Locals Know Best Podcast Ep. 033: Leavenworth, Washington, Christmas Town Year-Round

Cindy Scott

Introduction to the Episode

Welcome to the thirty-third episode of Locals Know Best! I’m your host, Cindy. I’m a full-time RVer and lover of all things travel-related. Years of adventuring on the road have taught me one fundamental lesson; locals ALWAYS know best! Every episode of this podcast will dive into one local’s perfect day of outdoor adventure in their town!

Today, I’ll be speaking with Tom Potter about all of his favorite outdoor adventures in a town you may know as one of the most picturesque Alpine-style villages in the United States, Leavenworth, Washington!

I’m very excited for this episode because Leavenworth has always been in the back of my mind as an excellent fit for this podcast, and even more so for one of our holiday episodes.

Cindy enjoying a drink in Leavenworth, Washington.

Leavenworth is not only incredibly jam-packed with outdoor activities, it boasts tons of holiday cheer to boot!

The lights in Leavenworth, Washington during Christmas time.
“Leavenworth Christmas Lights” by Mini D is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We will, of course, talk a bit about the holiday season and how it affects and influences this Christmas-loving town. But Tom also does a fantastic job explaining why Leavenworth is so much more than an adorable Bavarian town engulfed in holiday lights!

About Tom Potter (Aka: T-Pot)

Tom Potter, a Leavenworth, Washington business owner.

Learn more about Tom Potter and how to plan Leavenworth excursions with him at thetpotexperience.com.

Tom is a local Leavenworth entrepreneur.

When he first arrived in the area, he spent several years working in the bars and restaurants throughout the village to fund his recreational habits. 

During that time, he inadvertently found himself planning vacations for people, so they wouldn’t waste a minute of their stay.

Eventually, the T-Pot Experience was born, an all-inclusive trip planning service he operates that focuses on bringing you the best of the best of Leavenworth.

With this host and concierge service, he helps visitors make the most of their time in the area, specializing in unique experiences based around outdoor recreation, food, wine, and scenery.

Tom Potter, mountain biking in Leavenworth, Washington.

Tom also owns and operates an electric bicycle tour company in Leavenworth that treats their guests to a 16-mile guided tour of the area that highlights the mountains, rivers, history, and local activities.

Listen to the Episode

The Freund Canyon Mountain Bike Trail in Leavenworth, Washington.
Freund Canyon Mountain Bike Trail

What We Cover in This Episode

  • What makes Leavenworth so picturesque and unique and “the recreation Mecca of Washington.”
  • Why people are drawn to Leavenworth for the holidays.
  • A pro tip on the ideal time to see the Leavenworth holiday lights.
  • What time of the year Christmas-town is in full effect.
  • How you can see the Leavenworth lights from your couch.
  • The best and worst times of year to visit Leavenworth.
  • What each season in Leavenworth has to offer visitors.
  • Which part of town is optimal for an Airbnb rental.
  • The best spot in town for coffee and biscuit breakfast sandwiches, and what time you should be there to make sure you get a biscuit.
  • The best spots to ski and snowboard near Leavenworth, and how to fit in a whitewater kayaking adventure on the way back!
  • The best part of the river for a more relaxed inner tube float or standup paddleboarding with incredible views.
  • A fantastic sandwich spot you won’t walk away from hungry.
  • The best sausage garden in town to get a bratwurst.
  • All of the incredible professionally maintained mountain biking trail options available in town and a few of Tom’s favorites.
  • A historically prominent ski hill area that hosts bikers in the summer and skiers and tubers in the winter.
  • The nordic skiing that is also available in the area.
  • The “buffet of hiking” offered in Leavenworth.
  • Two of my favorite hikes around this area (and one ends at the view seen in the cover image for this podcast!)
  • The optimal spots in town for beer, dinner, and craft cocktails.
  • The music scene in Leavenworth.
  • The best Instagram spot in town.
  • Two underrated spots in town you should be sure not to miss.

