If you're like us and have been captivated by the modern log homes you've seen in those glossy magazines, be comforted in the fact that you don't actually have to build a log home to enjoy it on your next vacation. Just rent one for the week, or week-end for that matter.
On our most recent trip to Leavenworth, Washington, we did just that when we rented a place called "Log Haven" that certainly qualified for prominent display in any magazine on log homes. It wasn't a sprawling house that almost looks out of place in the wild, but rather a classic two-bedroom log home that is really more of a log cabin. It was just the right size for a long-planned "Boys Weekend" bringing together four old high-school and college friends for a fun few days of relaxation and reminiscing.
Log Haven also is perfectly suited to a family getaway with sleeping accommodations for up to seven people. And, unlike some lodgings so impeccably designed and decorated, children are welcome. Dogs and cigarettes, however, need to be left behind.
This little piece of log heaven is situated about three miles outside of Leavenworth, known far and wide as the Bavarian Village because of its Bavarian-themed shops and restaurants, all nestled in a little valley bordered on the west by steep mountains that look like they could have been brought here from the European Alps. Log Haven is just a short drive along winding country roads that snake through the colorful Cascade Mountain foothills just east of Leavenworth.
Arriving at this log home you are immediately drawn to the spacious outdoor deck that looks out onto the picture-postcard mountains to the south and east. One could almost envision Julie Andrews and the children running through the meadows and flower gardens in this sparsely populated countryside with the helicopter swooping down for the opening panorama you see in Sound of Music. Okay, maybe it's not that gorgeous, but you get the general idea.
Our friends were certainly impressed. Log Haven may look like a big cabin but it's like a complete vacation home inside with a full kitchen, two bathrooms, large living room area — with wide-screen high-def TV — and even a laundry facility. The upstairs loft has two beds and is large enough that someone could roll out a sleeping bag on the floor and no one would need to step on anybody. Cathedral ceilings and top-to-bottom windows make this home feel bigger than it actually is.
Out on the deck are some chairs to just gaze away at the unbelievable mountain views or, if you prefer, there is a four-person hot tub — which, incidentally, got quite a work-out while we were visiting Log Haven. A propane barbecue also is on the deck so that you don't even need to take your eyes off those mountains while you're cooking.
Of course, there's no need to cook if you don't want to. Leavenworth has dozens of restaurants offering quite a variety of cuisines. Chief among those, as you might expect, is German or Bavarian food and you can't go too far in this place without being offered a bratwurst or a beer. We had both at Gustav's, the place with perhaps the best view of the mountains from its outside deck and, just as important, 25 beers on tap. Another of our favorite stops was Munchen Haus, a real beer garden with char-grilled brats and sausages, German beer on tap and a festive atmosphere. It's like a tiny little piece of the Oktoberfest celebration in Munich, which we did get a chance to experience several years ago.
What would a Boys Weekend be without barbecue, so we also drove just a few miles east to Cashmere where we had heard Country Boys Southern Style Barbecue was worth a visit. In our opinion it certainly was — scrumptious pulled pork, chicken and ribs served up hot and fresh with a choice of indoor or outdoor seating.
While we have no doubt a Girls Weekend would have been consumed by scouring the many shops in Leavenworth's compact downtown area, we studiously avoided them with one exception — when we had a craving for ice cream we had to go in one or two shops to find the soda fountain where we could get our ice cream cones. Oh, and we did take inventory of the bakeries in town — of which there are several — and took a few of their delights back to Log Haven with us.
Having grown up in Central Washington, we also knew that the Icicle River Valley affords good fishing and hiking and is simply a pleasant drive deep into the Alpine wilderness or "Enchantments" as these mountains are called. All of this is just a few miles from downtown Leavenworth so you can be as active as you want when you visit this part of Washington State. It's important to understand that Leavenworth is not just about Bavarian-themed shops and food; it's a highly prized recreation area that was used extensively by North Central Washington residents long before Leavenworth City Fathers decided to invite the world to see it with their first themed buildings back in the 1960's.
Another short diversion from Leavenworth is a trip down to Wenatchee, about 30 miles away and the place where Western and Eastern Washington meet head-on. The forests and mountains of Western Washington dramatically give way to the more arid climate and flatlands of the Columbia Plateau just to the east of the Columbia River. Located at the confluence of the Columbia and Wenatchee rivers, Wenatchee is famous for its springtime Apple Blossom Festival, and the city has grown up in recent years to offer a good selection of restaurants and other visitor services. The success of the city's Convention Center is testament to the popularity of this small city.
Also within easy driving distance — perhaps an hour, 15 minutes from Leavenworth — is famous Lake Chelan, 50-plus miles long and well worth visiting. The Lady of the Lake will take you the length of the lake to Stehekin where you are surrounded by the Cascade Mountains. Only accessible by boat or plane, Stehekin is a tiny village that is probably one of the most remote communities in all of Washington State.
But this particular trip for us was more about renewing past friendships in a beautiful environment that required little of us in terms of planning or exertion. Our Boys Weekend was a go-with-the-flow experience that often meant just relaxing in front of the Log Haven fireplace and enjoying a game of Scrabble. Or it was as simple as sitting back on that big deck and watching a few wispy clouds float along toward the mountains across the bright blue sky, so common in Central Washington during spring and summer months. It was about good conversation and stories of our youth, our families — and, in fact, our lives.
WHERE: Leavenworth is in North Central Washington on Highway 2 just as it emerges from Cascade Mountains.
WHAT: Leavenworth was once a small town looking for a way to re-vitalize itself so, in the 1960's, Town Fathers came up with a plan to change the motif of downtown buildings to resemble a Bavarian Village. Today, the city is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Washington State.
WHEN: Any time of the year, although book well in advance for summer. Also, the seasons change dramatically in Leavenworth with four distinct seasons, including cold winters with plenty of snow — not unlike Bavaria.
WHY: Leavenworth offers charming shops, restaurants, several upscale lodgings and, of course, gorgeous scenery. The area is known for its recreation and Leavenworth is an ideal base of operations for daytrips to nearby places like Wenatchee, Lake Chelan or Lake Wenatchee to the west.
HOW: For more information on renting a cabin or vacation home in the Leavenworth area, contact Destination Leavenworth at 509-548-4320 or visit them on the web at www.destinationleavenworth.com. Log Haven is one of the more upscale rentals they offer and costs around $300 a night. Note that pets aren't allowed and, interestingly, smoking is not permitted even on the grounds. For more information on the Leavenworth area, contact the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce at 509-548-5807 or visit www.leavenworth.org.
OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other Northwest travel ideas, be sure to check out other Northwest Travel Advisor articles on Wine Country, Northwest trains, Northwest history and western theme towns.
Photos, from top: Log Haven vacation rental cabin; downtown Leavenworth; downtown park in Leavenworth; Guests Randy Jordan and Dwight Dingmon enjoy Log Haven hot tub
Photos by CARY ORDWAY