Your trip down the meandering river takes you through a rare freshwater marsh environment, where you could see beaver, muskrat, coyotes, waterfowl and a great blue heron rookery. I remember a warm fall day on the river, rounding a bend to find a liver-coated cow moose with her toddler calf browsing for food among the brush at water's edge.
Be forewarned, though. If you're thinking of exploring your inner Thompson, first make sure you know the basics of maneuvering a craft around the river's sharp turns and brushy banks. The 19th-century explorer knew what he was doing. And watch out for the small rapids just under the takeout bridge; lose control and you could lose your canoe -- not to mention those beaver pelts. -- Susan Hamilton
Best Place to Plummet to Your Death Unimpeded By Your Government & r & It's a little shocking, after navigating the smooth grandiosity (read: extreme flatness) of the Scablands, to arrive at such a massive hole. Out of nowhere, carved by millions of years of erosion, plummet the Palouse Falls, big as anything and unbelievably cylindrical, as though carved in a perfect circle by a 200-foot cookie cutter. It's beautiful, the kind of thing that made humanity want to draw on cave walls. Or rather, it gets beautiful, once you shirk off the government's efforts to cage you like an animal. If you keep to the paths with the motor coach set like The Man wants, you'll have to look at the region's most stunning natural formation through six feet of rusted-ass chain-link. Fences may be good for keeping idiots safe and for keeping the U.S. government lawsuit-free, but they kill the view.
So -- and this is easier than it sounds -- take a quick detour near the north end of the kennel area, scamper up a bluff and around that fence, and you'll have unmolested access to the whole thing. Stand too close to the edge if you want. It's OK. We did it and we're still here. The difference between fenced and fenceless is shocking, liberating. It would be nice to have that kind of view from everywhere, but the contrast serves a purpose for intelligent, cautious people. It's like Mother Nature's own argument for tort reform. -- Luke Baumgarten
Best Place to Pretend You're a Riverboat Captain & r & South of the bridge at Nine Mile, along about milepost 36, there's a shady stretch of the Centennial Trail that curves along the western bank of the Spokane River ... just where, on humid summer nights, the Delta Queen paddlewheel floats lazily past the clustered kudzu while riverboat gamblers cuddle show girls, laughing as they stack their chips ... Wait. Wrong river, wrong paddlewheel. We're riding bikes here, not floating through some bayou. But gazing across that broad crescent of the river, people can still enjoy their Walter Mitty dreams. Our bodies may be pedaling, but in our minds, we're wearing ice cream suits, consulting our pocket watches, smoking our stogies. Mark Twain's waving from the deck. (MB)
Best Unintentional Flesh Market & r & Skin shows take on a new meaning at Vertical Earth, the downtown Coeur d'Alene bike shop and cyclist hangout that's become Triathlete Central since Ironman rolled into town four years ago. Pretend to study the store's wetsuits, racing bikes and Lycra shorts while you feast on the parade of fit, tanned and sculpted bodies that march through the door. Athletes of every age, income and ability gather at Vertical Earth for gear, energy drinks, advice and company. They share best rides, disasters, new routes, gear finds, events to avoid and those not to miss. Mountain bikers mix with roadies, Ironmen and Iron Maidens. The energy in the shop is as addicting as the view. (CT)
Best Place to Escape the Rat Race & r & Cross-country skiing may not be as popular in the Inland Northwest as it is in Europe. But that's fine by us. After all, the whole point of this sport is to get away and experience the outdoors in all its pristine beauty and silence. No construction, no coworkers, no traffic. Our favorite getaway is Farragut State Park, northeast of Coeur d'Alene. Farragut's seven and a half miles of groomed ski trails provide outstanding views of the park and the mountains surrounding Lake Pend Oreille. Gliding along the trails, through forests of pine, fir and larch, you may spot deer, hawks or mountain goats. What you won't see, with any luck, is a single North American Cubicle Rat. (SH)
