Falling for Spokane's Riverfront
Understated Spokane is part of the Pacific Northwest's Inland Empire in eastern Washington. From its site on the banks of the Spokane River, urban Spokane looks out over dense, coniferous forests and rolling grassy hills. Though not as well known as Seattle, Spokane is the state's second-largest urban center, hosting the Bloomsday Run, the world's largest running event, and boasting a spectacular waterfall. This modest metropolis is full of fun, free things to do for kids and families, especially under the blue skies of spring, summer and fall.
Who doesn't love a waterfall, especially a monster like Spokane Falls? Water speeds through at the rate of 31,000 cubic feet per second, and its power and thunder shakes the bridges over the Spokane River. Children of all ages will love the trek into Huntington Park to get right into the soak-zone. A drier choice is to cross the Monroe Street Bridge to visit the overlook on the north side of the bridge. From there, you'll get a clear view of both the upper and lower falls.
Spokane Falls has its own park to showcase its wonders. Riverfront Park takes up a full 100 acres that includes footbridges and trails shimmering from splashing cascade water. Many spots provide fabulous views of the waterfall, but you'll really enjoy the 151-foot-high Great Northern Clocktower. The trail nearest downtown, the Centennial Trail, is 37.5 paved miles and a perfect place for the kids to ride bikes. Older kids can continue out farther west toward Riverside State Park to see pine forests and basalt rock formations.
Whether or not your children are still young enough to have a beloved little red wagon of their own, they'll delight in Spokane’s enormous Red Wagon sculpture. It's a whopping 12 feet high, 26-ton sculpture made of steel and concrete. The Red Wagon, located in Riverfront Park, was created in 1990 by local artist Ken Spiering and is dedicated to Spokane's children. As befitting a work of art dedicated to kids, it is user friendly—stairs let you climb up, and the handle of the wagon doubles as a slide down.
Who says art has to be indoors and cost money? In Spokane, it's outside near a big river and it's free. Spokane's Sculpture Walk starts on Washington State University's downtown campus, winds its way along the riverbank and finishes up on the southeast corner of the Monroe Street Bridge. You'll find a total of 21 outdoor sculptures, many of which will attract the children's attention, like Light Reading, oversized stone furniture you can actually sit in created by Peter Reiquam. Another fun work is the Rotary Riverfront Fountain, by Harold Balazs and Bob Perron, a huge abstract structure that doubles as an enormous sprinkler for kids.
Remember, Spokane is in the same state as rainy Seattle, but it's farther east and gets about 260 days of summer sunshine every year. That translates into great growing seasons and lots of local produce. Spokane farmers markets are not just for buying veggies though, they are true summer events with live music, arts and crafts and food booths. Artisan goods and delicious locally grown food guarantee a good time. In spring, summer and fall you'll have a lot to choose from in and near the city, including the Emerson-Garfield farmers market in downtown Spokane.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.