Posted on July 21, 2021 at 6:00 am
I used to work morning shifts at the North Spokane Library. I don’t live in the area, so one sunny afternoon I thought to split up the long afternoon drive back home with a little nature walk. I searched for nearby hikes and stumbled across the Deep Creek Canyon trailhead. Still wearing my green dress, floral tights, and low heels, I set my map finder and headed off.
First encounters with new hikes almost always stick with me. This hike was no exception.
The air was perfect, the river was bright, and the grass widows were out to say hello in their sweet purple way (though at the time I didn’t know what they were called). I spent a quarter of an hour sitting near the cliff’s edge as the breeze washed over me, watching hikers on the other side of the canyon and sending photos of buttercups to my jealous friends.
The walk I chose was a little rough in places but flat enough I could traverse it with no problem, even in my work clothes. I couldn’t believe this was a mere twenty-minute drive from the home I grew up in, and I’d never seen it.
This blog series is for anyone who would love a stolen moment in the woods but doesn’t necessarily know how to fit it into their busy lives.
Today’s post features trails on the north side of Spokane that are within 30 minutes of one or more county libraries. You can set aside a half hour or a whole day to explore one of these spots. And remember to bring plenty of water in order to beat the heat!
Note: Travel times are an estimate and indicate travel by motor vehicle.
Deep Creek Canyon is a sprawling web of trails within Riverside State Park, with options that range from the flat and paved Centennial trail that follows the Spokane river to steep narrow cliff paths and even wide grassy forested avenues.
There are several entry points to this series of trails. I personally love to park at the North State Park Trailhead, because a short two-mile walk here can produce the full range of what the park has to offer.
Start on a gravel trail under the tranquil boughs of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees. If it’s spring, watch for delicate fairy bells, widow grass, and buttercups along the forest floor. As the trail meets the cliff’s edge, you’ll catch glimpses of a sharp drop to the eponymous canyon below and a second towering cliff across the way.
Keep a weather eye out for osprey and violet-green swallows. You may even be able to spot an osprey nest full of eggs or chicks in the canyon below.
The trail eventually slopes down to the bottom of the cliff where the river meets the canyon. This is a great spot to have a picnic in the shade of the basalt, take a swim in the glittering river, or simply pause to breathe in the moment.
If you want to keep going, or like to get (a little bit) lost, seize one of the many side trails at this location. Just make sure you have the right equipment on you to find your way back to the parking lot.
Tips & technicalities
Parking inside of Riverside State Park requires a Discover Pass. Some trails are wheelchair accessible but not most. For best wheelchair access, start at a Centennial Trail trailhead. Keep your eye out for horses. Leashed dogs are welcome.
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Sharp, independent Elizabeth Bennet finds herself astonished when the stiff, standoffish Mr. Darcy tells her (spoiler!) he loves her.
While Austen’s humor, empathy, and deft hand at drama are enough to recommend this book all on its own, there’s a special reason I choose it to accompany this particular hike. In the midst of the social turmoil that is her daily life, Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle invite her to stay with them in the countryside. Weary with society and delighted at the idea of escaping it, she replies, “What are men to rocks and mountains?”
I often think of this quote when I am overwhelmed by my natural surroundings, and the magnificent cliffs and canyons of Deep Creek really bring the sentiment to the fore. If you read Pride and Prejudice before you head out, then, like Elizabeth, you can take a moment to inhale the outdoors and let the worries of your daily life fall away.
While the ancestors of the Spokane tribe lived all along the Spokane and Columbia rivers and their tributaries, Spokane Tribe history is especially evident at the Painted Rocks Nature Trail, also known as “Indian Painted Rock.”
If you take the right fork just beyond this trailhead, you’ll find an iron grate blocking off a natural shelter formed by an outcropping of rock. Peer inside and you’ll see a series of red petroglyphs depicting what might be a sun, people, a horse, and more.
Because of what is widely interpreted to be a horse and a cross within the artwork, these petroglyphs are believed to have been painted around the time of European contact, about 250 years ago. You might take some time to consider what you think might be depicted there and what purpose the artist(s) might have had in portraying it.
