Trail Tuesdays: 3 W’s of Hiking in Crappy Weather

Not all hiking days can be blue skies and sunshine.  Particularly here on the west coast, regular hikers are going to encounter inclement weather, everything from low cloud to absolute downpours. Let’s be clear here, hiking in heavy rain sucks. Today’s tips are more for those days when weather is unsettled, the kind of day when you know the clouds are never going to part and it’s probably going to rain here and there, but not the kind of all-day-rain-fest that can happen in the mountains. No one wants to hike in that.  Though it can be tempting to avoid hiking in iffy weather, sometimes you just want some fresh air, scenery and the healing power of nature.

The problem with hiking in crappy weather is that you’re probably not going to see a whole lot from the top of a mountain.  Trust me, I’ve hauled ass up many a trail to see nothing but cloud.

Exhibit A: No view after hours of hiking uphill.

Sure, it makes for a good workout, but it’s far better to save the epic mountain viewpoints for sunnier days.  On a crappy days, the three W’s can help you keep your hiking mojo even in less than ideal conditions:

1. Wildflowers:  Unlike mountain tops, wildflowers aren’t going to be obscured by clouds. On a crappy day, a hike through fields of wildflowers adds a pop of colour and some visual interest even if all the surrounding mountains are obscured by clouds. As a bonus, wildflowers actually photograph better in cloudy conditions than in full-on sunshine. If you get to know your area’s wildflower season and hot-spots, these become great destinations for less-than-perfect days.

Exhibit B: it rained for this entire 18 km hike and I never saw a mountain, but I think we can agree this is pretty damn beautiful.

2. Water: Select a trail that leads to a waterfall or a jewel-toned lake. Similar to wildflowers, jewel-toned lakes pop in grey conditions. Because they’re often found at the base of mountains, those pesky clouds won’t get in your way either. As for waterfalls, they tend to be underrated even though they can be simply stunning.  They’re also more likely to be found at slightly lower elevations, meaning good visibility even in the worst of conditions.  Seeking out both these destinations will keep you from slogging along a ridge line during a torrential downpour.

Exhibit C: Crap day, stunning lake.

3. Waterproof: I’ve written about having the right gear for hiking, and about an epic hiking weekend in which Mount Rainier decided to bestow upon me almost nothing but torrential rain. In other words, I have suffered through a lot of ill-prepared hiking in the rain.  Regardless of the type of trail you choose, the number one most important thing is some high quality, waterproof gear. In particular, you’ll want a waterproof jacket and hiking boots.  All the waterfalls and wildflowers in the world won’t save your hike if you’re soaking wet and cold.

So get out there no matter what the weather and remember your three W’s: water(falls and lakes), wildflowers, waterproof. I promise you it’ll help you make the most of an iffy day.

Trail Tuesdays PSA: be prepared!

Warning: this may border on preachy. Being adequately prepared for your outdoor adventures is one of my hot button topics. I’ve written about safety supplies and suitable gear before.  This weekend I was irked to hear of yet another series of search and rescue expeditions to retrieve hikers from local mountains. All of these trails were front-country, relatively easy half-day hikes in regular hiking season.  The common factor among these rescues: individuals were underprepared for conditions, which included snow at higher elevations.  The toughest part for me to swallow is that this will be the first of far too many similar rescues in the early season. There is enough that can go wrong in the outdoors even when you’re prepared, so why take the risk of going out unprepared and uninformed?

So as not to sound all negative, I’ll add that I actually think it’s great that people want enjoy nature, and I encourage people to get into hiking. However, I get quite riled up when I hear stories of hikers heading out with minimal gear, unsuitable clothing and footwear, and with little knowledge of what to expect in terms of trail conditions, including the intensity of the hike relative to one’s fitness level.  One of the beautiful things about our information age is that there is a ton of information out there to help you know what to expect on a trail. For the love of God, use it!

If you’re going to hit the trails this Spring season, make sure that you’re prepared for conditions:

1. Read up on trail reports: Early season hiking truly is some of the most risky for casual hikers. Warm temperatures and sunshine in lower elevations do not translate to higher elevations, where snow and ice are likely to linger for a long time. Not only that, the snow becomes less stable, which causes a lot more slipping, sliding and post-holing, all of which can cause sudden and unexpected injuries. Trickier conditions can also cause your casual hike to take way longer than expected, which can mean changing conditions and fading daylight can become risks. These aren’t things we tend to think about when it’s 22 degrees at the base of the mountain and yet we should. Provincial, federal, state and national parks have trail reports that are updated fairly regularly, and there are also a number of hiking websites where comments sections are used to provide recent trail conditions. Google is your friend.

