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Posted on May 12, 2021 at 6:00 am
In 2018, I started working at the Otis Orchards Library just as I was also desperately trying to fit exercise into a routine laden with reading books, making art, and crafting. My drive to Otis Orchards took me over the Harvard Road Bridge, where a Centennial Trailhead happened to sit just three minutes from the library.
“Hey,” I thought to myself. “What if I just start taking my lunches at the river?”
It wasn’t too long before I was walking every day. I found I couldn’t get enough of the violet and green swallows darting and diving through the air, hawks circling overhead, and chickadees bustling in the trees. I would gladly walk just a little further to get a glimpse of what was around the next corner. One evening, I walked right past a pheasant without even noticing until it burst out of the brush behind me, lecturing loudly to me and then flurrying away.
Since then, I’ve made it my mission to visit as many hiking spots in my immediate vicinity as I can. I knew Spokane County attracted nature-lovers, but I had no idea how many easily accessed walking and hiking spots it really held.
I’m no exercise expert, and some local hikes have been rough for me: the 8.5 mile Liberty Lake trail laid me out for the rest of the afternoon. But many of the hikes within Spokane County surprised me with their accessibility.
Other library staff have written great blog posts about local hiking and microadventures that I highly recommend. After the weightiness of 2020, I thought it might be time to share some easily accessed local joy with you again.
I’m sharing some trails that are within 30 minutes of a county library, starting with the south end of the county (north, east, and west to come!). You can easily make a quick trip to these areas to get a glimpse of the natural beauty that surrounds us, even if you don’t have time for a whole day of hiking.
Read on for good spots to view birds, flowers, wildlife, rock formations, and more.
Tick season usually runs from mid-March through mid-May and mid-August through November. However, ticks can appear at any time, and especially after a rain.
To avoid ticks, wear light colored, tightly woven clothing, tuck your pants into boots, and spray an EPA-approved tick repellant around any seams to best prevent ticks. Shower quickly after hiking, and check your body—and your children’s and pets’ bodies–thoroughly for ticks.
The CDC has a guide for removing ticks should you or any fellow hikers find a tick on your person. For removing ticks from a dog, the humane society has instructions, as does the American Kennel Club.
Dogs on a leash
Dogs are legally required to be leashed in all Spokane County parks and hiking trails. This is to protect both your beloved pet and the wildlife in the area. Even if your dog is well-trained, keep it leashed.
Wildlife is wild
Do not approach any animals you may witness on the trail. Appreciate them from a distance and move on.
If you are walking or hiking one of Spokane’s more solitary trails, be prepared by reading up on what to do in the case of an encounter with a bear, cougar, moose, or other dangerous animal.
There are many hiking books and websites with this information available. I personally use 30 Spectacular Hikes in the Inland Northwest as my first resource, because it offers such specific local knowledge.
Tell a friend
Before going on a nature walk or hike, always make sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to be back.
Be sure to have your cell phone on you for emergencies. But understand that cell service can be spotty or nonexistent in some conservation areas and on some hiking trails, so informing someone ahead of time is the best way to ensure that help will come if an emergency situation has occurred.
Note: Travel times are an estimate and indicate travel by motor vehicle.
James T. Slavin Conservation Area
This trail is close to the following libraries: Moran Prairie (15 minutes), Cheney and Airway Heights (20 minutes), and Spokane Valley, Argonne, Medical Lake, and Fairfield (30 minutes).
Located just off of Highway 195, this conservation area offers surprising solitude given its ease of access and relatively undemanding trail conditions. As you step out of the parking lot onto the trailhead, you may hear the homey calls of roosters from neighboring farms.
James T. Slavin offers multiple overlapping loop trails through the wetland and woodland overlooking Slavin Lake.
The conservation area boasts 121 identified species of bird . You can download the Birds of Slavin Ranch Checklist and keep track of your sightings, which may include swans, swallows, cranes, herons, sandpipers, waxwings, osprey hawks, and more. My personal favorite common find is the ruby-crowned kinglet, a tiny round songbird that passes through the area in spring and fall. Other wildlife you may see include elk and coyote.
