Imagine Bikepacking a New “Spokane Trail”

A thin ribbon of desert singletrack threaded a path through otherwise untouched saguaro, chollas, and mesquite. To my left, the White Tanks shot up out of the valley floor, radiating with a pre-dusk glow like a mirage. On my right, a brown haze mostly obscured the sprawling city of Phoenix, like it does many days of the year.

Occasionally when I kicked up my speed a notch, diving in and out of washes, my breathing would drown out the dull roar of distant, jam-packed freeways, and I would forget there was a city there at all. I was racing daylight to complete one short section of the 315-mile Maricopa Trail before departing the desert for another year.

For the past two years in November, we’ve been escaping the cold gloom of one of our least favorite months by exploring the trails around Phoenix out of our VanDoIt adventure van. Living at campgrounds with easy trail access makes daily bike rides, hikes, and runs easy. It’s how we got introduced to the miracle that is the Maricopa Trail too.

The route encircles Phoenix and connects many of Maricopa County’s awesome regional parks with a mix of singletrack, existing pathways, and other ridable and hikeable right of ways. As of yet I’ve only traversed a few dozen miles of the trail in different parks, but its mere existence inspired me to begin researching a bikepacking trip of the whole trail. It also got me thinking there’s no reason my hometown shouldn’t have a trail like this.

Derrick Knowles on his mountain bike, loaded with gear for bikepacking.
Imagine a long-distance Spokane Trail. // Derrick Knowles bikepacking in southeast Oregon. // Photo: Aaron Theisen

Spokane already has an amazing system of parks and natural areas with trails that form a partial ring around the city: Riverside, Little Spokane River, Mount Spokane, Antoine, the Centennial Trail, Liberty Lake, Mica, Iller, Glenrose, the Bluff, High Bridge, Indian Canyon, Palisades, and back to Riverside.

There are a few substantial gaps in trails and public lands between those existing parks and trail systems, but the potential for land purchases, easements, and road-side pathways to improve those connections in the coming decades is totally doable.

There is also plenty of infrastructure for local and visiting long-distance hikers and mountain bikers who would want to take such a trail on, including three public campgrounds, a rental cabin, a KOA, and hotels galore, plus plenty of stores, pubs, and restaurants.

The Maricopa Trail effort got started 25 years ago, and it’s still a work in progress but is largely completed. With Spokane’s much smaller population, more open space (at least for now), and amazing community of public land conservation organizations, agencies, and trail builders, I bet a similar Spokane Trail could materialize even quicker.

I can already imagine bikepacking the Spokane Trail and getting lost in the rhythmic flow of well-built singletrack surrounded by towering firs, breathing in the sweet scent of mock orange or maybe pine. Relishing the quiet and solitude and smiling when I remember how close I am to the city and how far from it all I feel.

Bikes parked at Riverside State Park's Nine Mile Falls Dam area.
Riverside State Park Nine Mile Falls area. // Photo: Derrick Knowles.

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