2. Pack your gear: I wrote a whole post on being prepared for shoulder season, so I won’t repeat myself here except to say temperatures drop quickly and suddenly in the mountains.  If you get stuck waiting for help because of an injury, or even if it’s just that it takes you way longer than you thought to finish your hike, extra layers may save you from discomfort or even mild hypothermia and a headlamp may help you find your way back to the trailhead safely even in the dark.

3. Know your limits: If you hit snow and you’re not comfortable, or your footwear isn’t giving you enough traction, just turn around. I see people labouring (i.e. slipping and sliding) up and down snow-covered trails in street shoes all the time. My completely obvious pro-tip: if it’s hard for you to get traction going uphill, it will be ten times worse coming back down. It’s not worth it.  Just because others are easily navigating the trail does not mean it will be easy for you. If you encounter terrain that makes you uncomfortable, do not proceed just because others have no issue with it. We all have different experience levels with various trail conditions. Other hikers may be well-versed and geared for their snowy journey. If you’re not, don’t go.

4. Make sure you have route descriptions or a screen shot of a trail map: Most trails are really well marked, but in snowy conditions trails that are usually obvious may be less so. If you’re not sure you’re on the right track, don’t just keep going. Backtrack to the last time you had a clear trail marker or visible sign of trail. From there, if you cannot identify the actual route, do not keep going.

5. Hike for your fitness level: Particularly in early season, conditions may cause hikes to take longer than you think as well as make the hike more physically draining. There is a big difference in energy exerted on a dry, dirt path vs. post-holing through snow. If you’ve ever had to post-hole through crappy Spring snow, you know this. To add insult to injury, you’re probably less fit than you were at the end of last hiking season. Hiking time estimates are just that. A two-hour hiking time estimate assumes good conditions and average fitness.  That could mean you might take 45 minutes or you might take four hours, depending on your fitness and trail conditions. Keep track of your time and don’t assume it’s always faster descending a trail. Turn around if you think you won’t make it back safely during daylight hours.

Okay, I think this concludes my slightly patronizing rant. Like I said, this is a hot button topic for me. Most search and rescue teams are volunteer-based, which means these individuals are often working day jobs and then getting dispatched in the evenings and overnight, giving up their time and putting themselves at risk when searching for hikers. Let’s not put others into greater risk for no good reason.  Accidents absolutely happen on trails and we can’t always prevent them, but we can do everything in our power to be informed and prepared.

*end rant*

 

Mid-Week Tangent: the secret to productivity

The trouble with being unemployed is that I have to schedule meetings all the time with prospective employers or clients.  Okay, this isn’t the real problem, I guess. The problem is that their availability rarely is such that my meetings are all neatly in a row.  As much as I’d like everyone else’s schedule to magically align with my own, it doesn’t seem to work out that way.  Most of the time, I have an hour or two in between meetings, sometimes longer. When I was working, time between meetings was there to get work done but, without a job, there’s no real work to be done. I’m just sitting around waiting for the next conversation.  But I noticed something really interesting about this wasted time between meetings:  I was getting a lot of shit done.  It occurred to me that I may have discovered the real secret to productivity: being forced to kill time.

I like to think that I’m not alone in that I will almost always choose the most enjoyable of tasks at hand in any given moment. If I can watch Netflix now and take care of that annoying thing (that I’ve already been avoiding for months), 99% of the time I will watch Netflix now.  This is the primary reason that I fail to check things off my to-do list for months (and months).

However, when I am forced to sit for hours on end in coffee shops, killing time between meetings, with no one to distract me from myself, I am transformed into a focused, productive machine. I start to tackle tasks that I’ve been putting off for months, tasks that aren’t always complex nor particularly meaningful, but that needed to get done nonetheless. It’s absolutely astonishing.

