From speedy cyclists to kids on trikes; from dog walkers and runners to inline-skaters and recreational bikers of every kind, including tandem and recumbent bikers and even a guy whose rear basket held two content Chihuahuas – it’s never a dull day on Fish Lake Trail.

As awareness and popularity of the trail has increased, it has become a community recreational gathering place, where people of all ages, shapes, sizes and speeds can freely enjoy the smooth, flat path. Shaded and tranquil, it is an ideal choice for families.

The trailhead is located in southwest Spokane near the intersection of Sunset Highway and Government Way, one block south on S. Milton Circle. Parking, restrooms, water fountains, a garbage can and kiosk with a trail map makes it easy for families to prepare for their ride. The restrooms are open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, according to Spokane’s Director of Park Operations Tony Madunich. During the rest of the year a porta-potty is available. The beginning of the trail is a transportation trifecta of planes, trains and cars that children will enjoy. Kids can watch I-90 traffic whizz below them while trains rumble by on the elevated rail lines and airplanes fly to and from the nearby airport.

Once a Union Pacific rail line and now owned by the City of Spokane, planning for this rails-to-trails project initially began in the early 1990s. After a multi-year process that involved the city and the Washington State Department of Transportation, the initial 4.4 miles of trail were paved in 2009. Tell your children about the rail corridor’s history. Photos and information are posted on the trailhead’s kiosk board.

For the first few miles, the trail heads south before veering west and paralleling the Cheney-Spokane Road. Only 7.4 miles of the trail are currently paved, ending at Scribner Road rather than the actual Fish Lake. For now, the remaining distance of the trail is closed to the public. Once it is completed, the trail’s point-to-point distance will be 10.8 miles all the way to Fish Lake.

“My best advice for families is to try and get beyond the first mile or so and away from the traffic noise of Highway 195 so you can enjoy the rural setting so close to downtown Spokane,” says Fish Lake Trail advocate Dan Schaffer. “It is still the city’s plan to continue the trail over the rail lines to Fish Lake where it will connect with the Columbia Plateau Trail to Cheney and beyond.”

Small wooden posts serve as mile markers. Benches and pull-over shoulders serve as rest areas. Pack snacks and plenty of water, and enjoy the scenery. It’s good to teach your children trail etiquette too. Move to single-file when passing or while being passed by other trail users, when possible. When passing another trail user, always pass on the left and give a warning before you do so – call out “on your left” or ring a bike bell like riders do in Europe. Be sure to pack out your garbage.

Regarding safety and shared use with cycling groups, the trail is a narrow, multi-use corridor, so slower groups should be conscious of this fact and not spread out across the width of the trail, but try to stay to one side or the other, advises Schaffer. “My guess is that the faster cyclists are more likely to be on the trail from 7-9 a.m., including weekends. It is in [a family’s] best interest to avoid busy times so that they can enjoy a relatively unobstructed ride.” Also, help your children be mindful of the trail’s steep banks. Yellow warning signs are posted.

Personally, though my family has visited the trail numerous times, we’ve only gone as far as the five-mile mark – which is a tremendous feat for my son who rode the entire 10-mile trip, to commemorate his fifth birthday. That day my three-year-old daughter rode our family’s trail-a-bike that was attached to my seat post. It was a blissful adventure that took less than 75 minutes. My kids were proud of their achievements – their longest bike ride ever. My husband and I were equally proud, happy and relieved that no one got hurt or even whined.

Biking Fish Lake Trail was an easy way to spend a fun afternoon together. More importantly, my kids left asking when we’ll return. //