Critters in the City: Downtown Spokane’s Urban Wildlife Hikes

Eating sushi or sipping craft cocktails at a city café isn’t the typical start to a wildlife watching hike, but downtown Spokane is unique in that regard. Both the Spokane River and Latah Creek serve as wildlife corridors for a surprising list of species. Miles of lightly developed, forested park and residential land extend the reach of wildlife into the city by providing food, water, and places to escape natural and domesticated threats like dogs and cats.

All of this open space and park land mean you can launch an urban hike from within the city limits and potentially see several different types of wildlife if you pay attention, look in the right places, and keep your voices down. Along the Spokane River and Latah Creek, it’s common to see geese, several different kinds of ducks, hawks, osprey, bald eagles, a variety of migratory songbirds, and beaver. Whitetail and mule deer, marmots, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, and wild turkeys are also relatively common along the river, on the South Hill Bluff, in Palisades Park, and Riverside State Park. But the list of critters that have been spotted close to the city in recent years is much longer: coyotes, moose, black bear, rattlesnakes, beaver, badger, otter, ermine, porcupine, cougar, and bobcat. Don’t expect to see most of these animals on the short wildlife hikes below, but it’s cool to think they might be out there.


Urban Wildlife Hikes

These short hikes are best done as out-and-back walks with the distance regulated to fit the age and abilities of your group. To maximize wildlife viewing possibilities, walk slowly and quietly, and keep an eye out for movement in and along the water, on forested hillsides, and up in the trees. Binoculars can come in handy. My son and I recently spotted a small, camouflaged porcupine eight feet up a Ponderosa pine on the South Hill Bluff after hearing the familiar sound of claws scratching up tree bark, so listen too. Mornings and evenings are the best times for viewing wildlife, but bring a headlamp if you head out late in the day. Unfortunately, illegal camping and trash are too common in a few spots, so do your part and bring a garbage bag along to help keep our urban parks and wildlife habitat clean. For safety reasons, consider bringing a can of bear spray or mace for the unlikely encounter with potentially dangerous, two-legged human “wild life.” It is illegal to camp in any of the parks highlighted here, so please call crime check to report camping and other illegal activities (509-456-2233).

Photo of mallards by Kyle Merritt.
Mallards flock to the Spokane River. // Photo: Kyle Merritt


Latah Creek/High Bridge Park (Difficulty Level—Moderate): From Browne’s Addition, start near Coeur d’Alene Park and head a few blocks west to the bluff overlooking Latah Creek. Follow the dirt path as it winds several hundred feet downhill to the creek which runs through High Bridge Park. Head up or downstream, then, to make this one a loop, walk along one of the roads on each end of the park over the creek, and continue along the unpaved park road on the west side of Latah Creek. The wide expanse of grass, picnic tables, and playground equipment make a fun diversion from looking for birds and other critters along the creek.


People’s Park/Latah Creek & Spokane River Confluence (Difficulty Level—Easy): Park in the parking lot near the intersection of West Riverside Ave. and West Clarke Ave., on the west end of Peaceful Valley, or walk down from Browne’s Addition (see the previous hike description) or Kendall Yards (via the Centennial Trail and Sandifur Bridge). There are several dirt trails to explore on the east side of the confluence of these two streams that once ran thick with wild salmon. This place was also a significant gathering spot for Native Americans that is still an important cultural site for several tribes. While you won’t see any salmon, you may encounter birds and other wildlife on this short walk in the woods.


Herbert M. Hamblen Conservation Area/Spokane River (Difficulty Level—Easy): Walk the Centennial Trail west from Kendall Yards and follow the paved path down towards the Sandifur Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that crosses the Spokane River to People’s Park and High Bridge Park to the south. Instead of continuing south over the bridge, look for dirt trails dropping down on each side of the paved path. Head up or down stream on dirt trails where you may see eagles, ducks, geese, deer, beaver, porcupine and other animals and wildflowers on a short and flat riverside walk that sometimes feels like you are miles from the city. //



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