Here are just some of the things that I’ve finally (dear lord, finally) crossed off my to do list care of killing time: at least 15 blog posts that wouldn’t have been written otherwise (including this one!); applying for four jobs that I wouldn’t have found unless I had been bored and trolling corporate websites; spamming my LinkedIn network to drum up business and/or networking meetings; following up on why I’m not getting billed for my provincial health care; finding out how to get my all season tires back now that my old dealership that stored them is closed; scheduling car service and tire swap at a new dealership; filing my taxes; and changing my address with all the places you don’t think about when you move because they only mail you once a year.

You are probably wondering why I don’t just hang out in coffee shops even when I don’t have meetings scheduled. It is not the same. The perfect storm of productivity requires that a) I am unable to go home or even somewhere more entertaining because I don’t quite have enough time to get back before my next meeting b) I have no money to spend on frivolous shopping and c) no friends are available to come meet me. Only with this particularly trifecta will I find my productivity zone.

No, what I (and maybe you, too) need is a nice, forced block of time to kill . So the next time you are disgusted with your lack of progress on pesky little life tasks, here’s all you need to do:

  • book some sort of event and/or meeting in a location at least 45 minutes from your home or office
  • book another event and or/meeting 1-3 hours after the initial event/meeting
  • do not tell anyone that you have free time between meetings
  • do not pack a book
  • do not look at your work email (if you are employed, that is) or take any other work with you
  • preferably, go somewhere without free wi-fi
  • sit facing a wall so that you will not be distracted by people watching (come on, you know you would be)

You’re welcome.

 

 

 

Trail Tuesdays (it’s new!): what you need for shoulder season hikes

Spring is finally starting to arrive here, which has me thinking about hiking.  When the sun is out and temperatures are rising, it’s tempting to want to get cracking on your hiking bucket list. However, just because Spring is…springing (see what I did there?) into action where you live, it doesn’t mean higher elevation trails aren’t still in winter’s grip.  This is what we call shoulder season, that transition between winter and hiking season, and it’s basically a crap bag of weather and conditions for which you need to be prepared. That’s why today’s post is all about how to prepare for shoulder season hiking.

Quick note: My recommendations here are for lower elevation day hikes during shoulder season, not more ambitious scrambles or mountaineering. That’s not my jam and it requires a considerable amount of knowledge and gear, neither of which I have.

Tips for Picking Shoulder Season Hikes

1. Check mountain forecasts not city forecasts: :  It may be sunny and snow-free where you are, but mountainous areas tend to be their own weather systems. Many National, State and Provincial parks have detailed weather reports for their parks, and some even have weather stations within the parks. These will give you far more accurate expectations for weather conditions on the trail.

2. Whenever possible, check trail condition reports:  Many parks also provide regularly updated trail condition reports that can keep you informed of all sorts of things that can ruin your planned hike (i.e. avalanche risk, washed out access roads, washed out trails, deadfall on trails, etc.). There are also countless online forums where other hikers provide trail reports.  Just be sure to check report dates to ensure you’re actually using recent information.

3. Follow the sun: Your best shoulder season hikes are on trails that get the most daytime sun exposure.  They’ll be the first to be snow-free in the Spring/Summer and the last to get a solid base of snow in Fall/Winter. Consider whether the sun’s trajectory is going to work in your favour on your planned hikes. For me, that most often means southwest facing slopes.

4. How low can you go: Low elevation may not yield the most spectacular views but, unless you know what you’re doing in snowy conditions, they are your best bet for hitting the trails during shoulder season. It’s simple science: snow lingers longest at higher elevations.  You have all summer to summit peaks and to get epic panoramic views. Keep it low in shoulder season.

what to take, what to wear & what to know

It’s important to note here that basics like first aid kits and other safety gear should be carried year round, so I haven’t included those items below. Though much of the gear I have mentioned below is also helpful year round, I think it’s particularly critical for the varied conditions you’ll encounter during shoulder season.

1. Light-Weight Waterproof Jacket: It may not be raining or snowing at the trail head. It might even appear to be a perfect day.  But I promise you that even a couple hundred metres of elevation gain can leave you standing in drastically different conditions, not to mention that weather systems generally change more quickly in the mountains.Take it from me, the girl who never carried a rain coat and nearly froze her ass off several times in the dead of summer: a compact, light-weight waterproof jacket will offer great protection against rain, snow and wind when temperatures don’t warrant a full-on winter coat.