Leavenworth, WA Travel Itinerary Map

Colchuck Lake Trail in Leavenworth, Washington.
Colchuck Lake Trail


“Come to Leavenworth to enjoy the mountains, enjoy the recreation here, get a little taste of Bavaria. It’s a unique gem in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains of Eastern Washington. As you pull into town, you’ll just be amazed by how they’ve stuck to the Bavarian theme, and the mountain access is about as good as I’ve ever experienced.”

Tom Potter

Links to Places Mentioned in this Episode

How to see the Leavenworth, WA Holiday Lights from Anywhere:

The Leavenworth Washington Christmas lights display
Webcam screengrabs from 12/13/2021 from https://leavenworth.org/webcams/

Where to Stay in the Leavenworth, WA Area:

  • Airbnb Rental Homes
Tom Potter, kayaking in Leavenworth, Washington.

Leavenworth, WA Area Outdoor (& One Indoor) Activities Mentioned in the Episode:

Cindy Scott hiking the Icicle Ridge Trail in Leavenworth, Washington.
Icicle Ridge Trail

Leavenworth, WA Area Restaurants, Breweries, & Speakeasies Mentioned in this Episode:

Tom Potter, snowboarding in Leavenworth, Washington.

Thanks for Listening!

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Transcription of this Episode:

Tom: Come to Leavenworth to enjoy the mountains, enjoy the recreation here, get a little taste of Bavaria. It’s a unique gem in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains of Eastern Washington. As you pull into town, you’ll just be amazed by how they’ve stuck to the Bavarian theme and the mountain access is about as good as I’ve ever experienced.

Cindy: Hey, this is Cindy Scott from Cinders Travels. Welcome to the Locals Know Best podcast. This is episode 33.

Locals Know Best is a biweekly podcast where my guests share the places and outdoor travel adventures they love most right in their own backyards. Topics range from unique lodging options, treasured outdoor activities, favorite dining spots, and a breakdown of whether the Insta-famous and possibly overrated spots in town are even worth checking out.

Today, I’ll be speaking with Tom Potter about all of his favorite outdoor adventures in a town you may know as one of the most picturesque, Alpine-style villages in the United States: Leavenworth, Washington.

I’m very excited for this episode because Leavenworth has always been in the back of my mind as an excellent fit for this podcast. And even more so for one of the holiday episodes.

We will, of course, talk a bit about the holiday season and how it affects and influences this Christmas-loving town.

But Tom also does a fantastic job explaining why Leavenworth is so much more than an adorable Bavarian town engulfed in holiday lights.

A little bit more about Tom: He’s a local Leavenworth entrepreneur.

When he first arrived in the area, he spent several years working in the bars and restaurants throughout the village to fund his recreational habits. During that time he inadvertently found himself planning vacations for people so they wouldn’t waste a minute of their stay.

Eventually, the T-Pot Experience was born, an all-inclusive trip-planning service he operates that focuses on bringing you the best of the best of Leavenworth. With this host and concierge service, he helps visitors make the most of their time in the area, specializing in unique experiences based around outdoor recreation, food, wine, and scenery.

If you want to follow along with links to all the places we’re talking about and a map of the area, this episode’s show notes can be found at localsknowbestpodcast.com/33. As always. Thanks so much for listening. Let’s get into the episode.

Hey Tom, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?

Tom: I’m doing super good. How are you?

Cindy: Good. I’m really pumped to get into Leavenworth, especially for the holidays. What an amazing place to talk about.

I actually posted on Instagram for listener questions, and I was surprised how many people didn’t know about Leavenworth. So a lot of the listeners, this is a great episode, I think, cause they don’t know much about the area.

Tom: Oh, perfect. Well, let’s fill them in.

Cindy: So tell us a little bit about how long you’ve lived there and what brought you to the area.

Tom: So I’ve been in Leavenworth off and on since 2009. I was in college in Ellensburg, which is about 60 miles south at Central Washington University. So Leavenworth was relatively close. It’s about an hour drive north. And it’s the recreation mecca of Washington.