While the full trail is 5.2 miles, smaller loops or there-and-back trips can be perfectly rewarding as well.
Tips & technicalities
The facilities are minimal. The park is accessible from dawn to dusk with no use fees. Parking and a toilet are available at the trailhead. This trail is not suitable for wheelchairs. Some areas can be overgrown or flooded, so dress well for ticks and mud, particularly in springtime. Leashed dogs are welcome. Keep your eye out for horseback riders!
The Bird Watching Answer Book: Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Birds in Your Backyard and Beyond, by Laura Erickson.
You may already use apps like the Audubon Bird Guide for general tracking and bird identification, Song Sleuth for identifying by birdsong, and Merlin for bird watching beginners! The Bird Watching Answer Book fills gaps that some beginners and others might have in their bird knowledge, including what equipment you may need, how to appropriately feed birds, how to protect habitats, how birds know where to migrate, identification tips and tricks, and even how birds think.
This trail is close to the following libraries: Moran Prairie (15 minutes), Spokane Valley and Fairfield (30 minutes).
This steep trail is worth the workout. While the there-and-back path up to “Big Rock” is relatively short (about 2 miles total), the elevation gain is enough to make casual hikers likely to want to take a picnic break somewhere along the way. Luckily, the route is full of sweeping wildflower meadows to appease your eyes while you rest, and the vista at the top is well worth the exertion and exercise.
The summer fields of cornflowers are a satisfying shade of deep purple-blue and one of my favorite sights in the whole county.
“Big Rock” is one of the several granite monoliths that make up the “Rocks of Sharon” and towers 230 feet above you. Over the rock’s cliff edge sprawls a wide, calm forest.
You can stop to picnic, paint the scenery, climb some boulders, or just enjoy the view. The view into the forest below offers a unique opportunity to observe larger wildlife, like deer, without being noticed.
For more avid hikers, continue on to Rocks of Sharon Trail, which will take you on a longer 9-mile trail that hooks up with Iller Creek (see next trail).
Tips & technicalities
A restroom is available at the parking lot. This trail is not wheelchair accessible and may be blocked by snow in winter. There are no fees for use. Rock climbers should come prepared with proper equipment and partners. Leashed dogs are welcome.
Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
We’re going full classical romanticism with this title.
If you plan to take this hike with a loved one and find a good spot of meadow, you can lie in the grass (well-sprayed with tick repellent of course) and read Leaves of Grass aloud together. Wallow in the love of life and all living things and the appreciation for humanity that vibrates from this classic poetry collection.
If the aesthetic really draws you, wait until summer for the ticks to dissipate and bring a picnic blanket, some grapes, crusty bread, and hard cheese. Adding long flowy clothes isn’t strictly hike appropriate, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about what Whitman and the romantics would do.
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
If Whitman has too much optimism for your liking, then perhaps take Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for a more goth version of the romance writer trope.
Much more than a campy horror story, Frankenstein darkly considers philosophical questions of responsibility, relationships, creation, and parenthood. Shelley herself is about as romantic and tragic as it gets.
After her husband died at age 29 in a violent sea storm, Shelley recovered his heart and kept it bundled with one of his poems in her writing desk. It sat in that place until her own death nearly 30 years later, alongside locks of other loved ones’ hair.
Again, while I can’t conscientiously recommend you wear an 18th century poet shirt to feel the wind fluttering through the cloth as you picnic in a meadow that may be laden with ticks, I’ll let you draw your own conclusion about what Mary Shelley would endure for the aesthetic.
This trail is close to the following libraries: Spokane Valley (15 minutes), The Bookend and Argonne (20 minutes), Morain Prairie, Otis Orchards, and Fairfield (30 minutes).
The Iller Creek Trailhead provides a 5.5-mile loop through a creek canyon and onto a windswept ridge with views of the striking Rocks of Sharon.