2. Microspikes: The earlier in the season you attempt to hike, the more likely you’ll encounter some form of snow or ice.  I have been ill-prepared for many a shoulder season hike and have descended very long sections of trail only by combining a fierce crab-walk with some anxiety-riddled tree hugging. I don’t recommend either. Microspikes barely take up any room and will save you from making a spectacle of yourself in front of more prepared hikers (not that I would know anything about that).

3. Hiking Boots: I hate hiking boots. They are clunky and heavy and they interfere with my ability to feel the trail beneath my feet. Vanity alert: I also don’t have the leg shape to pull off hiking boots with shorts. Whenever possible, I’m the first to go with trail runners for any hiking experience. The one exception is shoulder season. If it’s not slush or snow, it’s going to be mud.  Any and all of these will lead to wet feet if you’re stubborn (like I’ve been in the past) and refuse to wear your hiking boots. You have all summer to hike in trail runners or low day hikers but this is the time to keep your feet insulated and dry.  For most moderate snow conditions, I find that hiking boots suffice, though there are the odd occasions when even gaiters would’ve been welcome.

4. Gloves & Toque/Hat: It’s generally good form to carry these two items, but it’s especially important during shoulder season. Should temperatures or weather change, you will be far happier.  I’ve also been known to use my hands to help me climb through steep sections of snow. Do that with bare hands just once and you’ll pack gloves forevermore.

5. Poles: I wrote about how much I hate carrying poles in another post in which I recommended carrying them in case of injury. Well, trekking poles are equally helpful for shoulder season in case you encounter snow and ice. They will give you a little extra stability, particularly descending on snow or crossing steep snow slopes.  I’ve also used them to test snow depth and stability when on unfamiliar terrain (more on unfamiliar terrain later).

6. Headlamp:  Hiking in shoulder season can sometimes take longer than expected due to trail conditions,  we sometimes forget the days are still shorter, and it can seem a lot darker in the woods than out in the open. If you are unexpectedly slower than planned, a headlamp is a great thing to have on hand. They’re cheap, light-weight and a lot brighter than the built-in flashlights on smart phones.

6. Know your route and know your limits:  If you do encounter snow during shoulder season, it’s entirely possible your route won’t be easily identifiable.  There may be no track to follow, and not all routes have tree markers. Let me tell you that even when I’ve been on trails I’ve hiked a million times in Summer conditions, I’ve found snowy conditions change the landscape enough that it can be disorienting and you can easily be led astray. Even if there are tracks in the snow, you can’t be entirely sure that previous hikers are on the right routes or travelling safely. Snow is an entirely different ballgame and what looks like sturdy snow may not be. If you’re unsure of the trail’s direction or snow stability, call it a day and wait for warmer weather to finish the trail. Safety first!

With the right gear and information, shoulder season hiking can be absolutely stunning. If you don’t believe me, here’s just a taste of the tranquility you can find:

Typical shoulder season: Wet snow, all of which had melted by the time I descended.
This was the wettest, stickiest snow to hike through. It constantly clumped on my microspikes but it was still worth it.

Happy trails!

Trail Tuesdays (it’s new!): Being Prepared for Injuries on the Trail

It’s time to rebrand Tuesdays. Let’s be honest, I’m no longer even contemplating training for an ultra. My “training” these days is focused on the little things like, you know, having a normal, functioning body. What I am excited about is hiking season, and it’s safe to say I know a hell of a lot more about day hiking than I do about running.  Plain and simple, you are in better hands if I write about hiking topics.

Today’s topic is being prepared for the unexpected hiking injury. Clearly I have injuries on the brain these days, but as I get ready for hiking season, it’s a good time to refresh our gear and make sure we’re ready to hike safe.  I used to be the poster child for the ill-prepared, the girl who hiked with absolutely no gear, but at least now I’m reformed. Learn from the error of my old ways and go into the wilderness better prepared do deal with the unexpected.

A quick note: these suggestions are really geared towards dealing with injuries on the minor to moderate side of the injury spectrum. Major injuries are a whole other beast and, in many cases, my suggestions won’t be enough to cope with the big stuff.

