The Bavarian village of Leavenworth has become a famous tourist destination in recent decades and now averages 3 million visitors annually.
The drive from Seattle to Leavenworth is only around 2.5 hours so is a destination that attracts locals, residents from neighboring cities and states, and even tourists from across the country.
What I noticed when planning my itinerary was a lack of information on which places to stop at along the way. To me, half the fun of a road trip is getting to pop into local shops, cafes, and restaurants so I decided to make this guide to make it easier for you to plan your own Seattle to Leavenworth road trip!
There are two ways that you can get from Seattle to Leavenworth, the north or the south route.
While both routes had a lot to offer my friend and I decided to take the northern route which takes I-5 to Hwy 2. It was said to be a more scenic and slower-paced drive because the speed limit is 50 mph whereas the alternative would be taking 90 E and US-97 N on 70 mph roads.
About the Drive From Seattle to Leavenworth
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When is the Best Time of Year to Visit Leavenworth?
There is really no bad time to visit Leavenworth but summer will guarantee clear roads, open trails, and swimmable lakes, however, the downside is that the town will be hopping with tourists.
Many visitors are enticed to visit Leavenworth in autumn because of the beautiful fall foliage and Oktoberfest celebrations but this also means there will be crowds and limited accomodations.
Around Christmastime is another fun time to visit Leavenworth – I mean what’s more festive than a snow-covered German village adorned with holiday lights? The drive to get there might prove to be more difficult depending on the weather and snow chains might be helpful in some areas.
If you’re looking to avoid the crowds in town then spring is the best choice. Unfortunately, there will be lots of rainy and cloudy days which can block the views as you drive to Leavenworth, and in early spring a lot of the hiking trails along the way will either still have some snow or be blocked completely.
How Many Days to Spend in Leavenworth?
Most people recommend taking a day trip from Seattle to Leavenworth and while you’d have plenty of time to explore Leavenworth for the day you’ll miss out on all of the cool stops that you’ll pass on the drive there.
I personally recommend allowing a half day at the least but preferably a whole day to fully enjoy the stops mentioned on this list. Then, spend one or two nights in Leavenworth so you can explore the town. There are also many other nearby places for adventure if you continue past Leavenworth but you would need to allow more time on your itinerary for that.
12 Best Stops on the Drive From Seattle to Leavenworth
If you are a hiking enthusiast or want to give yourself flexibility in case the weather isn’t in your favor you could spend 2 days driving to Leavenworth and camp or spend the night near Index (where a lot of the best hikes are).
1. Gas Works Park
When you wake up I recommend eating a snack that will hold you over for a couple of hours because there is an amazing breakfast stop next on this list that is well worth the hour drive outside of Seattle!
On your way out of Seattle, Gas Works Park is a convenient stop-off before you get going to Leavenworth. This is also a smart way to knock off another activity if you only have one or 2 days in Seattle.
Gas Works Park sits on Lake Union and the most unique thing about this park is the bronze industrial remnants of the old gasification plant. But that’s not all there is to see here as you’ll get an uninterrupted panorama of the Seattle skyline.
Parking here is free and easy and you won’t need to spend long here, maybe 15 minutes or so to walk around and enjoy the views.
2. Sultan Bakery for breakfast
As promised, your first official stop will be for breakfast in the tiny town of Sultan. Sultan’s Bakery is way more than just a bakery, however, those items are incredible too but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Their breakfast menu quite literally has all of the omelet, scramble, and breakfast plate and sandwich options you could dream up and the best part is that the prices are cheap and the servings are enormous!
I ordered a spinach and Swiss omelet and potatoes and my friend went for the biscuits with egg, sausage, and gravy. We were both super impressed with the flavors and the quality of the ingredients.
The long pastry and baked goods case will be the first thing you notice when you step inside and to be honest, I think it would be hard to go wrong with anything they make here! There are massive cookies, bars, cakes, donuts, cinnamon rolls, and more!
If you can try to get here early as it is a popular choice and parking can be limited.
Do yourself a favor and stop at Sultan’s Bakery because it is NOT one to miss on your drive from Seattle to Leavenworth!
Note: Sultan’s also serves lunch if you are driving through Sultan at a different time of the day.
3. Gold Bar
Just 6 miles (9.7 kilometers) from Sultan is Gold Bar. Because we had already fueled up at Sultan’s Bakery we didn’t need to make a stop here but until you get to Leavenworth, Gold Bar will be the largest town you will pass through.
They have a couple of small grocery stores if you need any groceries or snacks, a couple of coffee shops, a few restaurants, and a second-hand shop called Rerouted.
