The Dishman Hills Natural Area is a fantastic close-in hike at any time of year, but it is never more beautiful than in the early spring as the wildflowers begin to emerge. This year the Dishman Hills Conservancy celebrates half a century of working to preserve public open space in Spokane Valley. The partnerships that have been forged here as private individuals joined together to form the Conservancy, then worked alongside Spokane County Parks and the Department of Natural Resources for management of the trail system, are an excellent example of how farsighted individuals can create something that generations will treasure.

For one of the numerous loop options that provides a good sample of the varied landscape within the Natural Area, start from the main entrance at Camp Caro. Take the main trail that accesses the Natural Area by walking through the Camp Caro breezeway and up the steep hill. At the top of the hill the outdoor amphitheater offers a place to rest. Then follow the trail as it contours slightly to the left and downhill, past numerous rock outcroppings. At the first trail junction, take the slight right through Enchanted Ravine. The rock walls on either side close in the farther up the ravine one travels, until at the upper end the trail becomes a series of rock steps. It’s worthwhile to watch the Dishman Hills Conservancy website for one of their group hikes with a geologic focus, but even without a geologist along it’s easy to imagine how the ice age floods of Glacial Lake Missoula carved out the rock features along this route, leaving behind metamorphic rock that has been dated at up to 1 billion years old.

After Enchanted Ravine the grade lessens somewhat and the understory shrubs thin out, leaving an excellent spot to watch for early season wildflowers like buttercups, grass widows and camas. At the next intersection take the slight left toward Lost Ponds, through a recently rerouted section of trail. At the following intersection, continue toward Lost Ponds by turning right, climbing a short hill, and turning right again. As the name implies, the ponds sometimes disappear due to summer evaporation. In March the ponds are usually full, and they are also home to a thriving population of frogs. Hike in the late afternoon for the best of the frog chorus.

Beyond the ponds, watch for the right-hand turn at an unmarked intersection. Here the trail climbs to Nimbus Knob, a high point with an impressive vista of the Spokane Valley and one of the best places in the Dishman Hills for catching the sunset. From here it’s all downhill to Camp Caro. Turn right at the first intersection, joining the East/West Pond trail, then left beyond the ponds to follow the main trail back to the start. The roundtrip distance is 3 miles. Leashes are required for dogs, and bikes are not allowed in the Natural Area.

Getting there: From Sprague (one-way westbound) or Appleway (one-way eastbound), turn south on Sargent Road, then right into the Dishman Hills parking lot. The upper Camp Caro parking lot is closed until May, but the lower lot remains open year-round. //