Preparing for the Unexpected:Hiking Edition

1. Have a Safety Check: For the love of God, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return, and make it someone that will actually pay attention to whether you return at that time. If you get happen to get injured badly enough that your ability to hike out is compromised, this is the best way to ensure that someone actually looks for you. I used to do only do this for solo hikes, but I’ve started to let people know even when I’m hiking with others. As I get older, I’m learning you can never be too safe.  If you don’t believe me, just watch 127 Hours.

2. Portable Cell Phone Charger: You won’t always have cell reception, but on many popular front country trails, you might be surprised at how well your phone works. If something happens while hiking, it pays to have a small, portable phone charger in case your battery gets low, particularly if you need to use GPS apps (they can really drain your battery!) or make an emergency phone call.

3. Tensor Bandages: The number of times I had to hike at least 5 km on badly sprained ankles before I started carrying Tensor bandages is astounding. Tensor bandages are going to make a world of difference for the bulk of common hiking injuries involving knees, wrists, and ankles. Carry a couple. They’re small, light-weight and pretty versatile.  You’ll still be in pain if you’ve pulled a muscle, sprained a limb, or (heaven forbid!) suffered a minor fracture or break, but Tensors will at least provide a little bit of extra stability in the short term.

4. Sturdy Poles: I hate carrying poles. I almost never use them for hiking unless I’m terrified while descending or crossing snow patches, so more often than not I leave them in the trunk of my car. I am still guilty of this, by the way. However, any time I’ve had a knee or ankle issue on the trail, I’ve wished desperately that I had my poles with me for some extra support.  Don’t be like me. Carry your poles. If you buy retractable poles like mine, you can clip them to the outside of your backpack and you’ll forget they’re even there.

5. A PROPER First Aid Kit: I used to carry nothing, then upgraded slightly to a small plastic container stuffed with bandaids, some gauze and a small set of scissors. It wasn’t until recently that I went with a full-blown outdoor first aid kit. They’re surprisingly compact and have most of the things you need to take care of everything from blisters to wounds. I believe mine is quite similar to this one.  What’s important is that your kit has more than just bandaids–look for a range of bandages and gauze that will cover larger wounds.  Just a couple years back, I was hiking with my parents when my mom slipped on a very steep section of trail.  Her hiking pole was looped around her wrist and, when the pole jammed into the ground, the handle actually hit her forearm with such force that it peeled back a sizeable chunk of flesh. Sorry for the gruesome mental picture there, but suffice it to say that without proper bandages, medical tape and antiseptic wipes, she would’ve been quite an infected and bloody mess by the time we got home.

6. Ibuprofen & Antihistamines:  Ibuprofen is a wonderful thing. Not only will it ease pain, but it’s actually an anti-inflammatory, meaning it will bring down swelling caused by inflammation.  Alternatively, acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, will help the pain but will do nothing for inflammation and swelling.  It’s also great to have a couple of antihistamines kicking around just in case you have an unexpected allergic reaction to plants or insect bites.  I wish I’d had one the time I was stung by a wasp and became convinced that my tongue was swelling and my breathing becoming laboured. Though neither of which was actually occurring, you don’t always know what you’re allergic to in advance. Barring a severe allergic reaction, an antihistamine is going to keep things in check until you get back to the trailhead.

It can be tempting to think this stuff only applies to backcountry hikers on long excursions, but I assure you this is just as important for day hikes. I’ve had my share of minor injuries hiking, and all of them have occurred in the front country and on 20-25 km day hikes.  Don’t let distance and location fool you. Accidents can happen anytime so hike safe! And happy Trail Tuesday!

Monday Musings: on budgeting

At nearly 38 years of age, I have never actually made and stuck to a budget. I’ve always followed more of an intuitive process and it’s always worked for me. I’ve never carried a balance on a credit card, and the only debt I’ve acquired was my gargantuan student loan from grad school (which I paid off in full back in 2012–hooray!!!!).  No matter my job and its corresponding salary level, I’ve managed to consistently live within my means.

By my own choice, I am now without a job and salary. This will be temporary, of course, or at least that’s the plan, but it’s definitely required a more acute level of financial awareness. Over the last five months, I’ve found it fascinating to pay attention to where my money has historically gone and where it’s now going. I’ve watched my monthly variable spend decline by about 48% (!!!!).  Was it always easy? No. I like my things and I like to get what I want when I want it.  However, it’s also been incredibly rewarding to see how much can be achieved with fairly minimal effort.