If you are driving through during blueberry season (June to September) make sure to stop at Willberry Farms for some fresh berries!
If you really want to get adventurous and plan in advance you can even go whitewater rafting with Alpine Adventures!
My Finding’s Tip: Heading to Leavenworth with your dog? Stop at this off-leash area to let your dog let out some energy on the way
4. Wallace Falls State Park
Just 5 minutes north of Gold Bar town is Wallace Falls State Park and with over 12 miles (12 kilometers) of trails, you’ll have lots of opportunities to go hiking.
The most popular sight here is in fact, Wallace Falls and there are two main routes to get there. The first is Wallace Falls via Woody Trail which is a relatively easy 5-mile out-and-back route that takes most people around 3 hours to complete.
The whole trail is very scenic as it goes right alongside the Wallace River and you’ll see Lower and Middle falls before reaching the Upper Wallace Falls. After the first viewpoint of the falls, the trail gets steep and has switchbacks.
The longer way to Wallace Falls is the challenging 11.1-mile Wallace Falls and Wallace Lake Loop. 2 of the miles of the trail from the falls to the lake are on a dirt service road which isn’t the prettiest but once you reach Wallace Lake it’s the perfect place to go for a dip in the summer months.
It does take around 6 hours to complete this hike so you’d need to either camp here for the night or come back on your way back to Seattle.
If you’ve worked up an appetite after hiking in Wallace Falls State Park I’d recommend eating in Gold Bar first before continuing on your Seattle to Leavenworth road trip.
Note: A Discover Pass is required to enter this park. You can purchase yours online in advance here.
5. Bridal Veil Falls & Lake Serene
Two of the most beautiful places on the drive from Seattle to Lake Serene are Bridal Veil Falls and Lake Serene! From Gold Bar, it’s only 8 miles (13 kilometers) to the trailhead which is located right before you reach the small town of Index.
From the pictures I kept seeing leading up to our road trip, this was a stop I was most looking forward to but unfortunately for us, the forecast showed rain and the lady who was working at the Espresso Chalet (one of the next stops on this list) told us that those trails still had too much snow (it was early May).
However, if you do have the opportunity to hike it, please do! Getting to Bridal Veil Falls will only take around an hour (2 miles) so a 2.5-hour stop to do this hike is definitely doable on the way to Leavenworth.
To get to the falls take the right turn-off once you reach the fork. Once you see that viewpoint and come back to the fork you can head to the left which you can continue on for 0.2 miles to see the lower cascade of Bridal Veil Falls. From here you can choose to turn back or you can continue for an additional 2 miles to reach Lake Serene.
Adding on Lake Serene to this stop will take at least another 2.5 hours so you probably won’t have time unless you are camping or staying at a hotel nearby. However, if getting to the lake is a priority you could eliminate some of the stops from the list on the way there and finish them on your way back to Seattle.
6. Index Bridge
Once you reach Index you’re officially at the halfway mark on your drive from Seattle to Leavenworth!
Index Bridge is a quick stop just minutes from the Bridal Veil Falls Trailhead right in Index town. From the arched cement bridge (which is cool in its own right) there is a beautiful view of the churning Skykomish River, an old metal bridge, and mountainscapes.
In Index itself, there isn’t much else besides a few lodges (one has a restaurant), and The Riverhouse Cafe (only open on weekends). The cafe is also attached to the Outdoor Adventure Center so during the summer months you could go river or whitewater rafting!
My Finding’s Tip: Refill your water bottle from the spigot at the park by the public restrooms. The worker at the general store told us it’s some of the purest water in Washington – it tasted so clean!
7. Espresso Chalet
Another few minutes from Index Bridge is your next stop right on US 2!
The Espresso Chalet is a coffee stand in Index that has BLOWN UP on Instagram for its Sasquatch theme and direct views of Index Mountain from the back deck. Instagram is how I found out about this place so we had to check it out and see if it was really as cool as everyone says.
If you visit on a cloudy day there may barely be a view, if at all, and you’ll be thinking, is this it? But I promise if you come on a clear day the experience is totally different!
We actually came to the Espresso Chalet twice and the first time we could only see a tiny bit of the peak which was a letdown but thankfully we decided to stop again on the way back from Leavenworth to Seattle and we had a perfect view! It was just as awesome as it looks in pictures.
To be completely transparent though, my friend and I didn’t really like the taste of their coffee, however, we both liked the Chai Latte!
8. Heybrook Lookout or Ridge Trailhead
Once you’ve finished your drink at the Espresso Chalet you’ll be energized for a hike that is right in the general vicinity.
