Paddling the Little Spokane in a Rented Kayak

My friend Bonnie came to visit last summer. In addition to urban jaunts I’d planned, I wanted our itinerary to include something outdoorsy. While perusing the local Parks & Recreation catalog, I found just the ticket: Paddle the Little Spokane River in a Rented Kayak. Although I’ve never been much of a boater, Bonnie is a kayaker from way back. A four-hour adventure on a nearby waterway seemed like the perfect way to impress. I jumped online and reserved two single kayaks for $55 each.

Our kayak outing would begin at 11 a.m. the morning after Bonnie arrived. We got up late, grabbed breakfast, then, as specified in our confirmation email, headed out to the 9 Mile take out. Here, we’d register and board a van bound for the put in.

Friendly staff members oriented us, assigned us zippered float vests, and pointed to the row of boats—hard shelled, stubby, open, bright-colored vessels. We chatted with fellow river riders, then boarded the van and moved out.

Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at the St. George’s put in. Ryan Griffith with Spokane Parks and Recreation gathered us for a trip briefing. He offered instruction, told us to remain engaged on the river, and cautioned us to steer clear of three sets of highway pilings and overhanging branches that can tip kayaks. The water was high, he said, so the current was faster than normal. The four-hour trip, he said, should give us plenty of time to enjoy the river and stretch our legs at Painted Rock wayside. We hauled our boats down to a sandy launch and shoved off into the current.

The Little Spokane River is a tributary of the Spokane River. It begins west of Newport, Wash., and flows south between Highways 2 and 395, turns west at the Wandermere golf course and enters the Little Spokane River Natural Area. That day we paddled the final six-mile stretch where the river corkscrews through compact wetlands, forests and fields.

Bonnie and I let the current grab our kayaks, then dipped our paddles to gently steer ourselves downstream. Quickly, the group spread out, and in no time the river was our own. The sun was mid-summer high, and we were glad for big hats, sunscreen, and the cool water that dripped onto our arms and legs.

There is no whitewater on the Little Spokane. Yet, neither is it a mindless float. Bonnie and I employed our paddles not so much for forward momentum (the current was sufficient for that), but for steering ourselves around the continuous twists and turns and keeping ourselves removed from shore. In places, exposed basalt cliffs rose steeply. Around a bend, rock gave way to dense forest nudging up against water’s edge. Another twist, and tall grasses created tufts along the banks and a wildflower-covered hill appeared. Each bow presented a new iteration of the landscape. At Painted Rock wayside—our halfway point—we easily guided the kayaks to shore and took a short walk.

Bonnie and I had not seen one another in a long while, and the pace and vibe of the river promoted introspection and renewal. We talked of the months and years behind and about what lay ahead. A heron coasted in and landed on a fallen tree, grabbing at small prey. A moose stood knee-deep in water, nipping grass.

As we neared the take out, the river widened, and we began looking for our exit. Ahead, we saw boats and headed that way. Farther downstream, we saw the riffles of the confluence. We glided under the last highway bridge, successfully dodging the pilings, then carved a sharp turn to nose into the takeout. Visit Spokane Parks & Recreation online to plan your own trip. //

Tabitha Gregory is a frequent contributor to Out There and the author of the historical non-fiction book “Valdez Rises: One Town’s Struggle for Survival After the Great Alaska Earthquake.”

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