In the process, I’ve recognized some key behaviours that are critical for my own budget awareness and financial management.

1. Have a rainy day fund: The only thing that is making my employment hiatus a possibility is that I focused quite intently on saving ever since I paid off my massive student loan. In reality, I could’ve saved twice as much had I managed my spending better, but I still accumulated a nice little rainy day fund that eases some of the financial pressure.  Whatever amount you can save, make it happen. It will create so much more flexibility and breathing room for you, whether you are hit with an unexpected expense or you just want to make bigger changes in your life. I highly recommend the auto-transfer to savings so that you never know the money was there. Tricking your own brain is fun.

2. Meal planning: I know, this is a big yawn. Meal planning isn’t fun or sexy, but you may be amazed at how much you save.  We have virtually eliminated our “we-have-nothing-in-the-fridge-so-I-guess-we’ll-eat-out” expenses. We’ve also wasted way less food. I will probably write a whole post on meal planning in the coming weeks because I’m so excited about the progress we’ve made in such a short time. The long and the short of it is, I went from daily trips to the grocery store to 1-2 trips per week. We eat better, we waste less food, and I estimate that we’re easily saving $50-60 per week in groceries and anywhere from $50-100 per week in dining out.

3. Cut the fat: I love to order books online, but I have a reading room full of books, some of which I’ve yet to read. I like to buy workout clothes and I’m certainly not immune to wandering through a mall just to kill time and boredom, purchasing things I don’t really need along the way, just to feel better. Frivolous spending feels like it should be the easiest thing to curtail, and yet it can sometimes be the most challenging because it’s often emotionally anchored. Particularly when I’m not working, and I have all the free time in the world, it’s hard not to default to old patterns. I find the ‘wait 24 hour’ rule is very helpful. More often than not, if I ask myself to wait 24 hours to see if I still think I ‘need’ something, I either forget entirely or I come back 24 hours later and realize it’s not something I need right now.

4. Take advantage of deals/points: This is an area of budget awareness for which my boyfriend deserves full credit. He accumulates points on a couple of cards, and very generously allows me to benefit from them. Just last weekend, for instance, we bought $180 worth of stuff (some of which was necessary, some of which was not) using nothing but points. It’s a nice way to treat yourself without actually costing anything. The trick is to find no-fee points cards, and to redeem points for big ticket items that you would be reluctant to buy with your own money.

5. Pay attention to the little things…they add up: It sounds so cliche, but really I’ve been amazed at how much of a difference it makes to pay attention the minutia: toll fees, parking fees, coffees out, buying snacks on the go, and waiting for splurge items to be on sale at the grocery store (so long full price Ben & Jerry’s…sigh). I’ve made a concentrated effort to book meetings downtown over 1-2 days per week to minimize driving time, parking costs and toll fees and it’s made a difference. I’ve also become the crazy person who circles blocks endlessly trying to score the highly-sought-after free 2 hour parking spots. When I have coffee meetings or need to kill time in coffee shops between meetings, I’ve downgraded to buying a short coffee instead of a tall latte or double espresso. I pack my own breakfast and lunches and eat them in cafes. I used to worry I’d look ridiculous, but now I don’t care. I’m saving anywhere from $10-25/day doing it.

6. Track, track, track: If you’ve never tracked your expenses, and I mean all of your expenses, it is such an eye opening experience. I know I am late to the game on this one, so it’s probably nothing new to many of you.  I knew I had some areas in which spending was a free for all (particularly dining out, travel and groceries), but I didn’t know just how much it was costing me. Even though I feel things are in check now, I’m committed to continued tracking. I want to know what all my networking is costing me. I want to keep seeing how our meal planning is affecting our grocery costs. I want to see how much I should be saving when I start taking on work projects again. It’s sort of become, dare I say, fun!

Yes, I just said tracking expenses has become fun. I probably just lost half of you with that one. My challenge to anyone who hasn’t done this is to give it a whirl. You might be surprised at how interesting it is…and how much ‘extra’ money may end up in your pockets!

Throwback Thursday: Pretzels! Schnitzel! Snowshoeing! Oh my!

