The Bavarian Ice Festival blends winter activities, snow sculptures, and holiday lights into two days of revelry amid Leavenworth's ivory snowflakes. Busses operated by Alki Tours depart at 8 a.m. and deliver Saturday visitors to downtown Leavenworth, where the annual Smooshing contest finds teams of four atop 8-foot wooden planks as they glide merrily down Front Street and safely away from escaped dinosaurs. Guests can relax under warm blankets and sip hot chocolate or coffee during a 40-minute horse-drawn sleigh ride. First day visitors also take in the artwork of an ice-sculpting contest, a slippery footed tug-of-war, and an ice cube scramble or frisbee sweep for the kids.
For the Hanke family, it seems like Puget Sound Express has always been part of their lives. Raised in the Puget Sound his entire life, Pete Hanke honed his seafaring abilities alongside his father, Pete Sr. Together, the two started leading weeklong sailing adventures across the Pacific Northwest in 1981 and eventually started whale tours. Today, the business still remains a family affair, with grandparents, children, and grandchildren working side by side. Sherri Hanke, Pete’s wife, feels this is the company's biggest feature. "We have three generations of captains, so there is a wealth of knowledge there."
In addition to their family members, Puget Sound Express's crew is well acquainted with the area's 88 resident killer whales, which naturalists can identify based on their markings and slick leather jackets. Tours also pass into the habitats of other wildlife, often spotting humpbacks, sea birds, and bald eagles. The Hankes' most popular voyage tours the San Juan Islands, pausing at the fishing village of Friday Harbor. According to Sherri, this region is well known for its weather. "We refer to it as the Blue Hole, because it is like this circle of sunlight. It could be raining in Seattle and extremely sunny here."
The Hankes take adventure-seekers out on the M.V. Glacier Spirit, a modern, 70-seat vessel with open-air viewing decks and large windows allowing sightseers unencumbered views. Additionally, an on-board hydrophone listens in on whales' vocalizations to see which songs are currently stuck in their heads.
On a childhood fishing trip with his dad in the San Juan Islands, Shane Aggergaard noticed a group of orcas swimming toward his boat. Rather than steering clear of human contact, they swam directly under the boat—one even looked Shane right in the eye. It was a moment of whale-human connection he never forgot, and nowadays tries to approximate through Island Adventures. The whale-watching tour company, which Shane founded with his wife, Jennifer, brings passengers into close contact with the aquatic mammals of the Pacific Northwest.
Depending on the season, wilderness-savvy guides—who’ve led more than 6,000 collective wildlife tours during their careers—can introduce passengers to minke whales and the San Juan’s three resident orca pods, migrating gray whales, or humpbacks. Their 101-foot vessel, The Island Explorer 3, boasts a large bow pulpit and a viewing deck with more than 400 feet of railing, ideal for seeing whales in their entirety, from their tails to their trusty sets of water wings. The team backs each tour with a whale-sighting guarantee and strives to ensure future sightings by making sustainable choices, from its ecofriendly cleaning products to the boat's cabin floor made from recycled tires.
In 1985, as ends meet became harder to make, the Carleton family sold its cows and closed its nearly 30-year-old dairy farm. Not to be deterred, Mary Carleton began selling pumpkins and sweet corn from a roadside stand three years later. Today, the Carletons continue Mary's efforts by cultivating 60 acres of produce, including english peas, zucchini, and green and purple beans. Along with their own veggies, the Carletons stock their farm market with organic raw milk, grass-fed beef, local honey, and handmade pies.
After a summer spent selling their produce, the Carletons unwind with guests for nearly two months of autumnal fun starting in September. A corn maze with stalks more than 9-feet high snakes through a 4-acre field in a different shape each year. Come dusk, a cornfield eerily transforms into the haunted swamp, which dares guests aged 12 and up to creep through its creature-filled labyrinth. The pumpkin patch teems with various-sized pumpkins ripe for plucking, while the pumpkin cannon launches gourds into the air in hopes that one will transform into Cinderella's private jet. The fenced kids' area further entices youngsters with a zip swing, tube slides, and a rope maze, and the play area inside the barn intrigues them with a rope swing and hay maze.