GREAT AMERICAN VACATION
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With its evergreen foothills, impressive peaks, and general accessibility, the North Cascades—often likened to the Alps—is a popular destination year-round. Skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers come here from December through March, relaxing après-ski in the area's lodges, boutique hotels, and bed-and-breakfasts. With Washington Pass closed, however, winter visitors have to take alternative routes, making some otherwise easily accessible destinations and accommodations seem out-of-the-way. Still, almost all lowland forest areas and valleys can be visited any time of year. Summer peak season extends from snowmelt (late May through July, depending on elevation) to early September. Many annual visitors to Lake Chelan book lodging for the following summer before leaving. Weekends and holidays can get crowded with hikers, backpackers, boaters, anglers, white-water rafters, and other outdoors enthusiasts.
In the fall, when the North Cascades glow with crimson, saffron, and rust-colored foliage against a backdrop of its evergreen trees, the Cascade Loop is a popular route. Leaf-peepers who don't mind the rainy days of late autumn can enjoy otherwise mild temperatures and a quieter drive. Early spring also offers peace and quiet as well as the promise of alpine air. Many hotels and other lodging options offer economical shoulder season pricing.
If you want to match your visit up with a local event, there are highlights in each season.
Christkindlmarkt and Christmas Lighting Festival. Old World holiday traditions blend with modern rituals to turn downtown Leavenworth into a glittering holiday wonderland, complete with carriage rides, carols, sledding, tree-lighting, children's activities, and other festivities. Leavenworth, WA, 98826. 509/548–5807 Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce. www.christkindlmarktleavenworth.com.
Lake Chelan Winterfest Fire and Ice. Held during two weekends in January, this festival features a chili cook-off, music, winter ale tasting, a fun run, ice slide, wine walk, polar bear dip, children's activities, and ice sculpture. Chelan, WA. 509/682–3503 Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce. www.lakechelanwinterfest.com.
Leavenworth International Accordion Celebration. Sponsored by the Northwest Accordion Society, this June fest features jam sessions, competitions, concerts, workshops, vendors, and free accordion lessons. Leavenworth, WA, 98826. no phone. www.accordioncelebration.org.
Maifest. Enjoy traditional German dancing, including an intricate Old World maypole dance, as well as a lederhosen contest and parade flower-decked Bavarian-style village of Leavenworth. As the name suggests, it takes place in May. Leavenworth, WA, 98826. 509/548–5807. www.leavenworth.org.
Oktoberfest. Show off your "chicken dance" and other oom-pah moves in Leavenworth at one of the most exuberant stateside celebrations of this German beer festival, complete with German food, German music, German dancing and, of course, beer. Needless to say, it's in October. Lodging fills up fast this festive weekend; some participants book rooms a year in advance. Leavenworth, WA, 98826. 509/548–5807 Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce. www.leavenworthoktoberfest.com.
Winthrop Rhythm and Blues Fest. The Blues Ranch, 1 mile west of Winthrop, is the venue for this nonprofit, volunteer-run July music festival—an outdoor Methow Valley tradition. Winthrop, WA, 98862. 509/997–3837. www.winthropbluesfestival.com.