This was totally a spur of the moment trip with no advanced planning, but amazingly, 13 people ended up going to Leavenworth for 2 days of hiking and 1 night of camping. For me, I confess, the whole purpose of this trip (other than spending time with my friends) was to see gorgeous balsamroot flowers covering the hillsides. Having seen them the previous year at Patterson Mountain near Winthrop, WA, I was eager to see that gorgeous display of colour again. Balsamroot, also known as arnica, has cheery yellow, sunflower-like flowers and is also known for its medicinal properties. If you ever read Alexandre Dumas’ book “The Three Musketeers”, you may remember that when D’Artagnan first came to Paris, he brought with him a healing balsam made of arnica, which he later gave to Athos to speed up the healing of his wound.
Day 1 – Saturday, May 6
It takes 4 hours of driving to get to Leavenworth from Vancouver. It’s not really that far. As we were heading east on Hwy 2 after leaving I5, we were alarmed by the sight of black clouds looming over the Central Cascade mountains. Indeed, near Stevens Pass the car was briefly battered with hail. But just as we crossed onto the other side of the Cascades, the weather mysteriously improved, and so did our mood. When we reached the campground – Eightmile Camp on Icicle Creek Road near Leavenworth, it was very warm and dry and the sent of pines filled the air. After our cold, miserable Vancouver spring, it was heavenly.
The Eightmile campground is not reservable until mid-May, but I somehow thought that nobody would want to camp this early in the season (it was May 6), so I wasn’t worried about finding a campsite. Boy, was I wrong. By the time we arrived at around 1 pm, the campground was almost full, but we were lucky enough to snatch the two remaining spots for our group of 13.
After setting up camp, we drove to the trailhead for the Sauer’s Mountain hike, located just northeast of Leavenworth. We drove through beautiful apple orchards that we in bloom this time of year. Sauer’s Mountain is a popular hike, an equivalent of Patterson Mountain in Winthrop. For directions and trail description, use this link: http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/sauer-mountain
I was happy to see that the balsamroots were at their peak of blooming. However, if I were to choose between Patterson mountain and Sauer’s, I would rather go to Patterson because you will literally see the entire hillside covered with golden balsamroots. Here, it was a bit less dramatic, but definitely worth visiting. The hike itself is very pleasant. You will gradually ascend through breezy Ponderosa pine forests and balsamroot-dotted meadows to a viewpoint, where you will find a log book and a sign from which you can figure out the names of various Central Cascade mountains before you.
After our hike, we stopped for a brief picture at an apple orchard, breathing in the fragrant apple-blossom filled air and listening to the sound of buzzing bees. The Leavenworth/Peshastin area is filled with orchards producing apples, pears, cherries, and nuts.
Then, we headed to Leavenworth, a Bavarian village in the middle of the Cascade Mountains. Leavenworth used to be a dying logging town, until, in 1960s, some ingenious soul had an idea to model the entire town as a Bavarian village. Every building in the city centre area, including gas stations, grocery stores, and McDonald’s, adheres to that style. It’s really something to see. Although Leavenworth is a very popular tourist destination year-round, I hesitate to call it a tourist trap. First of all, there is the gorgeous nature, on par with any Bavarian or European destination, which brings in adventurers from all over the world. Second, the town has really made strides in the recent years to produce something local and authentic, to develop its local character while being in accord with the original Bavarian theme. The town has its own beer and spirit makers, cheese and meat crafters, and a vibrant cultural scene. Not to mention the numerous wineries, orchards, and farms in the area!
On the way back to the campsite, some of our group stopped by a place called Leavenworth Sausage Garten (by Cured) for their amazing sausages made in house. They have a patio with big communal tables where you can enjoy a craft hot dog with a selection of creative mustards and coleslaw and a pint of cold local beer. It was so nice to eat out and not to have to cook at the campsite!
Continue reading: Day 2