Talking Trails

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Posted by Joe Butler on June 7, 2018, 6 a.m.

There are a lot of things local business leaders and recruiters like to say and do to make the Inland Northwest appeal to prospective employers and employees, like quality restaurants, colorful local history, an affordable workforce, real estate opportunities and that cool new ice/roller ribbon at Riverfront Park.

It doesn’t take long before the phrase “quality of life” makes its way into conversations, especially when considering all that open space and easy access to outdoor recreation opportunities. To reference the City of Spokane’s now-abandoned slogan, “Near Nature, Near Perfect,” the second half has always been a bit subjective, but the first half was always spot-on.

Besides an abundance of seasonal activities within easy reach – snow sports in the winter, lake fun in the summer – the area’s natural landscape make it easy for anyone to get out and get physical any time on the hundreds of miles of suburban, urban and rural public trails and trail systems in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

Cyclists on a trail

The proximity to distinct neighborhoods, businesses and public areas are convenient if you’re looking to establish a favorite route, change things up with different terrain or even test your endurance by seeing how far you can run, walk, bike, stroll or jog.

Now that summer is approaching, outdoor rec fans itching to get out and play will have no end to the paved trails around town. Even better, the part in advising future trail planners what you’d like to see in the next decade.

Here’s a summary of some trails worth checking out:

Centennial Trail
Stretching from the Nine Mile Falls area on the west side of Spokane to the east side of Lake Coeur d’Alene, the trail offers more than 60 miles of non-motorized access, much of it parallel to the scenic Spokane River. The trail was proposed in conjunction with the Washington and Idaho centennial celebrations in 1989 and 1990, respectively, hence its name. The trail is managed by several agencies in both states, as well as two non-profit groups: Friends of the Centennial Trail and North Idaho Centennial Trail Foundation.  Access is free, although the State of Washington does require Discover Passes to park at certain trailheads within Riverside State Park. Though there are some slow and isolated areas near the Idaho-Washington border, there can be some higher-traffic zones in downtown Spokane.

Fish Lake Trail
The former rail line provides a scenic and easy out-and-back west from Spokane to Cheney that takes riders through forests, plains, channeled scabland and Queen Lucas Lake. The actual trail is only 9 miles one way, but the gentle route splits off in several spots, allowing riders or walkers to continue to Fish Lake, the Turnbull Wildlife Refuge or other former rail lines in the larger Columbia Plateau Trail system. Southbound, there’s a steady but gentle uphill grade that’s manageable for inexperienced (or slightly out of shape) riders. Like the Centennial Trail, users enjoy the quick transitions in scenery from urban to rural, from meadows to forests. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen, as the West Plains trail can get mighty hot on sunny, summer days.

Route of the Hiawatha

You do need a bike, but don’t need to be an advanced rider to enjoy this converted rail line near the Idaho-Montana border, off of Interstate 90. The 15-mile trail is a great summer bucket list activity, no matter your age or abilities. There are some dark, cold and sort of scary parts involving damp creepy tunnels (bring your bike light), but there are also some beautiful vistas. Trail passes are required ($11 for adults, $7 for children ages 6-13). Bike rentals and shuttle service are available, as well as group rates for parties of 10 or more, through ridethehiawatha.com.

Children of the Sun Trail

This trail expanded to 10-miles in 2015 as part of the North Spokane Corridor project. It offers lovely scenery, especially when looking south and it’s a great alternative for bicycle commuters who want to reduce north-south congestion. The trail name refers to the generally accepted meaning of Spokane in the Salish language. Planning to extend the route another 5 miles is scheduled for this year, so public input is requested on what features could be included. State and local transportation officials began taking suggestions and holding workshops this spring.