewpoint at the base of the falls or, if you’re not in the mood for hiking, you can just take in the views from the Upper Viewpoint.
Alternatively, if you’re feeling like indulging, the Salish Lodge is a luxury hotel, positioned right next to the brink of the falls—you can get a delicious meal here; enjoy high tea around the holidays; or book a night or two and enjoy its award-winning spa.
2. North Bend, Washington
Distance from Seattle: 30 minutes
Continuing the Twins Peak theme, the town of North Bend served as the inspiration and filming location for the ‘90s cult classic show. For example, stop in Twede’s Cafe, which was known as the Double R Diner on the show, beloved for its cherry pie and cups of strong, black coffee. The diner REALLY leans into its connection to the show, even installing a Double R Diner neon sign out front!
To be honest, Twin Peaks was a little before my time, so if you, too, are not a David Lynch aficionado, North Bend is still worth stopping to explore. There’s a solid brewery called Volition and some of the best hiking trails near Seattle, including Little Si, which is a moderately challenging hike up to beautiful mountain views or, if you’re into a challenge, Mount Si.
3. Snoqualmie Pass
Distance from Seattle: 50 minutes
If you’re looking for easy to moderate hiking trails that offer a lot of bang-for-your-buck, you really can’t beat Snoqualmie Pass. It’s always pretty crazy to me that, within less than an hour of Seattle, you can access temperate rainforests, rushing waterfalls, and of course, towering mountains here.
Some of my favorite hikes in the Snoqualmie Pass area include:
- Rattlesnake Ledge Trail: One of the most popular day hikes near Seattle, Rattlesnake Ledge does not, in fact, have any rattlesnakes, but instead, this windy trail offers a moderately challenging hike, through a dense pine tree forest up to a rocky mountain ledge. Here, you’ll get a stunning view of Rattlesnake Lake and the surrounding Cascades.
- Dirty Harry’s Balcony: In my opinion, this is one of the most underrated hikes near Seattle and tends to be a lot less crowded than some of the other trails in the area. The trail snakes through a lush forest and ends at an outcropping that offers gorgeous views of the neighboring pine-tree covered mountains—however, I actually think the best views are at some of the lower viewpoints along the trail.
We wrote a whole post about Dirty Harry’s Balcony, so you can know exactly where the best viewpoints are!
- Franklin Falls: This is one of the best easy trails in Snoqualmie Pass, leading through a beautiful pine tree forest to a 70-foot waterfall, cascading down a rocky cliff.
During the wintertime, the parking lot closes down, due to snowfall, making the trail a bit longer. The hike is even more magical in the wintertime, with the pine trees heavy with snow and shimmering icicles hanging off the waterfall.
4. Brick Saloon in Roslyn, Washington
Distance from Seattle: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Okay, so this stop is a bit on the quirkier side but bear with me.
The Brick Saloon, located in the old mining town of Roslyn, was established in 1889 and is the longest continuously operating bar in Washington state. While that would make this bar worth stopping at in its own right, it’s got something even quirkier to see—a running water spittoon.
See, back in the olden days, working men, like miners, would make their way to saloons directly after their daily shift. In an effort to keep the area under their stools clean from the horse manure and dust that would drop from their boots and the chewing tobacco they’d spit out, many taverns in working towns installed a running water spittoon—basically, a trough with running water that would wash away all that nastiness from in front of the bar.
Like many other taverns of its time, the Brick Saloon installed a 23-foot running water spittoon—it’s actually local legend that many patrons, after a few too many drinks, would even use the spittoon to relieve themselves without having to get up! It’s (hopefully) not used for that purpose anymore, but the Brick Saloon is one of only about five bars in the entire United States that still has its running water spittoon and is the only one that I can find located west of the Mississippi!
5. Leavenworth, Washington
Distance from Seattle: 2 hours and 10 minutes
After that last stop, take in some of Leavenworth’s family-friendly cuteness and the alpine views!
There you have it—everything you need to know about getting from Seattle to Leavenworth. Do you have any questions about making the trek? Let us know in the comments below!