Adventures Await Right Outside of Town
Spokane is a beautiful city, full of incredible spots to spend a few hours or all day, but sometimes it is refreshing to hit the road and see someplace different. Fortunately, there are experiences and destinations all around the Inland Empire and north Idaho that allow for this desired change of pace.
Within a few hours, one can be hiking to a remote lake on the Idaho Panhandle, biking through abandoned train tunnels, sipping wine near the bank of the Columbia River, or just meandering down the Palouse toward Walla Walla. No matter which direction you go, all roads from Spokane lead to adventure.
Located 144 miles from Riverfront Park, the Kootenai Falls Suspension Bridge is a classic stop after driving through north Idaho. The bridge itself is located 20 miles into Montana, but the extra miles are worth the drive. Visitors to Kootenai Falls can hike the 1.6 miles of family-friendly trails in the area and take in the views of tumbling waters from the swinging bridge spanning the river. The largest waterfall here is 30 feet high, while the river drops 90 feet in elevation in less than a mile.
Hikers seeking something more rugged should hit the trails in Colville National Forest near Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Roman Nose Lakes is a favorite destination in the area, just 110 miles from downtown Spokane. The 4-mile round–trip trail to three lakes is rated as easy, giving sweeping views of the lakes and Roman Nose Peak. The latter can be scrambled up by experienced hikers.
A nearby alternative to Roman Nose is the 4.6-mile round–trip trail to Harrison Lake, also offering a chance to summit a peak.
Closer to Spokane, 75 miles away near Sandpoint, Idaho, the Mickinnick Trail is a classic, 7-mile round–trip hike up a hill to incredible views of Lake Pend Oreille. If these destinations are too far away or not your style, consider heading to Palouse Falls, 100 miles or so southwest of Spokane, or Lake Roosevelt, about 95 miles to the northeast.
Culture and History
One of the best places to learn about the region’s rich Indigenous history is the Museum of Anthropology at Washington State University.
Until then, consider heading to Walla Walla, 155 miles south, to visit the Whitman Mission National Historic Site and the Fort Walla Walla Museum. At the Whitman Mission National Historic Site, you’ll learn about the missionaries, as well as the relationship with the Indigenous population of the region. To the east, visitors to Fort Walla Walla will be transported back in time to the 1800s, through living history programs and exhibits.
A trip 80 miles east of Spokane to Wallace, Idaho, allows you to take a deep dive into the Silver Valley’s mining history at the Wallace District Mining Museum. Learn about the history of this small town by exploring more than 50 exhibits and 5,000 photos. When in town, also swing by the North Pacific Depot Museum and the Barnard-Stockbridge Museum. If you would rather stick closer to Spokane, head over to Coeur d’Alene and visit the Museum of North Idaho, or stay in Spokane and take in the exhibits at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.
The east side of Washington is known for winemakers and a destination for wine lovers. This is true in and around the Tri-Cities. Nearly 145 miles southwest of Spokane, you’ll find dozens of places with tasting rooms and spots to pick up a bottle.
J. Bookwalter Winery in Richland is a favorite, offering fine foods, a huge selection of wines and entertainment. In Richland, Barnard Griffin Winery offers indoor and outdoor tasting rooms, letting you sip in whichever setting you prefer. Those seeking a little more laid–back winery experience, take a trip to Badger Mountain Organic Winery.
In Walla Walla, 154 miles south of Spokane, your winery options continue. A favorite for many is Seven Hills Winery. Located in a historic building that was once a wood mill, Seven Hills Winery offers a tasting room and a fantastic selection of wines made from growers around the region. Once in town, Dunham Cellars is a relaxed spot to sip on wines, visit with new and old friends and pick up a bottle or two for your home. Cayuse Vineyards is also a great spot to stop.
If you’d rather stay in or closer to town, go to Spokane’s Cork District to experience 16 different destinations, or head over to Coeur d’Alene to Castaway Cellars wine bar and tasting room.
Please designate a driver.
Along the Idaho-Montana border, 93 miles from Riverfront Park, biking the Hiawatha Trail is one of the most fun adventures to have with active kids. Open from late May to mid-September, the 15–mile hiking and biking path that passes through 10 train tunnels and over seven towering trestles. Lookout Pass rents bikes and offers a shuffle service, letting you ride the whole route without having to double the mileage to return.
For a less strenuous activity with the kids, head 69 miles east to Kellogg, Idaho, and spend the day at the Silver Mountain Resort, home to Idaho’s largest indoor waterpark. Open year–round and offering numerous water activities, this is sure to be a hit with kids of all ages. If you’d rather be outside, drive up to Silverwood Theme Park, north of Coeur d’Alene, for rollercoasters and an outdoor waterpark.
In Washington, 87 miles west of Spokane you’ll reach the Grand Coulee Dam. This is a fun place to take the kids, highlighted by the laser show on the dam walls on summer evenings. Touring the dam and visitor center makes for a great way to pass the time until the laser show starts.
Towns to Explore
Although one could spend quite a while exploring all there is to do in Spokane, sometimes it is fun to get out and explore the smaller towns around the region. Wallace, Idaho, is full of history and old buildings, and is the self-proclaimed Center of the Universe. You’ll have an opportunity to go on mining tours, wander in quirky shops, visit museums and grab a bite and drink at one of the many restaurants in town. For a bonus, check out the other small mining towns along the route.
A 75-mile drive south of Spokane will take you to Pullman, with Moscow, Idaho, just 8 miles across the state line. Both college towns are vibrant, offering plenty of bars and restaurants to eat and drink at before enjoying the walking paths, cool artwork and unique college campuses. A visit during the summer months will be a bit more reserved, as students are not on campus. Both college arboretums are gorgeous and should not be missed, especially in the spring and fall months. In Moscow, another great but lesser–known stop is the Appaloosa Museum and Heritage Center.
Washington’s Sherman Pass Scenic Byway is roughly 35 miles in length and connects the towns of Kettle Falls and Republic. Despite being short in distance, this road packs a lot in the limited miles. Located 80 miles to the north, the highway (Washington’s highest maintained pass) has many highlights, natural and manmade.
Along the road, you’ll have an opportunity to take in views at the White Mountain/Sherman Overlook, as well as check out the region’s logging history at the Log Flume Heritage Site. In the fall, look for golden western larches on the hillsides. Don’t forget to check out Crystal Falls and the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge east of Colville for more roadside wonders.
If you’d rather head east from Spokane, you can’t go wrong with a long drive on the Lake Coeur d’Alene Scenic Byway. Forty-one miles from Riverfront Park, the scenic road begins at the Interstate 90/Idaho 97 interchange. This drive, 35 miles in length, grants access to one of the region’s most stunning landscapes along the winding, two–lane road. You’ll find spots to get in the water and places to get out and stretch your legs, and you’re likely to encounter wildlife.
In December and January, this is an amazing place to see bald eagles, while the summer months will give you a chance to see osprey fishing in the waters. You may even see a moose, some elk, or even a bear.
You easily can add a lesser–known gem by driving the St. Joe Scenic Byway from St. Maries, Idaho. In the summer, this road can be driven all the way to St. Regis, Montana. Full of fishing holes, river views and outdoor recreation activities, this additional route is a local classic.
–Written by Douglas Scott, last updated in September 2022
–Top photo of Whitman National Historic Site. Courtesy of wallawalla.org.