The summer of 2021 has had some of the hottest days in recorded history, and yet those of us who love the great outdoors of the PNW can’t resist getting out. One fantastic way to enjoy the sites of our city and region and stay cool is to hit the water and go paddling.
Whether you’re a stand-up paddler or a kayaker, there are ample opportunities to enjoy the Spokane River that runs right through our city. This summer, I set out to explore the best local options for a novice kayaker, and gladly share what I’ve learned.
First off: Know what kind of paddler you are, because that determines where you can go on a river like the Spokane, which the indigenous people of the region used to call “fast water.” That may have been before seven dams slowed the flow, but still, the Spokane has undercurrents and rapids, so take the proper precautions and read up on what’s right for you.
Right at the edge of Gonzaga University’s campus, you can put in the river at the McKinstry building at Trent & Hamilton. There’s parking nearby, too.
The area around Riverside State Park is great fun for experienced paddlers who know how to roll if the rapids get crazy (and they do, especially right around Bowl & Pitcher).
If you’re new to the water or just want paddle around lazily watching the sun go down (like me), then the Valley portions of the river are a perfect option.
Between Upriver Dam and Boulder Beach (just six miles from the Gonzaga campus following Centennial Trail) are a couple of options to put in. You just have to be lucky enough to find parking on the side of the road in the right spot for launching. (Please note that Upriver Drive is also part of the trail at this section, so be respectful of the designated areas for bikers when you park.)
Further east, off the Liberty Lake exit from 1-90, is an easy put-in on the north side of the river off Harvard Road. A gravel path to the river makes it easy to unload the yak at the water and then park your car in the appropriate place. Early-mid summer, the speed of the current on the south side of the river is such that you’re going downstream quickly whether you want to or not. If you’re planning to return to the same spot for your ride, take a good look at that flow. As little as two-three weeks later, water levels drop enough that the flow is slow, and the waterline so low you may scrape bottom in places.
Left: The glassy Spokane River, just east of the Argonne Bridge. Right: Rope-swinging opportunities near Boulder Beach.
Land o’ Lakes
There are ample lakes to enjoy as well. Newman Lake, near the Washington-Idaho border on Trent, has minimal boat traffic and a southern field of lily pads that serve as the perfect spot to sit and enjoy a snack.
Liberty Lake, also near the Washington-Idaho border, has two put-in options; both require a Washington State Discovery Pass for parking, or a nominal fee. At just four miles long, Liberty doesn’t normally attract a ton of boaters, making for an enjoyable time kayaking or supping. The southern end, at Liberty Lake County Park, is a natural water fowl habitat and you’re almost guaranteed to see herons and other amazing birds.
If you’re up for an adventure and want to kayak-camp, a popular Inland Northwest option is Priest Lake (Idaho) where you can reserve one of many camping spots on Kalispell Island. Priest, however, has plenty of boat traffic, so don’t risk it if you haven’t spent ample time in your yak to be confident.
At the south end of Liberty Lake
Before You Go
- Find greater details about water conditions at specific locations on the Spokane River:
- Check out Visit Spokane for a map of more great options.
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