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Iller Creek, Dishman Hills. Photo by Mary Weathers.

Northwest Weekend: Spokane

In Spokane, you'll find a vibrant outdoor community and plenty of adventures, from summer to winter | by Todd Dunfield

Nestled between the Cascade and Selkirk mountain ranges, Spokane is a hub of outdoor recreation. With hot summers, crisp falls, snowy winters and mild springs, there are ample opportunities to be outside all year. Hikers, trail runners, paddlers, mountain bikers and skiers abound in this Eastern Washington city.

Along with an active outdoor community, there are a plethora of restaurants, bakeries and brewpubs to fuel your outdoor pursuits — or help you relax and recover when you are done. Home to two of Washington’s largest state parks and with more than 26,000 acres of conservation and recreation land, Spokane County offers hundreds of miles of trails. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an excuse to stay indoors.

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Looking out over Stevens Creek in Dishman Hills. Photo by Marcel Chesney.

From the Spokane River flowing through downtown to the many areas for swimming and the rich scent of ponderosa pines, the area has something for everyone. And folks are noticing. Spokane County is growing rapidly. This growth, coupled with abundant outdoor recreation, is why this area was chosen as a pilot area for WTA’s Trails Rebooted campaign. WTA wants to ensure this region is well equipped to handle future demands for great hiking experiences.

The perfect day outdoors in Spokane could easily follow the same formula over and over: Wake and hike a nearby trail, then find some water to cool down in before heading out to a delicious meal — or even some ice cream.

Day 1

Start your Spokane experience with a hike around the 7-mile Knothead Trail at Riverside State Park. This trail can be accessed from multiple trailheads, but locals recommend using the Indian Painted Rocks trailhead in the Little Spokane Natural Area. (Leave your dogs at home, they’re not allowed in the natural area.) This cultural site is a good reminder of the rich Spokane tribal history. The Knothead Trail, if hiked clockwise from Indian Painted Rocks, provides a nice shoreline stroll along the Little Spokane River before a strenuous climb up to viewpoints. Watch for moose on this hike. After working up a sweat, you could paddle the Little Spokane River in a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard, all of which can be rented locally. A full day should be rewarded with something tasty, such as a Dalton Pizza from Flying Goat Pizza, a few miles from the paddling takeout on the Little Spokane River.

Day 2

A hike at Fishtrap Lake will give you a good understanding of the terrain common to the channeled scablands, which were carved by ice age floods. This trail network has multiple access points. Various loops allow for up to 8 miles of hiking. Mima mounds are an uncommon geologic feature that are dominant in the landscape around Fishtrap Lake. You can recognize the mounds by their somewhat flattened disc shape rising ever-so-slightly from the ground. After hiking through the basalt and sage of Fishtrap, head back to Medical Lake Waterfront Park for a swim or to let the kids enjoy the playground. Then round out the day by heading back to Spokane to visit Iron Goat Brewing or Whistle Punk Brewery for dinner and a beer. If brews don’t interest you, there are many other options in the Spokane Cork District, in the west end of downtown Spokane.

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Baby moose! Photo by Holly Weiler.

Day 3

Any trip to the region is incomplete without a hike through the Dishman Hills. The “wild heart of Spokane,” Dishman Hills is characterized by wildlife sightings of owls and moose and the sounds of croaking frogs, but it can be accessed directly from a city bus line on East Sprague Avenue. This natural area dates back to the 1960s and is expanding annually to include new areas for hiking. Try the scenic and fun Nimbus Knob Trail; start from the main trailhead off Sargent Road and hike up past the east and west ponds before reaching the rocky bluffs of Nimbus Knob. This hike is best with a return route through the Enchanted Ravine Trail, which takes hikers through a canyon with high, mosscovered walls. After, visit the urban heart of the city to rent stand-up paddleboards from under the Division Street bridge and paddle to the No-Li Brewhouse for a pretzel and beer.

Day 4

If your legs haven’t had enough, you can end your time in Spokane by hiking the 8.3- mile Liberty Lake Loop Trail at Liberty Lake Regional Park. Hikers should stay left at the bridge and take the Split Creek Trail out to the Cedar Grove Conservation Area. Check out a brand-new bridge built by WTA volunteers last fall. Immediately following the bridge, the trail ascends steeply before offering views of the lake and taking hikers farther into the forest to visit a waterfall. After reaching the high point at Hughes cabin, hikers will complete the loop by using the Edith Hansen Equestrian Trail. Once you’re back at the trailhead, enjoy the lake’s swim beach before getting cleaned up and going out to dinner at Hay J’s Bistro, just north of Interstate 90 in Liberty Lake. Don’t be confused by this bistro sharing a parking lot with a gas station. The Hay J’s half of the parking lot is always full because the food and service will make a repeat customer out of you.