I just fell in love with the area and the community and decided this was where I wanted to live. So after grad school, I moved out here, and I’ve been here ever since.

Cindy: How wonderful.

Tom: Yeah

Cindy: Tell us a little bit about what makes you an expert on the area. So you’ve been there for a while.

Tom: Mm-hmm.

Cindy: What makes you so ingrained with Leavenworth?

Tom: So I came out here originally to become a whitewater rafting guide. And I spent a summer doing that. And during that summer I learned how to whitewater kayak.

So I started coming out here mainly for the river sports. I returned every summer to work on the river in some faucet or another. And I kept coming back year after year for rafting and kayaking.

And then I got involved in some of the winter sports, like Nordic skiing and back-country touring, and snowboarding. And then started mountain biking a lot.

And, uh, my college background is in outdoor recreation. So I applied a lot of my skills learned in college to small businesses that I started in Leavenworth that were based around recreation.

I pretty much spend all my free time recreating, whether it’s mountain biking, or whitewater kayaking, or snowboarding, or Nordic skiing, or any obscure mountain sports. That’s what I’m doing.

So over my years here, I’ve become involved in different organizations that are community event-based and get people together on the river and the mountains or riding bikes and that’s just what I do.

Cindy: Yeah. Tell us a little bit about the businesses.

Tom: So originally I started a management company where we ran a river tubing company for a couple of years and basically facilitated a fun and easy experience for people to go float the river.

Now I operate a host and concierge service where I plan vacations for people as they come to Leavenworth, primarily based around recreation, but I also have deep connections in the valley with wine, beer, and food.

So I like to create an all-inclusive recreation, plus food and wine and beer. So it’s kind of a one-stop shop.

Cindy: Yeah. Wow. You are a perfect guest then. Cause that’s exactly what this podcast is.

Just giving people like how to spend an amazing day outdoors in the area, so I’m really excited to go through this and hear all the ideas you have.

Tom: Happy to tell you about it.

Cindy: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Leavenworth and what makes it so picturesque, and then also what makes it so unique, especially for outdoorsy types.

Tom: So the downtown area of Leavenworth is only about three and a half blocks long, and we’re nestled right into the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.

The mountains that surround Leavenworth are almost 6,000 feet tall and a little bit further back from town they get up to above 8,000 feet.

So if you can envision a little Bavarian village right at the base of a 6,000 foot mountain, that’s kind of what you’re gonna envision.

And it has two streets that run parallel. And has lots of little shops and restaurants. I mean, you can easily kill a day shopping and wine tasting and eating and enjoying the little Bavarian village, and it is very unique and very fun. Especially being in the middle of Eastern Washington.

You drive through agriculture towns and rural Washington, then all of a sudden you’re smack dab in Bavaria at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.

Cindy: It’s crazy beautiful. I can’t even think of that many places in the United States that look like that, honestly. It’s, and we’ve, we’ve, we’ve circled like a few times.

Tom: Yeah.

Cindy: It’s really special.

Tom: It’s a gem, for sure. And just the amount of access and the proximity to the access of the mountains is one of the most unique parts.

I’ve been to a lot of mountain towns, or recreation meccas, where you’ve got a lot of access in the area, but you’re still driving an hour this direction, an hour this direction, and you’ve got a lot close, but nothing really there.

Leavenworth, it’s all there. I mean, you drive five minutes one direction to get something, and then you drive another ten minutes the other direction. You’re really just right at the hub of it all.

Cindy: What really makes that such a holiday town? What is the big factor? The big draw for the holidays?

Tom: Well, I think the main draw for people for the holidays is the Christmas lights. The city of Leavenworth puts a ton of resources into decorating the entire village as a little Christmas town.

And it looks incredible. Like you come into town, and you’re instantly in awe of how beautiful it is.

All of the businesses, all of the trees, pretty much everything that has space for Christmas lights has Christmas lights on it. I don’t know if you’ll ever experience a town that’s more lit up for Christmas than Leavenworth.