This trail is particularly special to me because I grew up hiking it. It’s a great place for observing wildlife. I saw my first moose and my first rattlesnake here.
Hiking throughout the year can give you a good feel for the life of the river. The iris-laden marshy floodland arises in spring. The telltale knock of woodpeckers can be heard in the hot dry August air.
You might stop in the shade to sketch a plant or listen for the plethora of birds. This is also a great location to bring your kayak. Paddle up the river and float gently back down, or simply float from the trailhead to the turnaround point where your designated pickup buddy can meet you with the car.
Tips & technicalities
A Discover Pass is required for parking. A restroom is available at the trailhead (but you may want to bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer!). This trail does not have good wheelchair access and does not allow dogs or cyclists.
Counting Birds, by Heidi E.Y. Stemple and illustrated by Clover Robin
With complex collage-style illustrations and simple, easy-to-read language that the whole family can enjoy, this picture book shares the story of Frank Chapman, an ornithologist and leader in bird conservation.
When Chapman encountered an annual competition to hunt as many birds as possible, Chapman came up with a new idea: What if they counted living ones instead? Now, every December, ornithologists, and amateur bird watchers alike count and record the birds in their area and share their findings with local ecologists.
If this book inspires you to participate in the important work of bird tracking, you can download the ebird app and start tracking what you see, whether at the Painted Rocks Nature Trail, in your backyard, or anywhere else you may find yourself.
Bowl and Pitcher is perhaps the most iconic hike for Spokane county. Featuring stunning basalt formations, a roaring view of the Spokane river, and a picturesque suspension bridge, this is the perfect place to take an impressive selfie that’ll inspire your friends to join you on the next hike.
The loop trail is a relatively easy two-mile trek, and starting at this entrance can link you up with many longer loops in the area if you like. I prefer to enter near the bridge, where I can throw my weight around to feel the bounce of the suspension-style construction and press up against the railing to watch swallows and raptors swoop over the water. Then I pop into the cool of the forest for a pleasant hike that dips in and out of river and basalt views. The sunny Arrowleaf Balsamroot flower is abundant here in springtime.
While this is a very populated trail, it’s easy to find pockets of alone space, and some hikers have reported sightings of porcupines. The gorgeous, sometimes gravity-defying basalt formations are enough to make this a highly memorable trip. Day Hiking Eastern Washington reports that the Spokane Tribe historically used the cool rock debris at the base of these formations to store roots.
Tips & technicalities
Restrooms, picnic tables, water, and a campground are available near the trailhead. Parking near this trail requires a Discover Pass. The trail has limited wheelchair access. Watch out for cyclists, and remember to bring a companion if you decide on climbing. Leashed dogs are welcome.
The Collector, by Jack Nisbet
On my last trip to the Bowl and Pitcher, my mom and I spent a great deal of time examining pinecones to try to identify the trees that flanked our path. While our plant identification skills may be more aspiring than actual, we did successfully identify several Douglas fir.
If you’re a foraging hopeful like me, you may enjoy The Collector as a companion read to your pile of identification books. The book follows David Douglas as he explores the northwest corner of the United States and learns from the local tribes about the native plant species he encounters. Nisbet offers a useful background for understanding the history of early European American naturalism, and some insight into the man after whom the Douglas fir is named.
Read Douglas Fir, by Stephen F. Arno and Carl E. Fiedler, to get an even deeper understanding of the tree itself and its impact on our culture.
Mount Spokane offers a surfeit of trail options, including campgrounds, hotels, ski lodges, vista houses, and more. The altitude and old growth forest make the mountain cooler than the rest of the region, so an especially nice summer hiking choice.
There’s another not-so-secret reason to hike Mount Spokane in summer: huckleberries!
Head out in August to stuff your belly and your buckets with these delicious tiny purple berries. Huckleberries love sunlight, so look for meadows of the low shrub, maybe dotted with a few spare trees. Mount Spokane is a pretty well-known huckleberry spot, so you can also just look for berry-picking crowds!
