By CARY ORDWAY
There are family getaways – and then there are family getaways. The first kind is where you pack up the kids, dogs and belongings and scrunch them into an RV or a couple of motel rooms and then kind of accept the fact there will be no privacy, quiet or downtime for the entire duration of your trip.
The second is the kind that includes privacy, quiet, downtime and general peace of mind because in this version of your family getaway you are going to book a vacation house — and one that is big enough that everybody has their own little piece of real estate.
The best family vacation house we’ve ever rented is in Leavenworth, the Bavarian City just on the eastern edge of the Cascade Mountains where mountain scenery truly resembles what you find in the Alps. Leavenworth Town Fathers have milked this for the last 50 years or so with the Bavarian-themed storefronts and German-style beer and celebrations. The town just keeps getting more and more popular.
Tucked away from the downtown and a mile or so up Icicle Creek Road is a rental called Snowgrass Lodge, one of several offered by Destination Leavenworth but certainly in a class all by itself. We wanted to sample a larger property and put it to the kid test by inviting seven grandchildren to come along and try it out. Unfortunately, that pesky Cascades weather – and very snowy passes — limited our party to just our own immediate family of three, and my in-laws.
But no matter — it was not hard imagining how well this particular lodging would suit a large family. In fact, we can’t think of a property better suited for a large family group that is interested in a high-quality getaway in one of the best recreation spots in the entire Pacific Northwest.
There are a couple of comparisons that come to mind when trying to describe Snowgrass Lodge. First, the house is so incredibly well built, updated and furnished that the first sensation is you’re walking into one of those homes on the Street of Dreams. You know, the ones you can never quite seem to afford. The rich woods, the cathedral ceilings, the massive stone fireplace, the gourmet kitchen all let you know right away that this will be an upgrade from the RV park, baby.
The other sense you get is that you are now operating your own bed-and-breakfast inn – except that all the guests are your family. There are no other guests or innkeepers to share the kitchen or bathrooms with, yet the building seems large enough that it would make a reasonable size inn. There are three floors altogether with four separate living or sleeping areas, allowing plenty of separation between you and the in-laws, you and your siblings or you and your siblings’ sometimes annoying family members.
Without trying to give you a detailed floor plan, suffice it to say that this vacation home has two master suites, a couple of guest bedrooms, a couple of kitchens, a huge family room for big-screen television-watching, a giant living room that is more like a hotel lobby and such conveniences as a jetted tub in the upstairs master suite as well as the outdoor hot tub overlooking the river.
The location is superb as well, with views of the nearby mountains – including one that kind of looks like the Matterhorn – and wooded grounds, a lawn big enough for outdoor events and, of course, the nearby Wenatchee River.
So what does all this cost, you ask? A reasonable question with a surprising answer. Midweek it’s only $475 a night for up to six guests with each additional adult $25 more, each added child $20 more. The rates are slightly higher on weekends and can be quite a bit higher on national holidays and other times of peak interest. But when you consider that a 4-star hotel room is going for $300 these days, a rate of $150 to $200 per couple or family seems to us a bargain for such a luxurious and exclusive retreat.
Of course one of the best things about the Snowgrass Lodge is that it’s in Leavenworth, which is about a three-hour drive east from Seattle and one of several locations in North Central Washington that are worthy of vacation time.
If you’re a longtime Northwest resident, you know the Leavenworth story. If you just moved here, or have been living under a rock, the town began promoting itself as the Bavarian Village back in the 1960’s. Back then it was a small town on the way to Seattle or a place that east-west travelers went through as they traveled cross-country on U.S. Highway 2. There was nothing especially remarkable except for one thing: the scenery.
Seattle people would notice right away as they drove down Tumwater Canyon just outside of Leavenworth how the mountains and rivers seemed to create picture postcard photos around every corner on the windy two-lane highway. Then, breaking out of the mountains, these travelers would immediately be met by the town of Leavenworth which is situated right at the base of those towering peaks.
To revive a stagnant economy, the Town Fathers came up with the idea of making the village look and feel like a village in the Alps. All it took was a series of renovations to virtually all of the town’s local businesses and, voila, the Bavarian architecture combined with the mountain scenery to create the illusion that motorists were traveling through the Bavarian Alps.
Today the town attracts many thousands of visitors to annual events such as the Christmas Tree Lighting Festival and the Autumn Leaf Festival and it can be difficult to find lodging during those popular celebrations. The town also fills up with tourists any given weekend and, during summer and peak times of the year, you’ll also find throngs of visitors scouring the local shops midweek for some kind of Bavarian souvenir, or dining in local Bavarian themed restaurants, or any of several other types of restaurants now available in Leavenworth.
But Leavenworth is much more than shops and food. The area is quite a recreational paradise with numerous trails leading into the Cascade Mountains and with such attractions as Lake Wenatchee, just a half-hour’s drive away. In spring, river rafting is popular on the Wenatchee River.
About 30 miles east of Leavenworth is Wenatchee, the largest city in the region and home to several attractive parks and trails, including a loop trail that takes you up one side of the Columbia River and down the other side. Wenatchee acts as a kind of hub for North Central Washington, where you also find a couple of other excellent tourist destinations: the Wild West theme town of Winthrop in the Methow Valley and Lake Chelan, a natural wonder more than 50 miles long and known for excellent water sports and fishing.