Closing the Loop Back to Spokane
Interstate 90 follows the Spokane River west out of Coeur d’Alene. Just east of the state border, you will enter Post Falls, part of the Coeur d’Alene/Spokane metropolitan area. Built up around a mill constructed beside the falls by Frederick Post in the 1870s, Post Falls is now an important retail and distribution center.
The original “contract” carved in stone between Post and Chief Seltice in 1871, which granted permission for the mill from the local tribe, is preserved at the Treaty Rock Historic Site. A dam built at the falls in 1904 raised the level of the Spokane River — and Lake Coeur d’Alene —enabling year-round navigation on the upstream waterway and lake.
Falls Park provides views of Post Falls and the basalt-lined gorge downstream from its trails, while Q’emiln Riverside Park (pronounced ka-MEE-lin) covers 90 acres of steep, rocky ravines bordering the south side of the river. Its five miles of trails lead to numerous historic sites, including an Indian village, mining and lumber camps, and pioneer homesteads.
Stateline Stadium Speedway, north of I-90 west of town, features stock-car racing from April through September. The River Queen offers 90-minute sightseeing boat trips in summer, which depart from the marina at Templin’s Resort in downtown Port Falls. Boat rentals also are available.
Just west of Post Falls you will re-enter Washington and come upon Liberty Lake at exit 296 off I-90. This fast-growing bedroom community nestled on the north shore of its namesake body of water has three golf courses: Liberty Lake, MeadowWood and Trailhead.
The lake is bordered by wooded mountains on three sides and is popular with fishing enthusiasts. The lake’s fishing season extends from March through October. Brown trout is a popular catch after ice melts off the lake in early spring. Once the water warms, largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch and other warm-water species dominate the fishery.
Liberty Lake Regional Park covers 3,591 acres at the south end of the lake and features wetlands, lake shore, montane forest and irrigated lawn areas. An RV park and campground provide access to a swimming beach and the miles of backcountry trails in the park, including the popular 8.3-mile Liberty Lake Loop Trail.
Interstate 90 is the fast route west to Spokane, but the former route of US-10 offers a slower and somewhat more historic itinerary. Just south of exit 296, turn west on East Country Vista Drive. After 1.5 miles this becomes East Appleway (former US-10). After a further 1.6 miles it merges with and becomes Sprague Avenue, which you can follow through Spokane Valley into Spokane proper, a distance of 15 miles. Although this is a multi-lane highway, there are numerous traffic signals throughout.
Both I-90 and Sprague run through Spokane Valley, a city formed in 2003 by the incorporation of suburban communities east of Spokane. It is a retail destination with dozens of strip malls, big box stores and Valley Mall, a destination shopping center. The old central business district on Sprague Avenue recalls the historic community of Opportunity.
Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, located in the 1912 Opportunity Township Hall on Sprague Avenue, houses changing exhibits of area history. Splash Down Family Waterpark offers relief on hot summer days from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Other attractions in the area include wineries, the Centennial Trail and float trips on the Spokane River.
Heading south from Spokane Valley on Sargent Road from Sprague leads to Dishman Hills Conservancy, a recreation and conservation area shaped by ice age floods. The topography here is a mix of granite outcrops dotted with ravines and ponds. The natural vegetation is open Ponderosa pine woodland, and wildflowers are profuse in late spring. Several dozen miles of trails loop through the site, which is a haven for wildlife at the edge of the urban area.
Just west of Dishman Hills, Sprague Avenue crosses I-90 as the highway jogs south. A few blocks farther along either route you pass Havana Street, marking your return to Spokane and the end of your Idaho Panhandle auto tour.
–Written by John King. Updated by Will McDermott in September 2020
–Top photo of Post Falls courtesy of Post Falls, Idaho.