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A group of trail workers heading out to Fishtrap Lake for a day of volunteering. Photo by Gene Lewan.

Where to Hike and Play

Dishman Hills: The Dishman Hills Conservation Area has over 2,500 acres of protected natural space. The area is a wooded retreat in the heart of Spokane’s suburban landscape.

Fishtrap Recreation Area: A 30-mile drive from Spokane, 8,000-acre Fishtrap offers yearround hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, hunting and fishing opportunities. There are no fees, facilities or services, aside from one vault toilet at Folsom Farm.

Liberty Lake Regional Park: This park provides 3,591 acres of wetlands, shoreline, forest and more. There is a designated swimming beach, shelters, a grilling area, a campground and miles of trails.

Riverside State Park: This 11,162-acre park along the Spokane and Little Spokane rivers offers 55 miles of hiking and biking trails, 25 miles of equestrian trails, 600 acres of off-road vehicle tracks and paddlesport opportunities. Both day-use and overnight camping available. Be sure to, respectfully, visit the Native American pictograph area.

Where to Stay

Quartz Mountain Fire Lookout: For adventurous types seeking an immersive nature experience, the Quartz Mountain Fire Lookout in Mount Spokane State Park offers stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding Spokane Valley and Selkirk Mountain.

Riverside State Park Camping: With four different campsites to choose from, Riverside offers something for everyone — boaters, equestrians, tent campers and RVrs alike.

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Vibrant reds along the Kit Carlson trail. Photo by Mark Ament.

Riverside Centennial Hotel: Located on the north bank of the Spokane River in the heart of downtown Spokane, the Centennial Hotel offers modern accommodations (and a pool!) just steps from the Centennial Trail.

Davenport Hotels: Offering an array of upscale rooms in one of four hotels sprinkled throughout Spokane, The Davenport offers adults a chance to unwind in their signature spa after a hard day of hiking.

Where to Eat

Boots Bakery and Lounge: Bakers use ingredients so fresh they don’t even bother printing a menu. The goods are vegan, with gluten-free options and a full brunch on weekends. Local coffees and well-crafted cocktails round out the offerings.

Casper Fry: This eatery offers a Southern-style menu and vintageinspired craft cocktails in a relaxed atmosphere. 

The Flying Goat: Housed in the Audubon neighborhood, this artisan pizza pub offers 14 pizzas along with a selection of craft beers.

Gordy’s Sichuan Café: Spokane insiders flock to this restaurant for its affordable Asian-inspired cuisine. Vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options available at this South Hill location.

Hay J’s Bistro: In Liberty Lake, about a 20-minute drive from Spokane, family-run Hay J’s offers bistro fare and craft cocktails sourced from local farms.

Italia Trattoria: For those seeking authentic Italian fare, including delectable dolce such as Italia tiramisu and handmade pastas crafted in house.

Ruins: This New American eatery and craft cocktail bar rotates themed menus on a weekly basis.

The Scoop: Hand-crafted flavors like Cinnachocashew (a blend of cinnamon, chocolate and salted cashews) and basil help fend off the heat.

Wild Sage American Bistro: With locally sourced, in-season ingredients and an upscale yet comfortable atmosphere, Wild Sage is an ideal pick for fine dining. A full gluten-free menu is available.

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The Centennial Trail under a coat of snow. Photo by David Dubnicka.

Where to Drink

Berserk: Cocktails, brews, pool and pinball. What more is needed?

Durkin’s Liquor Bar: This craft cocktail bar offers vintage-inspired drinks.

The Grain Shed: The Grain Shed aims to bring locally sourced ancient grains and authentic artisanship to their brews and bites – and form community connections along the way. It’s one of the best breweries and bakeries in town.

Hogwash Whiskey Den: Located in the basement of an historic building, Hogwash offers an almost dizzying array of grain-mashed cocktails.

Iron Goat Brewing: With more than a dozen craft beers on tap and a simple menu of small plates, sandwiches, pizza and dessert, Iron Goat is a casual place to gather.

The Lantern Taphouse: This family-friendly public house serves up pub fare such as poutine and fish ‘n chips, Taphouse also hosts a Run Club during the spring, summer and fall.

No-Li Brewhouse: With an appealing location right along the river, No-Li offers award-winning brews and pairs them with pub fare like pretzels, wings and burgers.

Perry Street Brewing: A family-friendly hangout for many locals, Perry Street is in the Perry District just southeast of downtown. A full lunch and dinner menu is available.

Whistle Punk Brewing: This craft brewery gets its name from the logging industry. Visitors can order food from Heritage Bar and Kitchen, which is adjacent to Whistle Punk.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Washington Trails magazine.  Support trails as a member WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.