As a kid, any trip to an ocean beach, riverside or lakefront felt exotic after spending day after day in the heavily chlorinated, crowded public swimming pool scene.
The trips into nature's waterways felt a little more dangerous — which is true; not a lot of lifeguards to be found in the great outdoors — but the texture of the sand underneath my feet, the occasional surprise of a frosty current and the opportunity to interact with some wildlife was thrilling as a preteen. Except for water moccasins: Those were just scary.
As an adult, the draw of swimming away from the caterwauling crowds of other people's children is even greater, and the Inland Northwest has a lot of options. Some are more crowded than others, but all have something to offer that you can't get at the neighborhood public pool.
Priest Lake natural water slides: Priest Lake is a North Idaho gem, and taking a dip in the lake would do you just fine for a hot day. But if you crave a little more adventure, make your way toward the Lionhead Campground. That's where you'll find some awesome natural swimming holes, and if you roll up a long gravel road, then ditch your car and hike an easy 1.5-mile trail, you'll come upon some natural granite "water slides" that offer hours of fun. All you need is a trash bag to slide on, to protect your butt and boost your speed, and the willingness to get away from the lake a bit.
Medical Lake: This spot west of Spokane is no secret, but it's a sweet deal, given that hanging at the beach is free, it's really close to town, and wildlife ranging from bald eagles to moose are known to make an appearance. For the daring in your group, hit the Medical Lake Rocks for a little cliff jumping.
Corbin Park in Post Falls: A dip in the Spokane River isn't necessarily for the faint-hearted. When you go to Corbin Park, you expect a cold, exhilarating swim, but it's one well worth making to experience the beautiful setting and near-solitude so close to home.
Boulder Beach Park: This spot is noteworthy for being almost hidden in plain sight along Upriver Drive in Spokane Valley. You'll find one of the more tranquil spots along the Spokane River at Boulder Beach, and a nice spot for relaxing waterside if you don't want to swim. It's right across from Camp Sekani and alongside the Centennial Trail, yet remains a mellow spot for a swim.
Little Spokane River: Head north from downtown Spokane and find your way to Pine River Park, just north of Wandermere Golf Course. The park has all the amenities you'd expect, and this spot is no secret — there's even a Facebook page — but it's a beautiful place and good for taking little ones along.
Douglas Falls Campground: This takes a little effort and a drive to the Colville area, but in addition to the campground, there's a day-use area that offers a swimming-friendly creek fairly close to the Douglas Falls.
Bear Lake: An easy 15-mile drive north of Spokane along Highway 2, you'll find Bear Lake Regional Park, featuring a spring-fed lake surrounded by marshlands and forest. Even with folks from nearby towns like Elk and Colbert on the scene, you'll find plenty of room for some quality splash time.
Honeysuckle Beach: Yes, this is a public, well-known beach in Hayden, Idaho, but it will still feel intimate to city dwellers, even with lifeguards on duty from noon to 6 pm from mid-June through August. While nearby you'll find a volleyball court, picnic areas and people dropping boats into Hayden Lake for a little fishing, you can get a decent swim in while everyone in the family pursues their beach-style bliss. ♦
STAYING SAFE IN THE WATER
• Check river and stream conditions before swimming in moving water, and be conscious of any currents
• Wear a life jacket if you're in moving water or water too deep to touch your feet
• Keep a close eye on the kids, as currents and dramatic drop-offs in lakes can quickly get them into trouble
• Avoid slippery logs and rocks
• Choose your swimming spots carefully, and be aware of unseen dangers at all times
(Tips from recreation.gov)
Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the location of Douglas Falls.