They’ve done an amazing job marketing Leavenworth as a Christmas town. Almost to their detriment because if you were to come into Leavenworth on any weekend in December, I would say it’s a little overcrowded. So be cautious with that.

One of the nice things about their lighting and what they do for the holidays is that they leave it all up until Valentine’s Day. So I would say one pro tip is to potentially come to Leavenworth after the holidays.

Cindy: Hm

Tom: Because, for someone who is outdoor recreation based and kind of likes to get away from it all and go explore the mountains and have some serenity, it can be a little much.

Cindy: Might not be the best time to show up.

Tom: Might not be, I mean.

Cindy: Uh oh. This is going to turn into an anti-holiday episode.

Tom: I know. Yeah, that’s the, that’s the sad part about it.

Cindy: But that’s a great tip that it stays up til February.

Tom: Right.

Cindy: And to come then. And, and I’ll say as someone who visited it in October, it’s still was pretty like holiday feeling magical. I mean, it’s always a Bavarian town. It’s always really cute, honestly. I think visiting it anytime a year, you still get a little bit of that feel.

Tom: Definitely, Leavenworth is Christmas town year-round, but especially from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day, Christmas town is in full effect.

And it is beautiful. Definitely come check it out. But, the three weekends leading up to Christmas are very, very busy.

Cindy: Okay

Tom: And I would say almost, mainly from a traffic perspective, getting into town can be challenging, and then parking and actually enjoying the town can also be very challenging.

We have about. 32 to 3,500 full-time local residents. So pretty small on the population side.

Cindy: Yeah.

Tom: But on any given weekend, when there’s a big tourism event, I mean, it can get upwards of 30 to 40,000 people in town.

Cindy: Wow. That is a lot. That’s more than I expected you to say.

Tom: Right.

Cindy: Yeah, that is busy.

Tom: Yes. A lot of the downtown facilities are a little maxed out on some of those busy weekends.

Cindy: Yeah.

Tom: So coming at other times of the year might be beneficial.

Leavenworth actually has a live webcam.

Cindy: Oh! Yeah, share, share of that.

Tom: Yeah. So I think you just go to the Leavenworth chamber website and there’s a link to the live webcam. So if you can’t make it to Leavenworth and you still want to see what downtown Leavenworth looks like, you can go to their live webcam and see Leavenworth in real-time.

Cindy: That’s so great to know. It’s so funny, for so long, I thought that webcams were kind of hokey and I was like, who watches those? And then when CO**D happened, I was obsessed with watching Old Faithful on the webcam.

Tom: Oh, yeah. Funny.

Cindy: Just because it like made me feel like I wasn’t stuck in a spot. So that’s great to know.

Tom: Yeah. It’s great to check-in. If you’re curious about how busy town is at a certain moment or what the weather’s like, if you’re coming in from out of town, just go to the Leavenworth chamber website and to find the webcam link and you can see what’s going on at the exact moment.

Cindy: When are the best times to come visit Leavenworth?

Tom: I would say January, February. If you really want to come and have the, the winter experience. That’s when we actually have some snow, that’s, that’s solidified and actually hung around for a while. December can be kind of iffy.

So January and February will give you like a full-blown winter experience.

We’ve got Nordic skiing, snowshoeing. We’ve got a full-size mountain resort about 28 miles away at Stevens Pass. So, if you’re looking to go ride chairlifts and go skiing and snowboarding, we’ve got that right up the road.

We’ve got another resort in Wenatchee called Mission Ridge, which is about an hour away. So if you’re looking to base camp out of Leavenworth, have a little Christmas town that’s snowy and all lit up and then go enjoy winter sports, January and February is definitely the time.

And then in the springtime, we have the melt when all the snow melts off and everything starts turning green and it gets very beautiful and lush and the mountains are still snow-capped, but everything down low is green and the wild flowers are popping out.

So, April, May is about that time.

That’s probably one of my favorite times of year, because you can still go do winter sports up high in the mountains. But then you have running rivers, so you can go to river sports. And then down low, I mean, the elevation of Leavenworth is only 1100 feet, so we’re pretty low on the spectrum.