Best Way to Get to the Other Side & r & Hey, chickens, the question isn't why but how. It's a question of process, not result -- ends, not means. And if you're bike geeks like us, you know the joy of the long way. For example, to get from Browne's Addition to downtown, forget the Maple Street bridge overpass. Go west on Riverside down to Peaceful Valley, cross the river over the Sandifur pedestrian bridge, hook up with the Centennial Trail, and cross back over the Monroe Street Bridge. Doesn't that feel better? For a longer loop, take the trail all the way to Liberty Lake, where a new pedestrian overpass gets you over I-90. Peace out. (JM)
Best Way to Meet Outdoorsy Girls & r & We remember a time when "extracurricular activities" meant either ping-pong, the math team or necking up on Tubbs Hill. These days, it's a different story. Take NIC's Outdoor Pursuits program. The little college on the lake takes students on overnight kayaking and canoe trips, on weekend-long surf excursions to the Oregon coast. They've snowshoed by moonlight, scaled rocks in the Utah desert and put on gorilla costumes to trick-or-treat by bike. Back on campus, they put on slide shows from mountaineers and adventurers, teach wilderness first response courses, host an online gear swap page, rent out their own gear and maintain a pretty sizeable resource library for planning the next epic outing. All of which makes the math team seem even more uncool than it used to be. (Visit www.nic.edu/activities/pursuits for more.) (JPS)
Best Commingling of Nature and Industry & r & In the spring, at Holmberg Park on North Wall Street, kids climb on jungle gyms, dogs scamper after Frisbees, softball teams play catch. But few venture up into the Holmberg Conservation Area (on the east-facing slopes below Five Mile Prairie), where pine forest trails turn abruptly steep. Hike up through timberland, find the right twisty trail, and suddenly you'll emerge onto a rocky ledge and into the clear, with most of northeast Spokane -- and a hulking steel water reservoir -- arrayed beneath you. If it's not quite a Leo-DiCaprio-in-Titanic moment, you can still stick out your chest and shout, "I'm on top of ... this water tower thing!" (MB)
Best Reason Bigger Isn't Alwasy Better & r & Size matters, especially in fishing. But a bigger lake in a bigger boat doesn't always mean bigger fish. Hayden Lake, Coeur d'Alene's diminutive cousin, boasts record pike (38 pounds) and trout (19 pounds); it abounds with bass (which even we can catch) and crappie -- perfect prey for smaller boats. A bigger motor will get you to choice back bays, like Mokins, but it's Hayden's relative quiet that makes it a local favorite. Tight Fish and Game regulations and two put-in points (Honeysuckle and Sportsmen's Access) make Hayden as good for fishing as it is for sailing, canoeing and nature-watching. It's so quiet, you'll surprise blue herons, turtles and moose along the 40 miles of shoreline. And it's even better in the off-season. (CS)
Best Place to Compse Spokane's Official City Song & r & The classic civic-booster view of Spokane: The foreground overflowing with pine trees, a hawk popping out of some upper branches and hovering lazily against the wind, railroad trestles snaking through the forest. Looking east from Rimrock Drive in Palisades Park, right down the river gorge, with the Maple Street Bridge seeming to cradle the Monroe Street Bridge beyond it. Downtown landmarks are strewn across the valley like dollhouse furniture. The whole late-afternoon scene calls for beer and mates, wine and lovers. Even with a cold wind fluttering the roadside scrub brush and Alaska flights screeching directly overhead, Rimrock still offers a gorgeous view. (MB)
Best Reason to Start Getting in Shape Now & r & Just as watching the summer Olympics inspires us to get out and run, watching the Tour de France on TV brings out our inner cyclists. This year's tour begins July 1, and we suspect that despite Lance Armstrong's absence, it's gonna get more than one Inland Northwest cyclist pumped up. So start those squats now -- you've got plenty to do this summer. On April 29, you'll be pedaling through the Yakima Valley. On June 17 you'll do the Cannonball ride between Seattle and Spokane. Then you've got the Seattle-to-Portland ride, the Midsummer Nightmare and the Autumn Classic (both put on by the Spokane Bicycle Club) and finally Cycle Oregon. This year's ride (Sept. 9-16) starts and ends at Lake Wallula, near the Tri-Cities. Better start hydrating. (JPS)