It’s been a while since I wrote a Throwback Thursday edition but, since I’m going to Leavenworth this weekend, I thought it only made sense to share a throwback to last year’s Leavenworth getaway, partly because I’m super excited (!!!) and partly because you need to go there.

You may be asking yourself, what is Leavenworth? Well, friends, it only happens to be a charming, Bavarian-themed village nestled in Washington’s cascade mountains.  It is quaint, absolutely over-the-top kitschy, and delightfully scenic.  If you are contemplating a weekend getaway, and live near the west coast, I think I can sell you on the Leavenworth experience.

Outdoor Activities:
If you’re looking for an active weekend, there’s a variety of ways to get your caloric burn on. If you’re a skier, the Stevens Pass ski area is nearby. I can’t vouch for whether it’s good skiing since I am terrified of downhill skiing and have no desire to hurl myself down a mountain on thin slats of whatever-the-hell-skis-are-made-of-these-days.

For winter hikers/snowshoers there are ample trails both around the town and towards Stevens Pass. There’s everything from easy strolls to more advanced routes. Many are well-travelled and do-able with spikes if you don’t own snowshoes (of course, depending on what snowfall is like at the time you visit). There’s also trails for all skill levels, so you can casually stroll or give yourself a killer cardio workout.

There’s even tubing/toboganning options, not that I consider it exercise, but I guess that depends on how many times you walk up the hill before sliding down. I’m sure you could turn it into windsprints for an extra boost of exertion.

Food & Beverage Scene
Let’s be honest, outdoor activities are great, but the real fun is in the food and drink. All the suggested outdoor activities are really just creating space for you to ingest more calories. I’ve only been to Leavenworth once so I can’t say this is a definitive list of food and drink hotspots, but I can tell you that I had good experiences in all of these places. And I eat a lot, so I know food, and I drink…a reasonable and appropriate amount, so I know my drinks.

Andreas Keller: If you aren’t interested in schnitzel, you probably don’t want to go here. But it’s also possible you’ve just never had good schnitzel so maybe just verify your stance on meaty delights by dining here before giving up on it entirely. Also, get the giant pretzel. Oh, and Fridays and Saturdays feature live accordion music.  If that’s not a selling feature to you, this restaurant is probably not your jam in general. You may also, in fact, be no fun.

Icicle Brewing Company: The fun of this place is winter outdoor seating (don’t worry, there are heat lamps). It’s got great energy. I had a flight with two great beers, one mediocre beer and one passably drinkable beer.  But, hey, you can get good beer anywhere these days. Pick places for ambiance. Arrive early on a weekend if you want prime outdoor seating (i.e. near the heat lamps).

Los Camperos: I can’t say whether this was at all authentic Mexican but, quite honestly, when it comes to Mexican-style food I’m easy to please. What I can say is this place had a home-cooked feel, absolutely ginormous portions, and one of the tastiest seafood enchiladas I’ve ever stuffed into my face.

Kitsch Factor
Second only to food, the highlight of a themed village is embracing the kitschy-ness of a themed village. If you like to roll your eyes at over-the-top, largely inauthentic stereotypes, don’t even bother reading on…and probably don’t go to Leavenworth. If you share my love for the unabashed cheese factor, this town will steal a place in your heart.

Kris Kringl: A year round Christmas makes my heart swoon. I love Christmas, not so much so that I want to celebrate it year round, but enough that I willingly stroll through giant Christmas stores even in the dead of summer. If you don’t agree, you may actually be dead inside.

Village of Lights(!!!!!): I also love magical Christmas lights. I don’t believe the village of lights has anything to do with Christmas, but it certainly creates a festive magic. Lights. Are. Everywhere. I mean it. Everywhere.

Nussknacker Haus: This suggestion will make no sense. I hate nutcrakers. I find them terrifying. Somehow, an entire store of nothing but nutcrackers is so oddly fascinating that I simply must walk through it even though I solemnly swear that I will never allow one into my home.

So there you have it. If you’re looking for weekend adventures in the mountains with a healthy side of kitsch, look no further. Can’t wait to get back and dive into faux-Bavarian fun!

*It probably goes without saying, but I am in no way affiliated with the town of Leavenworth, nor did they pay me to write this. I just love themed towns, schnitzel and snow.