So it’s pretty common that we’ll have snow up high and dirt down low. So you can go hiking or mountain biking or any activities that require trails.

Cindy: And then anything you want to say about summer or fall.

Tom: Summer I would say is when Leavenworth is really coasting.

People are coming to town every day. People are on summer break. Families are traveling. People are having lots of events like weddings or bachelor and bachelorette parties and just friends gatherings.

So from June through end of August, I would say everything’s pretty consistently rockin’. I mean, people are coming to town to raft and tube and wine taste, and it’s just warm and beautiful and just a fun time of year.

And then as we move into fall, the fall colors are absolutely phenomenal. October is a beautiful month here. It’s cooling off all the leaves are changing.

It’s definitely one of the more quiet times of year. I would say November is probably the most quiet month of the year in Leavenworth, which is nice because it’s just relaxing and the colors are beautiful and you kind of get those dismal days where it’s just gray and cold. And it’s nice, nice time to relax.

Cindy: I didn’t know that. So we were there in that time period, the fall.

Tom: Yes.

Cindy: And so I, so I saw it at its least packed perhaps.

Tom: Yeah. Well, October can be busy because of Octoberfest.

Cindy: Okay

Tom: So, if you’re here in October, you won’t really, you’ll feel the busyness because everyone’s here to get down for the October festivities.

But once November hits, we have a couple of weeks of downtime, and then come Thanksgiving, it really cranks up for the holidays.

Cindy: Okay, well, for our adventure-loving listeners, what time of year are we going to be doing this perfect day with you? That you’re planning out.

Tom: So the perfect day I would have to say would be in March or April, because that’s when we’ve got it all.

Cindy: Okay.

Tom: You can wake up in the morning, you can drive to the mountains, you can go ski powder, and then you can head back toward town. You can paddle the river. It can be flowing at all sorts of ranges of flow. So if you’re a kayaker or a rafter, having some good whitewater is definitely gonna be there.

And then working our way back toward town. Like I said, we’re at a relatively low elevation, so a lot of the trails will be running by then. So you can go mountain biking, rock climbing, I mean, it’s pretty much all available in the spring.

So I love having full days where you literally do three to five sports in the same day.

Cindy: Is that what we’re gonna do? In this episode?

Tom: That’s what we’re gonna do. That’s what we’re gonna do.

Cindy: Perfect!

Tom: Yeah! It’s going to be, it’s going to be a full day. But we’re going to fit in a lot.

Cindy: All right, well, let’s start it off. Where are we waking up on our day.

Tom: So waking up, I encourage people to stay at Airbnbs in the area because it gives you some flexibility with your group.

Like, Leavenworth does get busy to the point where it is hard to get larger groups into hotels in downtown.

If you’re traveling with just a couple, it’s fun to get a room downtown because you’re in the heart of the village and you really feel the, the Bavarian effect.

Um, but with larger groups, being out at your own place is cool because you can do your own grocery shopping and just have your own little base camp for all of your activities.

Ahh, especially on a big multi-sport day. You’re probably gonna have a lot of gear, so you’re gonna want some storage for all that stuff.

I like to have someplace with a garage or at least a big living room that you can move it all into.

So, there’s lots of places to stay around town. And it just depends on what you can get your hands on.

Cindy: How close would you recommend staying to town?

Tom: Oh, that’s a good question.

The zip code of Leavenworth is a pretty massive range. A lot of people that book a place in town sometimes end up being like half an hour from the village. So it’s good to do your research when you’re shopping for a place to stay, to see how close it is to the actual village, because sometimes that can backfire.

Personally I like being within a mile, a mile and a half of town. That way if you do want to go into town for some evening festivities, you don’t have a long drive afterwards.

Or you can just walk to town from wherever you’re staying. I mean, a mile walk isn’t too bad.

Cindy: Yeah, no. That is why I asked actually. When we stayed, we were about half an hour away, and we were technically still in Leavenworth, but the drives back were long. So that was great.

