With all the bulldozing, concrete-pouring and bridge-laying going on in Spokane’s Riverfront Park, you could be forgiven for forgetting a grand old time is there to be had in the city’s other 80-plus public green spaces.
Aubrey L. White, who came to be known as the “father of Spokane parks” while overseeing a massive expansion of parkland in the Lilac City during the early 20th century, envisioned a metropolis where a park was never more than a 10- or 15-minute walk from your front door. That legacy is seen in the dozens of natural playgrounds Spokane has to offer, each with its own set of attractions for newcomers and longtime residents alike.
Here are some options for your next park outing:
How about a picnic?
Spokane’s Manito Park, boasting 90 acres of garden space, winding trails and playgrounds on the South Hill, has plenty of nooks and shaded spreads for a late spring or summer outing. Shelters are available on the park’s northern and southern borders, with ample green space and a splash pad available to the south. The northeast end of the park offers tennis courts and a reflecting duck pond.
Gabi Tilley, a longtime South Hill resident and gardening volunteer with the group Friends of Manito that provides upkeep of the historic park, said it’s the variety of options available that make Manito a keen spot for picnickers.
“You can go with all kinds of different age groups,” Tilley said. “If you’ve got little ones, you can find some shade near the playgrounds. For adults, you can go up by Duncan Garden or the Rose Hill, which is a little more romantic.”
After lunch, stroll through Manito’s many gardens including the “sunken” Duncan Garden that is a popular spot for wedding photos. If the weather turns sour, Gaiser Conservatory – named after longtime park board member David Gaiser – opens its doors at 8 a.m. every day.
And if you forgot your lunch, during the summer months the Park Bench Cafe is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., offering sandwiches, salads, pastries and coffee drinks.
Neighborhood: Manito, 1702 S. Grand Blvd.
Size: 90 acres
Amenities: Shelters, playgrounds, splash pad, picnic areas, softball/baseball fields, restrooms, public gardens, conservatory, cafe
A nature hike?
Come for the view at Spokane’s Palisades Park near the Indian Canyon Golf Course. Stay for the winding seven miles of trails that are suitable for walkers, joggers, bikers and equestrians, granting a view of the same Indian Canyon waterfall that enchanted White back in the early 1900s.
“It has some of the best views of the city and the whole valley that we’ve got,” said Brent Hendricks, president of the group Palisades that cares for the park.
On a clear day, Palisades visitors can see Mount Spokane to the northeast and downtown Spokane rising around the river. Doubling as a conservation area, Palisades also offers a bevy of birding options, including many different types of owl, swallow, hawk and thrush. A Washington Discovery Pass is not required to park at Palisades.
Palisades is also a short drive from downtown, and the group has put on guided tours that showcase some of the park’s unique geological and plant features, Hendricks said.
Neighborhood: West Hills, 198 S. Rimrock Drive
Size: Around 700 acres
Fun in the water?
If you wanted to get wet at a city park in 1914, your only choice was Mission Park.
Then-known as the Sinto Triangle Park, Spokane’s first public bathhouse opened there that year as well as two outdoor pools – one for men and boys, the other for women and girls. The bathhouse, an Italian Renaissance-inspired structure designed by Harold C. Whitehouse, still stands today on the banks of the Spokane River, and has been listed on the Spokane Register of Historic Places. It now houses equipment for a neighboring lawn bowling field.
Mission Park hasn’t forgotten its roots, offering visitors several options to play in the water. It offers a unique splash-pad experience, one of four in the city that were built before the expansion of the kid-friendly water features that are now available in 17 parks citywide. Mission’s attraction originally opened in 1979.
The Witter pool is just a short walk east, if you’re looking to truly take a dip.
For those that don’t want to get wet but want to be near the water, the Centennial Trail on the eastern edge of Mission Park runs right along the Spokane River just south of the park.
Neighborhood: Logan, 1210 E. Mission Ave.
Size: 13.3 acres
Amenities: Shelter, picnic areas, ballfields (including a baseball field for children with disabilities), splash pad, playgrounds (including a playground for children with disabilities), tennis courts, basketball courts, trail access
An afternoon of sports?
Whether you’re looking for traditional sports action or some X Games-inspired fun, the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex in northwest Spokane has you covered.
Adjacent to Joe Albi Stadium, the complex is home to a sprawling BMX track that recently received an infusion of grant money to rebuild the starting hill and starting gate for races. Best of all, it’s free to use, as long as you’re not interrupting regular gate practices every Monday night.
“We knew we had a national caliber track, we knew it needed a lot of help,” said Jay Brothers, track operator for Spokane BMX. The improvements, which also included paving the corners of the track for skid-free racing, helped the organization pull in a national contest last month.
The complex, which was expanded and re-opened in 2010 after voters approved a park improvement bond several years earlier, also features six full-size soccer fields with real turf, two synthetic athletic fields, six diamonds for baseball and softball, a concession stand and skate park, in addition to a neighborhood park and splash pad. A paved trail runs the perimeter of the complex.
Neighborhood: Shadle/Northwest, 5701 N. Assembly St.
Size: 76 acres
Amenities: BMX track, skate park, ballfields, picnic areas, splash pad, on-site parking, playground, concessions
For the little ones?
Several area parks have playgrounds geared specifically for small children. Historic Audubon Park, which existed when the Olmsted brothers visited Spokane in the early 20th century, combines splash pads, a smaller playground and scenic Ponderosa pines that remind you you’re in the Inland Northwest. And they make for great games of hide-and-seek with the young ones.
For bigger kids, the park also features basketball courts and is home to North Central High School’s annual cross country meet in the fall.
Neighborhood: Downriver, 3405 North Milton Ave.
Size: 27 acres
Amenities: Picnic tables, restrooms, playgrounds, splash pad, ballfields, basketball court
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