The Spokane River exudes energy and mystery, fascinating kids and parents alike. A hike along a river is a fun way to explore nature while gaining observational lessons about the water cycle and riparian zones – the narrow strips of land along a river’s borders that provide a unique home for plants and animals that have adapted to variable water levels in order to live.

Downriver of Spokane’s urban core, there are convenient hiking and exploration opportunities for children to learn ecology first-hand. The further you go, the wilder it gets, thanks to Riverside State Park. Osprey, heron, geese and other wildlife visit the river, and there are up to 17 fish species that call this river home, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Before you leave home, be sure to pack essential supplies: water bottles, snacks, a first-aid kit, toilet paper and plastic bags. Follow Leave No Trace principles and be prepared to pack-out any waste. Carrying a GPS or trail map is also helpful when on an unfamiliar trail.

A general guideline for how far a child can hike is one mile per year of age, when it’s a fairly flat trail, but less mileage when there is elevation gain. Know your child and his or her capabilities. Have fun and respect our region’s beautiful natural resource.

Photo: Amy Silbernagel McCaffree.

Photo: Amy Silbernagel McCaffree.

Bowl & Pitcher, Trail #25, at Riverside State Park: While crossing the swinging bridge, admire the rock formations and rapids. Once you reach the other side, go up the steps and turn either upriver (left) or downriver (right) onto trail #25 – either way provides good views of the river as an out-and-back route. For spectacular views of the Bowl & Pitcher, head downriver. Down the steep bank, the river rages wild – enjoy it only from the safety of the trail. As you venture further from the Bowl & Pitcher area, you’ll eventually begin to see Devil’s Toenail, a huge rock formation jutting out from the middle of the river. After another marker for trail #25, you’ll soon see a trail junction – this is #211, though it’s not marked here, and will lead you back to the bridge if you desire (loop distance is 1.7 miles, and #211 is a wider trail with a gentle grade). Or you can venture further along the river on a rocky stretch of trail before heading back. More info: wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/riverside-state-park or find a graphical map of the loop provided by Spokane Regional Health District, srhd.org. 

Spokane River Trail #100: This trail is popular with mountain bikers and hikers alike. The trailhead is around mile 27.5 of the Centennial Trail near Fort George Wright Drive, off the south side of the TJ Meenach Bridge. Downriver Park is the name of this forested stretch of land along the river, though it’s overseen by Riverside State Park. A free parking lot is located at the bottom of N. Pettet Drive (aka Doomsday Hill). Cross the bridge using the pedestrian pathway on the left and link up with the Centennial Trail. Look for the trail #100 marker to the right after passing under the road tunnel. If your children are 6 years or older and strong hikers, I recommend making the large river bend and its beach your destination goal and turn-around point – which is about two miles from the bridge.

Playing Safe on the River

A river has hazardous conditions, including swift currents and undercurrents, large rocks and overhanging tree branches. Closely supervise children. Whenever swimming, wading, floating or paddling in any Washington State river, wearing a PDF is required by law. A safer way to get kids on the water is to sign up for a trip with an outfitter. Both FLOW Adventures (flow-adventures.com) and ROW Adventure Center (rowadventurecenter.com) offer recreation opportunities on the Spokane River, such as guided whitewater rafting (ages 10+, Class I-III rapids), float trips (ages 5+, Class I-II rapids) or tubing gear and shuttle service (ages 5+). //