Tom: Yep. Long and in the mountains. Yeah, you can definitely be surprised by having a little bit of a commute.

Cindy: Yeah. Okay. Well, let’s start off our day with some food or some coffee. Where are we gonna go?

Tom: Alright. So kicking off the day, we’re going to stop at the Argonaut Espresso Shop. It’s run by a local couple. They do a great job. They’ve got great coffee. They have a great little breakfast menu. It’s small, but the food is delicious.

They specialize in biscuits. And biscuit breakfast sandwiches.

Cindy: Mmm.

Tom: You have to get there pretty early because the biscuits tend to sell out.

Cindy: Oh. Wow.

Tom: So luckily they’ve got a backup of English muffins, but you definitely want, you definitely want to kick it off with their biscuit. So a biscuit breakfast sandwich or their breakfast burrito is delicious and a good espresso. And…

Cindy: How early is early? Like within the first hour?

Tom: Uh, within the first hour or two, I would say.

Cindy: Okay.

Tom: I think they open at 6:30 or 7:00. And if you’re there at 9:00, you’re probably not getting a biscuit.

Cindy: Got it. Got it.

Tom: Yup. Yep.

Cindy: These are the important questions.

Tom: Exactly, yeah. Yep.

Cindy: Okay. Well, then what is our first outdoor activity then?

Tom: Well, we’re going to go up high and get some snow.

We’ve got about a half-hour drive from Leavenworth up to Stevens Pass Mountain Resort. Hopefully, on this perfect day, it just snowed a bunch, and we’ll get ourselves a little powder morning.

The nice thing about Stevens Pass being so close is that you can justify going up there for an hour or two and not feel like you just drove four hours to go ride for a couple of hours.

Cindy: Yeah.

Tom: I love just going up there for a morning of snowboarding. And then coming back to town before lunch. Having it close is definitely a treat, especially if the snow’s good.

And uh, this perfect day would probably be on a Monday through Thursday. On the weekends, everything is just a bit more busy. I wouldn’t throw the perfect day in the middle of a Saturday.

Cindy: Yeah. All right. So we did that for a few hours. Skied or snowboarded.

Tom: Yeah. Ski or snowboard. And then we’ll start working our way back toward town.

So if you’re headed east on Highway 2, about six miles before town, you enter Tumwater Canyon, which follows the Wenatchee River through a canyon.

And the Wenatchee River, in that section is all class three through class five whitewater and some of the best whitewater kayaking in the valley.

So to be able to go skiing or snowboarding all morning and then have an awesome whitewater river…

Cindy: Yeah

Tom: …on the way home. So what we’ll generally do is our way up to go skiing or snowboarding, we’ll drop a car at the takeout of the river, and then we’ll go ski or snowboard all morning, and we’ll bring our kayaks with us.

And then on the way back down to town, we’ll change into our kayaking gear and then kayak a couple miles of whitewater back toward town.

Cindy: Wow. That’s awesome.

Tom: It’s pretty sweet. To have, to have that on the way is a real treat.

Cindy: Yeah, let me ask, for people coming into the area, are there places where we can rent the equipment to do this scenario?

Tom: So for kayaking, there’s no kayak rental in town. No one rents kayaks without including a lesson or a guided trip.

Cindy: Umm.

Tom: Wild Water Rafting would be your local outlet for kayak instruction,

Cindy: Okay.

Tom: But, after Tumwater Canyon, the river mellows out into about two and a half miles of flat water, which is perfect for someone who just wants to go out on their stand-up paddleboard or their inner tube and just float on some flat water downstream and get some great views and you can float right into town.

There’s several outlets in town that you can rent your paddleboards and your inner tubes.

The rental season for that is going to be May through September. So on our early spring, perfect day, you’re definitely gonna have to be pretty self-sufficient with your gear.

Cindy: Yeah. Okay. Important to know.

Tom: Yep.

— Work in Progress – More Transcription Coming Soon —