11 Ideas for Family Fun in the Great Outdoors

1) Hike or Bike in Palisades Park: This 700-acre nature park west of Spokane has awesome views of the city and several trails for hiking or biking. Kids will especially enjoy Indian Canyon’s Mystic Falls. A park map is available at Palisadesnw.com.

2) Go on a Nature Scavenger Hunt: Explore a trail and create your own scavenger hunt. Find designated items, such as a smooth rock, wildflower, three different types of leaves, and more open-ended items based on varied colors, textures and shapes (e.g., find something that feels rough, shaped like a square, something red). Teach your child Leave No Trace principles. For sample lists and more ideas, visit Homesciencetools.com or Lovetheoutdoors.com.

3) Explore a Conservation Area: Spokane County’s list of conservation areas can be found online at Spokanecounty.org (search “Conservation Futures”). Options include Mica Peak, Feryn Ranch, McKenzie and others – all have ecological and historical significance and provide opportunities for hiking, bird-watching, picnicking and other activities. Download trail maps before you go. In Latah and Whitman counties, the Palouse Land Trust (Palouselandtrust.org) has three conservation areas open to public recreation, such as the 35-acre Idler’s Rest Nature Preserve.

Photo by Amy Silbernagel McCaffree
Trail 100. // Photo: Amy Silbernagel McCaffree

4) Hike and Picnic at Deep Creek Canyon: Pack a lunch or hearty snacks for the 5.5 mile loop (Trail 25) in this geologically fascinating section of Riverside State Park. Details and trailhead directions are at Wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/riverside-state-park-deep-creek-canyon.

5) Learn about Wildlife: Visit the National Wildlife Federation webpage for kids (Nwf.org/kids) to find hands-on ideas for outdoor activities and crafts to enjoy while learning about nature. Then plan a wildlife excursion, whether it’s a day hike or drive through Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge near Cheney (Fws.gov), or visit one of the seven Wildlife Management Areas in Idaho’s Panhandle region (idfg.idaho.gov), such as Boundary Creek (14 miles north of Bonners Ferry) or McArthur Lake (18 miles north of Sandpoint, near Colburn). WMAs have parking areas, restrooms, either boat launches or picnic areas, and a network of trails for non-motorized use.

6) Hike to a Fire Lookout: On 5,129 foot tall Quartz Mountain in Mount Spokane State Park, you can hike to the relocated fire lookout and even stay overnight (Parks.state.wa.us/423/Mount-Spokane-State-Park). There’s also a lookout atop Oregon Butte in the Blue Mountains, near Walla Walla (wta.org), and many others around the Inland Northwest worth visiting. Explore other fire lookouts around the Northwest and beyond at Firelookout.com.

7) View the Spokane River from New Vantage Points: Many riverside trails are flat and easy for kids. Visit Trail 100 off the Centennial Trail on the west side of the river near the T.J. Meenach Bridge. Or wander the trails at People’s Park, a peninsula between Latah Creek’s confluence with the Spokane River, located off W. Clarke and W. Riverside avenues, west of downtown Spokane.

A new view of the Spokane River by Shallan Knowles.
Find a new view of the Spokane River. // Photo: Shallan Knowles.

8) Find a New Trail to Hike: An online search guide helps you find the best choice for your family hike. Visit Wta.org/go-hiking/hikes and search according to region (e.g., Eastern Washington) and sub-region (e.g., Selkirk Range). For the Selkirks, 37 hikes are available, such as the Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars (2.5 miles) west of Upper Priest Lake or the South Skookum Lake Trail (1.38 miles) in Pend Oreille County. New to hiking with children? Check out WTA’s extensive guide on hiking with kids (https://www.wta.org/go-outside/kids/kids-hikes).

9) Go Geocaching (GEE-o-cash-ing): Learn all about GPS-aided treasure hunting at Geocaching.com/guide. You can also search for details and view a map of local geocaches – over 1,200 available within 10-miles of Spokane. Consider a visit to the Cache Cave geocaching store in Spokane Valley (14109 E. Sprague Ave), the brick-and-mortar store for Cache-advance.com. Another helpful guide for families is Cascadiakids.com/geocaching-with-kids.

10) Attend a West Valley Outdoor Learning Center Open House: Tour the wooded grounds and raptor and owl sanctuary and visit with the other live animals in the classroom, including tortoises, guinea pigs, snakes and an owl. The next open house is 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on April 15 (8706 E. Upriver Drive, next to Pasadena Park Elementary).

11) Volunteer for a Trail Project: “For families who hike together on a regular basis, it can be a logical next step to learn how to give back to trails and the hiking community,” says Holly Weiler, Washington Trails Association’s eastern Washington regional coordinator and work crew leader. “Volunteers are encouraged to work at their own pace. They learn about trail-work tools like the grub hoe, Pulaski, green grubber and MacLeod.” Recommended for children age 10+, no experience is necessary. “It’s a fun way to have family bonding time,” she says. Search for a work party, register, and complete a required waiver at wta.org. //

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