For maximum vista views and huckleberry harvest with minimum hiking fatigue, I recommend starting at the Bald Knob picnic area. Trail 100 is relatively easy and loops up to the Vista house where you can get a great view of the county. This area also hooks up with several other trails, so you may want to map out your planned route on Alltrails in order to keep from accidentally committing to more of a hike than you expected.
Tips & technicalities
A Discover Pass is required for parking in most lots on Mount Spokane. There are one or two privately owned lots where you may need to check-in with the landowners; these should be clearly marked. Restrooms, camping, and picnic areas are available at various lots across the mountain. Cyclists and leashed dogs are allowed, though not all trails are appropriate for cyclists.
The Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles, by Mike Krebill
The sharp and adorable Alexis Nikole shares her local foraging knowledge on TikTok, but I have been a little hesitant to forage like she does. A searchable index in my pack definitely helps.
I’ve found Mike Krebill’s The Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles to give me the confidence I needed. The Scout’s Guide fits easily into a backpack and covers many local favorites: huckleberry, dandelion, serviceberry, stinging nettle, and the much-coveted morel.
You’ll find information on identification, poisonous lookalikes, sustainable harvesting, preservation of your harvest, and of course, cooking preparation. I submit for your consideration the example of dandelion donuts.
This is very much a pocket manual, so if you are looking to shore up your knowledge more thoroughly, check out these other foraging books available in the library’s collection.
Also a few cautions:
Another trail from my childhood, Bear Lake offers a flat, shady 1.4-mile loop following the edge of the lake. Because of the paved path, this is a great option for small children, older hikers, and hikers who use wheelchairs.
I can’t think of a better outdoor spot for families, as just about everyone can find a way to occupy themselves here. Adventurers can walk off in search of birds and deer. Swimmers can take a dive in the cool lake. Fishers may hope for a good catch of perch or trout. Athletes can play at the volleyball net. Children can amuse themselves on the play equipment. And those who want a quieter day can sit back under the pavilion with a good book.
Tips & technicalities
Parking at this location is free. Restrooms and water are available from May to Labor Day. Access roads may be closed in winter. The path is wheelchair accessible. Horses, cyclists, and leashed dogs are welcome. Motorboats are prohibited.
The Field Guide to Citizen Science, by Darlene Cavalier
A great family nature location such as Bear Lake begs for a great family nature book. The Field Guide to Citizen Science can help the whole family contribute to our understanding of the world. It includes in-depth discussions of how to collect and share data, how to collaborate with other scientists, and what apps will maximize your contributions to the field. Learn how to monitor backyard beetles and bird feeders, share your observations on the cleanliness of your local water, and even track the nightly light pollution in your area. Citizen Science makes you the expert.
If you’re a regular visitor to Deer Park Library, you are probably familiar with Library Park, also known as Arcadia Park. This city-block sized park has been known to have sightings of deer, owls, and even the occasional bear! Rowan trees (also known as mountain ash) fill this forested park. I love the way their bright orange-red berries stand out against the green of their leaves in the summer and against the white of the snow in winter.
Did you know that birds are so fond of rowan berries that you can sometimes find rowan trees growing in mysterious, bird-favored places, such as the crown of another tree?
Tips & technicalities
Restrooms and drinking fountains are available inside the library during open hours. Parking in the library parking lot is free. Wheelchair access to the trail itself is minimal. Bicycles and leashed dogs are welcome.
The Hidden Life of Trees (Illustrated Edition), by Peter Wohlleben
Discover the social life of trees as you walk alongside Peter Wohlleben, a German ecologist who got his start as a forester. With giant, lush photographs to accompany his narrative, Wohlleben discusses the ant colony-like behavior of root systems, the “wood wide web” that fungi use to communicate across distances as wide as 2,000 acres, and the tundra trees that take a hundred years to grow a few inches.
Take this book with you into the forest and see if you can find evidence of the some of the behaviors Wohlleben describes, or read it at home after your trip as a way to reflect on what you’ve experienced.
Want more trails to explore? Check out my previous post that explores hikes on the south end of the county. And look out for future posts exploring the West Plains and the great hiking to be found near Spokane Valley!