Good weather can draw hikers, cyclists, and dog walkers to this trail. I believe that the stunning views are well worth the company.
In springtime, keep your eyes peeled for meadows full of buttercups, grass widows, and the joyful golden-petaled arrowleaf balsamroot, a Spokane favorite. Deciduous trees grace the path, casting a yellow floating veil in autumn. Pine trees fill out the rest, keeping the canyon path shady and inviting year-round.
If you can’t make the full 5.5-mile loop, I can attest that even a half-hour there-and-back trip into the canyon can offer satiating beauty. If you are thirsting for a longer hike, this trail can loop up with the Steven’s Creek Trail featured above.
Tips & technicalities
A portable restroom, trash can, and pet waste bags are available at the trailhead. There is no wheelchair access. There is no real parking lot at this trailhead, so parking can sometimes be tight.
This trail is listed in the Falcon Guide Best Dog Hikes: Washington, so keep mindful of wildlife and fellow hikers when you bring your leashed dog along with you!
Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
In one of the first essays in Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks herself why it is that aster and goldenrod make such a pleasing pair to look upon each spring. When traversing the spring hills of Spokane County, I ask myself the same question regarding grass widows and buttercup.
Kimmerer offers an artistic explanation: that purple and yellow, opposites on the color wheel, naturally complement each other. But she still wonders why we are attracted to those opposites. What makes us enjoy them? Perhaps the color of the flowers is better visible to bees. But aster and goldrenrod still haven’t any evolutionary purpose for being beautiful to humans.
Beauty is a gift from nature to us, Kimmerer suggests. The gift of asters and goldenrod makes a great setup for Kimmerer’s book, which marries art and science in a beautifully appreciative portrait of nature, relationships, and indigenous knowledge. Take this book along with you and read an essay while you picnic. It’s the perfect book to slowly savor. I suggest reading it one essay (and one picnic) at a time.
Heyburn State Park (Special Mention)
This park is close to the following libraries: Fairfield (30 minutes) and Moran Prairie (45 minutes).
While technically not in Spokane County, Heyburn State Park in Benewah County, Idaho, deserves a special mention. It is the oldest park on the Pacific Northwest and offers camping, kayaking, cycling, fishing, and more.
If you’re looking for a really serious hike, Heyburn offers access to the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, a 73-mile hike that spans the Idaho panhandle. But if you’re more of a day hiker, like me, Heyburn also offers many shorter forest and lake trails, from loops less than a mile and longer treks like Ponderosa Ridge Trail, which clocks in at nearly 13 miles.
Besides the length, most of these trails are good for most skill levels. Try out the Lakeshore Loop Trail for a quick, half-mile taste of Heyburn’s possibilities. This loop is great for bird watching and has been known to feature moose sightings as well.
Tips & technicalities
Heyburn offers an ADA accessible playground and restroom as well as wheelchair accessible hiking paths. Many other amenities are also available, including picnic areas.
Motor vehicle entry to the park is $7 per vehicle, or you can buy a $40 Motor Vehicle Entry Fee Annual Sticker for year-round access.
This park has moderate to heavy traffic, so prepare to mask up and step 6 feet out of the way of other hikers. If you encounter a moose, keep your distance and do not engage.
Experimenting with Outdoor Science, by Nick Arnold
Written for older elementary readers, this book is full of experiments the whole family can enjoy. Investigate movement, chemistry, botany, bugs, birds, and astronomy with this fun volume of easy-to-implement experiments with a low supply cost. Check it out ahead of your trip to plan a few experiments you can perform when you arrive, or bring it along with you to see how you can improvise.
For similar family science activities that come with ready-to-go supplies and are made for outdoor adventures, try out the STEM Explorer Kits Examine Science and Nature and Explore the Outdoors from our Library of Things collection.
Tags: adults, adventure, birds, books, conservation, county hikes, dogs, explorer, Families, flowers, hiking, kids, microadventure, microadventures, nature, outdoor, outdoors, picnic, reading, STEM, trees, walking