Leavenworth is a hidden gem tucked into a river valley in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington state. Modeled after a quaint Bavarian village, this place is a tourist’s paradise. What few of those tourists know is that the woods around Leavenworth offer Forest Service roads and twisty single-track for weekend (off-road) warriors and avid adventure-touring motorcyclists. Not to mention some epic views of Washington's lush, breathtaking and ancient forests.
Justin and I rode into Leavenworth in October to find 80-degree weather just miles away from the 45 degrees through the mountain pass. During winter months, skiers, trekkers, boarders and snowmobilers take over, while foreign visitors, mountaineers, mountain bikers and us petrol-powered trail riders arrive the rest of the year. Leavenworth's climate affords the town endless reasons to hold events, such as — ahem — Oktoberfest (insert happy face and lederhosen)!
But first, the trails
Justin has worked with Touratech for over three years, so he’s familiar with the many routes explored during the annual Touratech Rally in Plain, Wash. Several of them extend to the back door of Leavenworth and connect to endless roads less traveled. The brisk, buzzy ride on our matching Yamaha XT225s up Highway 2 and over Stevens Pass is as beautiful as it is wearing (on bike and body) when riding a small dual-sport on the highway. The approach to the town runs between cliffs that hug the winding road into Leavenworth. The entry is a steep valley where the horizon opens up to a crystal-clear river flanked by fall's multi-colored and textured vegetation, where the sun is finally able to push past the tall, rocky peaks to toast the back of my neck. It’s worth the agony of the ride — if any.
Our trail ride began on a two-lane paved street that ended abruptly at two unmarked, unkempt gravel choices. Which way? Did it matter, really? Either of the Forest Service roads would lead to elevation, varying conditions and idyllic scenery. We went straight.
The ground was hard-packed and dry for a majority of the ride. Giant ruts threatened to chuck me down the canyons or into a tree. The loose gravel on banked, hairpin turns gave way when taken too fast, sending the back end of the motorcycle into a hard wobble before I throttled out victorious! Until the next blind corner. Small, unforeseen whoops added character to an otherwise straightforward excursion. This was the type of trail where you just stand on your pegs, control with your knees and let go (mentally). Once the bike was allowed to do as it pleased, it was a mere combination of lean, throttle and the occasional dap to defeat oncoming obstacles. Steep rocky inclines, single tracks along drastically diving cliff sides, and shale rock were nearby to challenge us, if we decided the ride was too painless.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been kind enough to provide a list of Forest Service roads in Washington that are always open to motorcyclists, as well as updates on road and weather conditions. Western Washington is a fruitful birthing ground for fickle, often dreary, climates, so it’s best to keep current updates handy when attempting a motorcycle adventure, on or off the road. Some day trips and most overnight trips require an annual Northwest Forest Pass that’s only a $30 fee. If you intend to spend a great amount of time exploring the back roads, National Parks or other federal sites that charge an entry or use fee, the America the Beautiful Interagency Annual Pass, for $80, is worth considering.
The Bavarian experience
Leavenworth hosts a plethora of events, but we were in town for Oktoberfest. Who needs to fly to Germany when you can get the (sur)real thing just a little over two hours outside of Seattle? Okay, maybe that’s an overstatement, but the Bavarian-themed town does its best to give you an authentic experience, complete with an appropriately dressed ensemble. You can expect to find biers, brauts, even more beer and all the typical festival accoutrements, such as arts, crafts and live music, amongst other activities. There’s no concern about tipsy travel because Leavenworth offers free transportation services all over town during the celebration. For those staying outside of town, shuttles are offered for a small fee.
Oktoberfest offers diversions for all ages. Kinderplatz is a staged kid-zone equipped with a climbing wall, bouncy toys and kooky performers to occupy your child’s attention. Of course there's a number of beer gardens to satisfy the tastes of those who are of age.
There hasn’t been a day since that early October weekend we haven’t dreamed of going back. The region is alluring, the views are dazzling, the town is charming and the list of activities is endless! In the middle of a frosty October in Seattle, Leavenworth presented us with sunny warmth. The high mountain routes were easy to access and supplied challenges and the festivities allowed for unique, delicious — occasionally strange — experiences. And if it hasn’t been said enough, a motorcycle ride through the Cascade Mountains is well worth it.