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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Easy Paddler: 6 choice flatwater trips near Spokane

Updated with details about Upriver Dam access to the Spokane River.

With summer temperatures soaring, the Spokane area’s wealth of water routes are suddenly more attractive.

Even less-active people who don’t own a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddle board can get the urge to venture onto a lake or stream when the thermometer reads 85 or higher.

There’s a water destination suitable for everyone and their dog, so to speak, as well as for quick breaks of a couple of hours or full-day adventures.

The trick is to find the right route to match your skills, group experience and time limitations. Leave the whitewater and rock-dodging to the experts.

Following are six choice flatwater paddling options that cover a wide spectrum for kicking back on local lakes and streams.

Hidden Spokane River

Of the 14 distinct sections of the Spokane River, the most centrally located stretch has been discovered by boaters only in recent years.

The 5 miles from Upriver Dam downstream to Division Street formerly was written off as an industrial wasteland. But access points and services enhanced since 2010 opened several options on the lazy flows along billowing willow trees.

ROW Adventures keys in on a choice trip for guided sit-on-top kayak or SUP excursions that local paddlers have been tapping for years. Put in at the seasonal access point below Upriver Dam (open 9 a.m.-dusk) and paddle downstream 3-plus miles to No-Li Brewhouse, 1003 E. Trent Avenue.

NOTE: The gate for the city access to the south side of the river below Upriver Dam apparently is no longer regularly open. The access can still be used, but it requires hauling boats down a gravel path and an immediate vehicle shuttle since no parking is allowed. To reach the access from Havana Street, drive east on Trent Avenue 0.3 mile and bear left on Waterworks. Drive 0.4 mile to the green river access gates on the left.

Pull out for a beer or a meal at No-Li and call it good, or continue down around the bend to the McKinstry access in the University District south of Spokane Falls Boulevard off Cincinnati Street.

Option: Fun Unlimited, LLC , rents paddleboards under the Division Street Bridge, where paddlers can navigate slow summer flows upstream toward Gonzaga-McKinstry and back. No paddling is allowed downstream of Division Street into Riverfront Park.

Little Spokane River

Justifiably the most popular paddling route in the area, the Little Spokane River meanders through a wildlife-rich natural area from the St. George’s School put-in 6 miles downstream to the confluence of the Spokane River.

Paddlers who can make a few tight turns should have little trouble on this stream during summer. But watch for moose!

The access at Painted Rocks on Rutter Parkway offers a midway put-in or take-out option for shorter trips.

This stretch of the Little Spokane is managed by Riverside State Park: dogs and swimming are not allowed. A Washington Discover Pass is required at access parking areas.

Spokane City Parks offers a shuttle service from 10 am.-4 p.m. on Saturdays through Sept. 4. Info: (509) 363-5418.

Fishtrap Lake

Hidden in a shallow basalt-rimmed canyon, this trout-fishing lake stands out among the region’s many flatwater paddling options for its general serenity and scenery. The only development is the classic old Fishtrap Lake Resort ((509) 235-2284), built around 1912, and a few dwellings at the north end of the lake.

Paddle nearly to the south end of the lake to an open area called Farmer’s Landing for a picnic – an 8-mile roundtrip. The lake holds stocked rainbows.

Drive to the Fishtrap Exit off Interstate 90 approximately 27 miles west of Spokane and go south to Fishtrap Road, which leads east to the resort and public access. A Washington Discover Pass or Fish and Wildlife Department vehicle pass is required for using the public launch.

Bonnie Lake

This regional classic paddling trip requires navigation up a serpentine stretch of Rock Creek for nearly one mile to reach the 4-mile-long lake snuggled between basalt cliffs where swallows nest and turkey vultures soar.

Land along the creek and lake that straddles the Spokane-Whitman county line is privately owned with the exception of an island one-third of the way uplake that’s state-managed.

Wind that often comes up in the afternoon can be a major hazard on this lake.

Drive 17 miles south from Cheney on Cheney-Plaza Road, which becomes Rock Lake Road. Turn east on Belsby Road. Go approximately 5 miles, dropping into a canyon to the rugged put-in at the bridge over Rock Creek. Park off the gravel road but do not block farm access.

Fishing boats often motor up to the lake, which holds bass, bluegill and crappie.

Watch for marsh wren nests hanging from the cattails during the paddle up the creek.

Coeur d’Alene River

A nifty 9-mile stretch of the Coeur d’Alene river is served near the put-in by the Enaville Resort (“Snakepit”) and cafe and a shuttle service offered by The River Fly Shop. The take-out is off Interstate 90 at Exit 39 to Old Mission State Park, a destination in itself.

The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes parallels much of this float, which begins downstream from the confluence of the South Fork. The paved rail trail allows a bike-shuttle option for boaters who want a full day.

Paddlers will be assisted by a good flow until hitting the slow water backing up from Lake Coeur d’Alene in the last stretch to the mission.

The only significant paddling hazard is a 90 degree turn where the river rushes into a rock cliff about a third of the way down from the start.

To reach the put-in, take Kingston Exit 43 off I-90 and drive north a short way. Turn left (west) on Riverview Drive and go 0.6 mile to the undeveloped access.

The river is popular for fishing. All cutthroat trout must be released.

Upper Priest Lake

This is a classic paddle route best initiated early in the morning before a parade of motor boaters begins violating the no-wake rule later in the day.

Starting from the put-in near Beaver Creek Campground at the northwest end of Priest Lake, paddlers snake through gentle summer flows for 3 miles up The Thorofare before reaching Upper Priest Lake.

Reaching the 3.5-mile long lake surrounded by national forest is by trail or boat only.

The Thorofare is a fine paddle in itself, 6 miles round trip.

Extend the excursion into the lake and even overnight. Camp at one of the undeveloped sites or at the small Geisingers Campsite or larger Plowboy campground at the south end of Upper Priest. Farther up the lake, the Navigation Campground is on the upper west shore and the Trapper Creek Campground is on the upper west side.

All of the campsites have trails and options for hikes. The lake holds cutthroat trout.

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