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(Image: Courtesy of Leavenworth Reindeer Farm)

Meet real reindeer year-round at Leavenworth Reindeer Farm

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, but how about Elsa, Anna, Sugar Plum or Sven? They're all part of the herd at Leavenworth Reindeer Farm.

"We got our first six reindeer in 2016 from Palmer, Alaska, and we've been inviting guests onto the farm ever since," said Erika Bowie, general manager of Leavenworth Reindeer Farm. "We're one of the very few place on Earth where you can come inside a reindeer enclosure and spend some time surrounded by the whole herd."

Leavenworth Reindeer Farm is a family-run operation. Bowie's parents, Kari and Hans, own the farm, located less than a mile from downtown Leavenworth.

"Leavenworth is actually at the same latitude on Earth as Mongolia, where huge herds of reindeer actually thrive. So, we have all the right weather patterns, grow the right foliage. This is an amazing home for reindeer," said Bowie.

The farm is open year-round. Erika tells me the best snow is in January and February, while during the summer, guests have the opportunity to feed baby reindeer. Soon, Leavenworth Reindeer Farm will also be home to the west coast's largest geodesic projection dome, bringing the Northern Lights to life in a stunning, immersive 360-degree show. But, as you might imagine, the holiday season is an especially fun time to visit. Santa himself flies in from the North Pole every November, spending some time at the farm checking on the herd and visiting with the little ones.

"You can just see the magic in their eyes. The true believers. We have so much fun bringing that belief to life," said Bowie.

During the holiday season, Leavenworth Reindeer Farm will welcome some 1,200 people a day, so guests need to make a reservation online (Erika recommends 2-3 months in advance). Each farm ticket includes hot cocoa or apple cider to warm the belly, a visit with Santa, fireside chat where visitors get to learn all about reindeer (usually led by Hans) and, of course, 20-25 minutes inside the reindeer enclosure surrounded by the herd.

"We have 23 reindeer right now," said Bowie. "Sven is one of the largest reindeer in captivity right now. He's over 500 pounds. Visitors can feed him right out of the palm of their hand if they'd like."

As I found out firsthand, the reindeer could not be more friendly. They're happy to just walk right up and say hello — especially if you happen to have some food (which the farm provides before you enter the enclosure). More often than not, you'll even catch a glimpse of some real-life reindeer games.

"There's just a feeling of joy when you're meeting a reindeer face-to-face for the first time," said Bowie. "They're really special animals. It's almost a spiritual experience for some people."

For Erika and her family, the greatest joy is welcoming other families to the farm, many returning year after year to spend time together and make memories.

"People ask a lot what age is this for? It's for young, and it's for old. It's the smile on grandpa's face when he leaves. It's the absolute glee in a two-year-old's eyes when they're leaving. I want the experience to be something the whole family can do together [...] and I just think it's really an honor (for us) to bring families together for that quality time."