Hit the Road

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Posted by Joe Butler on Aug. 13, 2018, 6 a.m.

Asking “Where should we go today?” is all it takes to kick off a satisfying summer adventure.

In the Inland Northwest, fun truly awaits you in every direction, depending on how far you want to stray from home.

Though a multi-day road trip with friends or family can create wonderful memories, sometimes work or school schedules may necessitate a quicker jaunt north, south, east or west.

Even a day trip can be exciting and refreshing, especially when it involves new scenery, maybe experiencing a new body of water, or trying new dining options along the way.

We also have more than 50 lakes within a 100-mile radius of Spokane, so it’s easy to stop for a swim, cast a fishing line or have a picnic.

If you’re planning your summer road trip itinerary, consider some of these routes.

Heyburn State Park
Heyburn State Park

East: Cruise Coeur d’Alene
We’re familiar with the lovely city at the north end of the lake, but driving around the lake can be an enjoyable way to experience all sorts of scenery, from lakeside ambience to majestic mountains, all in about two-three hours. Start by heading down U.S. 95, perhaps stopping at the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort in Worley for breakfast. Though the highway keeps going south, turn east at Plummer and drive by Heyburn State Park, considered the oldest state park in the Northwest. Once you reach the lake’s east side, you can take Highway 97 north to Harrison, or Highway 3 into the Silver Valley or St. Maries. Both roads eventually meet up with Interstate 90. 

The curvy route is also popular with motorcyclists, and was said to be a favorite of daredevil Evel Knievel.

Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls

South: Picnic at Palouse Falls

At about two hours from Spokane, this state park is an easy daytime drive reached by heading south from Ritzville. Pack a basket but stay hydrated since it can get warm in summer. The highlight is a nearly 200-foot waterfall from a tributary of the Snake River that’s almost hypnotic in its constant sound and fury. Trails let you see the falls closer from the top or the bottom, but stay safe – there are all sorts of unstable edges and dangerous currents at this outdoor attraction. If you don’t want to head home quite yet, continue south to Walla Walla, check out Dayton or even loop around to Lewiston and work your way back north through the rolling wheat fields of the Palouse.

In 2014, the Washington Legislature declared Palouse Falls the state’s official waterfall.

Grand Coulee Dam
Grand Coulee Dam

West: A Grand Destination
Shh! Don’t tell anyone their road trip is secretly educational! A visit to the Grand Coulee Dam can teach all sorts of info about hydroelectric power, engineering, irrigation, aquatic species, tribal history and mid-20th century political deal-making. Conceal the learning opportunity by focusing on how cool it is that one of the world’s largest dams is only one or two rest stops away from Spokane. There are parks and restaurants in the town of Coulee Dam, or visit Banks Lake or Lake Roosevelt for a lovely swim and picnic. Good news if you make a late start or take your time getting there: the dam’s Visitor Center extends its summer hours to nightfall. You might have to drive back home in the dark or spend the night somewhere, but it’s worth catching “One River, Many Voices,” a laser show projected onto the dam. The show received an upgrade in 2013 and now tells the history of the region along with the efforts to build the dam from different perspectives.

Three Rivers Dam in China takes the international title, but Grand Coulee still is the largest dam in the U.S. and also holds the record for amount of concrete in a structure (over 20,000 cubic yards poured in 24 hours).

Metaline FallsMetaline Falls

North: Get Artsy and Active

Named after the area’s cache of mining culture and majestic waterways, Metaline Falls offers a tranquil getaway for lovers of nature, the arts and history. Just two hours north of Spokane via Highway US-2 and Highway WA-2, the town on the Pend Oreille River has been called one of the Best Small Arts Towns in America. The Cutter Theatre, originally designed by renowned architect Kirkland Cutter in 1912 as a school building, is the epicenter of visual and performing arts in the community. Adventure seekers will also find plenty to do in this part of the state. With Colville National Forest surrounding the town, and access to nearby trail routes International Selkirk Loop and the Pacific Northwest Trail, Metaline Falls is a great starting (or stopping) point for dedicated hikers, bikers and backpackers. There are also abundant opportunities for rock climbing, kayaking, fishing and hunting.

Metaline Falls (and nearby Boundary Dam) served a shooting location for Kevin Costner’s 1997 film “The Postman.”