On a Thursday morning, the Dishman Hills Natural Area is one of the quietest places in Spokane.
A couple of cars sit in the parking lot. Walk through the log building at Camp Caro, and the traffic noise from Sprague Avenue and scratching intercom from car dealerships fade in the background.
Soon all you can hear is the wind in the pines, the birds and your breath.
Be ready for deer to watch you. Stealthy yet curious, they are clearly used to visitors interfering with their morning grazing. Chipmunks scamper across the trail or watch from rock outcroppings.
In 1966, the land was purchased and donated to protect it from urban development and sprawl. In the late ‘90s – after another fight to protect the area – a partnership to save the hills was cemented between Spokane County Parks and Recreation Department, the Washington state Department of Natural Resources and the nonprofit Dishman Hills Natural Area Association.
“We maintain it for its natural beauty and ecological value; it truly is an urban wilderness,” said Michael Hamilton, president of the Dishman Hills association. “We deal with some of the trouble that comes with that. There was a recent fire up on one of the hills; I’m sure it involved some young folks and a fermented brew.”
You can hike into the Dishman Hills, but you can’t ride your bicycle or horse.
The trails wind up, down and around, over rock outcroppings and down hillsides, so wear comfortable shoes. There is nothing manicured about the area, except the occasional gravel repair of a steep trail.
“It’s a pre-pioneer ecosystem. It’s a biological remnant from before we were here, I believe,” said Hamilton. “There are many waterholes in there, and in spring there are a lot of wildflowers. Later it turns squeaky dry and other plants take their turn.”
Bring a camera or a sketch book.
The contrast between tall rocks and deep ravines is bound to inspire any artist.
Right now, the Dishman Hills are lushly green, and the last crop of spring wildflowers is on its last bloom.
Look for lupines in blue and white hues next, among tiny wild strawberry plants. Honeysuckle is on its way, and the bunchgrass is coming back to life.
There is a diversity of native plants and mosses in these hills.
“There is so much to look for – the rocks, the birds, the plants,” Hamilton said. “Just a relaxing hike and experiencing the woods is plenty for many.”
Pick up a map at Camp Caro; the main loop takes about an hour to walk, with plenty of time to stop and enjoy the scenery. Dogs must be leashed.
For small children or those who aren’t up for hiking, the area around Camp Caro is perfect for a picnic.
There are tables, benches and a small play set, surrounded by a giant lawn just waiting for someone to kick a soccer ball or whip out a Frisbee.
“We put benches up in the hills for people who want to sit and watch nature,” Hamilton said.
“I think it’s therapeutic just to hike up there and sit and watch a cloud go over your head.”