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The Inland Northwest’s best parks for outside activities

The center of Spokane’s park system is undoubtedly the city’s 100-acre playground, Riverfront Park, built from the remnants of Expo ’74.

But we’re near nature, near perfect in the Inland Northwest. Options for an afternoon in the sun abound, if you know where to look.

“A lot of the citizens in Spokane Valley can step right outside their house, almost, and be in nature,” said Mike Stone, director of that city’s Parks Department.

That was also the goal of Aubrey L. White, father of the city of Spokane’s park system. He envisioned an urban center where a neighborhood park was less than a 10- minute walk away. That spirit lives on in the city’s parks today, said Leroy Eadie, Spokane’s park director.

“We’re not just a one-size-fits-all community,” Eadie said. “We’re a diverse community that can plug in to a diverse park system.”

Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll through the flower beds or making a rugged climb to the cliffs overlooking the rolling fields of the Palouse, here are a few of the top park spots to check out in the Inland Northwest:

For the little ones

Discovery Playground in Spokane Valley is designed just for that: allowing children to find their own fun.

Opened in May 2010, the playplace was designed with children of all abilities in mind. Splash pads gush during the summer, along with rock-climbing walls, a trampoline set into the ground and a four-person “we-saw.” Discovery includes other traditional playground amenities such as swings and slides, all with an Inland Northwest flair.

Discovery has become so attractive that thieves had made off multiple times with the fiberglass egg shells, rainbow trout and inchworm that beckon children for some afternoon fun.

The playground is next to CenterPlace event center in Mirabeau Point Park. Picnic areas are located both within and outside of the park’s 4-foot-high fencing. Reservations are required for the shelters outside the park.

Location: Mirabeau Point Park, 13500 Mirabeau Parkway, Spokane Valley.

Amenities: Splash pads, picnic shelters, bathrooms, playground equipment, educational and musical features, outdoor classroom.

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, the Park Bench Cafe is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer months, offering sandwiches, salads, pastries and coffee drinks.

Location: Manito, 1702 S. Grand Blvd.

Size: 90 acres

Amenities: Shelters, playgrounds, splash pad, picnic areas, softball/baseball fields, restrooms, public gardens, conservatory, cafe.

Climbing to the heavens

The southern edges of Spokane are lined with trails affording breathtaking views, but perhaps none are more accessible than the 3-mile round-trip trek to Big Rock in the Dishman Hills Conservation Area.

“You very quickly get some terrific views,” said Jeff Lambert, executive director of the Dishman Hills Conservancy, whose charge is to protect natural areas at the southern reaches of Spokane Valley. “All ages, kids especially, like climbing around on those rocks.”

The hike begins in wetland areas, where snow lingers in the spring months beneath the shade of towering conifer trees. Hikers are presented a choice at the base of the cliffs: Turn left on a switchback that gently ascends about 600 feet to the rocks, or plow straight up on a Spokane County road that was never built.

Either way, hikers end at Big Rock, part of the Rocks of Sharon system that attracts climbers of all abilities. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy while dangling your legs over the rock face and enjoying the rolling hills of the Palouse, which include swaying strands of wheat and canola.

Location: Dishman Conservancy Area. Park at the Stevens Creek trailhead, 9102 S. Stevens Creek Road, and hike in to the north.

Size: Roughly 90 acres, purchased in 2011 as part of the Spokane County Conservation Futures program for $331,425.

Amenities: Trails

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.

Location: West Hills, 198 S. Rimrock Drive

Size: Around 700 acres

Amenities: Trails

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 reopened 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.

Location: Shadle/Northwest, 5701 N. Assembly St.

Size: 76 acres

Amenities: BMX track, skate park, ballfields, picnic areas, splash pad, on-site parking, playground, concessions

Winter sledding fun

Spy the dozens of children slipping down Manito’s bare hills just off Grand Boulevard, and the boneyard of snarled plastic shrapnel left in their wake, and it’s easy to draw the conclusion the South Hill destination offers the best sledding in town.

But that would be wrong.

Thrill-seekers should instead trek east to Underhill Park, where an 80-foot hill awaits that tests plummeters with three cascading downhill layers that will put air between your rump and your sled.

The treacherous descent led The Spokesman-Review to name Underhill Park the city’s best spot to sled in 2008, and despite the construction of a 1.5 million-gallon subterranean stormwater tank in 2015, it remains the best place to slip and slide on a wintry Spokane weekend.

Location: East Central/2910 E. Hartson Ave., Spokane

Size: 19.2 acres

Amenities: Playgrounds, restroom, baseball fields, picnic areas, splash pad.


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