There are two trails that have very similar names the 1.9-mile Heybrook Lookout Trailhead and the 2.8-mile Heybrook Ridge Trailhead. While they both have views of the same mountains and take around 1.5 hours to complete, the main difference between the two is that the Heybrook Lookout is a short steep trail that takes you to a wooden lookout tower whereas the fairly easy Heybrook Ridge Trail ends with a lookout point.
After some confusion as to which trail was which we decided to go with the ridge trailhead mainly because the manmade wooden tower that is on the lookout trail didn’t seem as adventurous to us. It was a mostly shaded trail will various terrains that kept things interesting.
Once at the top, we saw an okay view of the mountains but it was overcast so our visibility wasn’t the best. The main issue we had with this trail was a noisy powerline once at the top so for this reason I wish we would have gone for the Heybrook Lookout Trail instead.
My Finding’s Tip: We were informed by someone that a lot of car break-ins happen at the Heybrook Lookout Trailhead parking lot. For this reason, try and keep most of your valuables on you or out of plain sight.
Note: We ran into some confusion on if a parking pass was needed but both places are free.
9. 59er Diner Leavenworth
After burning off some calories on one or more of the hikes in Index what could possibly be a better reward than a juicy burger, fries, and a milkshake? If you can wait for the 45-minute drive that it takes to reach 59er Diner you’re in for a mouthwatering meal in a retro-themed diner setting. It even has a working Jukebox to play your favorite classic hits.
59er Diner sells THOUSANDS of shakes every month of the year and has also been featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives so there’s something special about this place!
10. Old Pipeline Bed Trailhead/Viewpoint
If you’re coming from the 59er Diner, Old Pipeline Bed Trailhead/Viewpoint is only 13 minutes further on US 2 and right on the outskirts of Leavenworth.
Everyone who is making the drive from Seattle to Leavenworth has to include this quick roadside stop-off on their itinerary because it’s epic!
You don’t really need to do any hiking unless you want to because you’ll have incredible views of the rushing river as soon as you walk onto the old steel bridge.
As you are getting close to approaching the parking lot for Old Pipeline Bed you can also keep a lookout for other safe places to pull off and park because there are a lot of opportunities for views. We did a bit of exploring and ended up climbing over the railing before carefully going down to some of the rocks along the river. We just sat in amazement at the stunning scenery and listened to the powerful sounds of the rapids.
11. Leavenworth Sign
In just a few minutes, you’ll be entering Leavenworth so this is a reminder to get your camera ready to snap a quick picture of the Leavenworth sign!
12. Leavenworth Town
From the Old Pipeline Bed area you’re only around 5 minutes from Leavenworth Town and you’ll have completed your drive from Seattle to Leavenworth!
There are all kinds of fun activities and German-themed things to do in Leavenworth. Feast on bratwurst and Bavarian pretzels at Munchen Haus, check out the ridiculous collection of nutcrackers inside the Nutcracker Museum, get a cider or craft beer from the award-winning Icicle Brewing, walk around the town and shop, or ride the brand-new Alpine Coaster. You can even see live reindeer at Leavenworth Reindeer Farm!
Where to Stay in Leavenworth
I highly recommend staying at least one night in Leavenworth but if you have the time, 2 or 3 nights would give you the ability to relax and explore most of Leavenworth. On the outskirts of town, there are even more opportunities for outdoor activities. Here are a few of my top hotel picks:
Mrs Anderson’s Lodging House $- This is where we stayed and while it was small it was super affordable, clean, and cozy. The bed was quite comfy and we loved how it was right in town and had free parking.
Icicle Village Resort $$ – A great middle-tier option on the edge of the town that comes with a few great amenities including a spa, swimming pool and hot tub, two restaurants, and a bar. A complimentary breakfast is included in the nightly rate. The resort also had the option to rent bikes, shoot hoops, or play putt-putt.
Enzian Inn $$$ – An exceptional hotel right in the center of town with tons of amenities including an indoor and outdoor pool and hot tub, fitness center, and free breakfast. The rooms have a modern take on German decor with wooden furniture and white walls and bedding. A nice touch is that the Swiss Alphorn is played every morning.
Final Word on the Best Stops From Seattle to Leavenworth
Thank you for reading this guide! I hope you have a fun and safe road trip from Seattle to Leavenworth! The best part about this route is that is perfect for both the outdoor adventurer and casual sightseer – just take what you like from this list and leave the rest!
If you want to do it all consider spending a night near Index so you’ll have time to do multiple hikes! You could also do the activities you ran out of time for on the way back to Seattle.
If you are looking for more Washington guides check out these below.