Riverfront Park isn’t just located in the heart of Spokane, it is the heart of Spokane.
The swath of green cutting through downtown along the Spokane River is typically packed with walkers, joggers and cyclists. It lets you know instantly what this town is all about - outdoor recreation.
“I get excited every time I go to Spokane,” said David Lawrence of Montana-based Pangaea River Rafting. “It has so much near town. The park. The trails. Everything in Spokane has an outdoor pop to it.”
When it comes to recreation, Spokane is best known for two events - Bloomsday and Hoopfest. In two weeks, about 50,000 runners are expected to converge on Spokane for Bloomsday, the state’s largest 12-kilometer run.
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And June 27-28, 200,000 players and spectators are expected on the downtown streets for Hoopfest, the nation’s largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament.
“Nothing brings people in like those two events,” said Pam Scott of the Spokane Convention and Visitors Bureau.
But if you really want to get a feel for recreation in the area, you need to stick around after the event to play in the outdoors.
“In a lot of ways, Spokane is still undiscovered,” Lawrence said. “A lot of people outside of the area don’t know it, but the people who live there know it has exceptional rafting, exceptional climbing, exceptional mountain biking and hiking real close to town.”
Here’s what the locals suggest adding to any Bloomsday and Hoopfest itinerary:
RIVERSIDE STATE PARK
Riverside State Park is a sprawling 10,000-acre park on the west side of town that includes an off-road vehicle park, camping and hiking trails.
“It is a great place for mountain biking,” said Dave Breidenbach of Spoke N Sport, a bike shop.
“And it is a great place to go for a day hike,” said Kurt Perrigo of the Spokane REI. “Drive 10 minutes from downtown and you can be hiking.”
The park has 55 miles of trails, including 25 open for horseback riding.
The park is best known for the Bowl and Pitcher, large rock formations on the Spokane River.
Scott said there used to be a stigma in town about the Spokane River.
“People always said, ‘Don’t go near the river, it’s dangerous,’ “ Scott said. “Then guide services started rafting on the river, and we realized the river is a great place to go.”
Peter Grubb’s Coeur D’Alene-based ROW Adventure Center started guiding on the river in 1979.
“It is such a unique resource to have a river canyon going right through town,” Grubb said. “Most cities put their rivers under culverts or channel them.
“But in Spokane the river is amazing, pristine and wild feeling.”
ROW Adventure Center offers whitewater rafting trips starting June 1 for $59. It also offers a pedal-and-paddle package that starts with a 10-mile bike ride and finishes with a 7-mile paddle for $79.
Pangaea offers whitewater trips for $59, but it also puts its own twist on rafting with its wine floats. The $89 floats in a raft with a table include appetizers and wine tasting.
“We tell people they get to enjoy the West from behind a wine glass,” Lawrence said.
In addition to rafting, Grubb said, the Spokane River can be a fun place to challenge your fishing skills.
“It’s not the type of fishing where any bonehead can catch a fish,” Grubb said.
Grubb said the best fishing is below the dam and between Spokane Valley and the Idaho border.
“If you are a responsible fisherman, you’ll catch and release,” Grubb said. “If everybody kept every fish they caught, there wouldn’t be any left.”
More information: spokaneriver.net.
Liberty Lake Regional Park near the Idaho border is a popular destination for hiking and mountain biking.
“It’s not real remote and it’s well traveled,” Perrigo said. “But it’s nice because it’s close and it’s scenic. You’ll even find some nice waterfalls out there.”
The 3,000-acre park is also open for camping, swimming and has a 250-acre off-road vehicle park. There is a $2 fee to enter the park during the summer.
More information: spokanecounty.org/parks.
Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge west of town near Cheney is a good place to view elk, coyotes, beavers and other animals. The refuge includes a five-mile driving tour, hiking trails and the 23-mile mostly unpaved Columbia Plateau Trail.
“It’s definitely worth the trip if you are here,” Breidenbach said.
More information: parks.wa.gov.
Ski season is over, but Mount Spokane State Park is still covered with snow. Once the snow melts “that’s where the serious mountain bikers go,” Scott said.
The 13,919-acre park leaves 90 percent of its 100 miles of trails open to mountain bikers. All of the trails are open for hiking and horseback riding.
The park opens for camping May 16.
More information: parks.wa.gov.
Breidenbach said the Centennial Trail is the best place to go cycling in Spokane. The paved trail stretches 37 miles along the Spokane River from Riverside Park to the Idaho border, where it links with the 18-mile North Idaho Centennial Trail.
The trail has two distinct parts. The portion east of town is more of an urban ride, he said. West of town the ride is more scenic, he said.
Bike rentals at Spoke N Sport are $30 per day and include a trail map.
More information: Spokanecentennialtrail.org or call Spoke N Sport, 509-838-8842.
Craig Hill: 253-597-8497