Whether you're skimming over a calm, glassy lake or thrashing through whitewater, the Inland Northwest offers all kinds of ways to get your paddle on. Stan Mrzygod, interim president of the 43-year-old Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club, says paddle sports open up new ways of experiencing and exploring the outdoors.
Kayaks and canoes can carry you to entirely new worlds of open water, beach or riverbank not accessible by any road or hiking trail. Mrzygod, who joined the club in 1979, says he and his wife have enjoyed cruising hidden waterways, observing elusive wildlife and making new friends through the local paddling community.
When asked about where to hit the water, Mrzygod struggles to narrow it down.
"There's lots of places," he says.
Mrzygod says he considers Upper Priest Lake a favorite for canoe camping along pristine, hard-to-reach wilderness.
"There's fantastic white-sand beach," he says. "The scenery is just fantastic."
Mrzygod says he had an "emergency situation" in the same area back in 1979, and that convinced him to join the club and brush up on his safety awareness.
Safety and technique now make up a large part of the club's mission. Experienced paddlers lead several canoe and kayaking clinics throughout the summer covering beginning whitewater kayak (June 21 and 22), moving-water canoe technique (June 28 and 29) and sea kayaking (July 19 and 20). Classes cost $55.
Mrzygod recommends that beginning paddlers take some preliminary safety courses before attempting moving water. He says the Little Spokane River, another of his favorite local spots, can be challenging when water runs high and fast.
"I've gone swimming there," he says, "inadvertently."
The Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club hosts summer group paddles on Wednesday and Thursday nights, as well as a few longer weekend trips to regional destinations like the Clark Fork or wineries along the Columbia River. Anyone looking to take up paddling can contact the club for information on beginner group outings and equipment rentals. More information can be found at sckc.ws.
GYRO DAYS AND LEAD CREEK DERBY
It's kind of like those free-floating rubber ducky races, except with an oversized beach ball tumbling 8 miles downstream from the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan to downtown Wallace. Participants purchase raffle tickets in hopes of matching the final travel time, which can take about three to five hours — all while dozens of onlookers follow the large, multicolored ball along the riverbank. It's a bizarre but much beloved annual tradition. This year marks the 73rd running with a three-day carnival in downtown Wallace. The ball hits the water at noon on June 21.
SPLASH IT UP
Almost nothing makes me more envious of kids today than the growing popularity of public spray parks and splash pads. Spokane now has 17 of these splash pads across the city, from Manito to Chief Garry Park, with interactive sprinklers, spray cannons and other ridiculously fun-looking accessories. And they're all completely free. The Discovery Playground at Mirabeau Point Park in Spokane Valley has jumping water jets and other spray equipment. The newly opened McEuen Park in Coeur d'Alene also has a 12,000-square-foot spray park with eight water features. Kids never had it so good. For more information on the locations and operations of Spokane splash pads, check out beta.spokanecity.org/recreation/aquatics/splashpads.
Enjoying the water doesn't always require getting wet. Most times it's nice to just find a spot by the Spokane River and enjoy the view. Take advantage of the nice weather for a picnic at one of the many locations along the Centennial Trail that offer scenic access to the river. Here are a few highlights: Riverside State Park northwest of town with its iconic Bowl and Pitcher recreation area, the newly renovated Huntington Park by City Hall with its up-close view of the raging Spokane Falls, and Mirabeau Falls at Mirabeau Point Park in Spokane Valley. The trail also runs out to Lake Coeur d'Alene.
COLFAX'S CONCRETE RIVER
The Palouse River might look a little depressing as it creeps along the ugly, concrete drainage system running through the heart of rural Colfax, but that doesn't mean local residents don't take pride in its presence. Each July the small town honors its waters with the Concrete River Festival, a weekend gathering of live music, classic cars, carnival rides and a community parade. The festival celebrates its notorious speed traps with honorary "tickets" for impressive vehicles in the Colfax Cruise Night along Mill Street. A craft fair, 3-mile "color run," and concert also is scheduled for July 19.
Spokane is within just a few driving hours of arguably the finest fly-fishing water in the world. With blue-ribbon cutthroat and rainbow trout running through the mountain rivers of North Idaho, Inland Northwest anglers have easy access to a fishing paradise.
Bo Brand, a fishing guide with Silver Bow Fly Shop in Spokane Valley, says he grew up fishing the cold, clear streams of Idaho. He considers himself lucky to have such outstanding water so close to home.
"We're in the best place in the world to fly-fish," he says. "Everything's within three hours."
In one hour, Brand can be casting on the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River. In about two and a half hours, he can be riverside on the St. Joe River. A little farther and he can hit the North Fork of the Clearwater River. Many sections of those rivers have catch-and-release rules to protect healthy fish populations.
Using a network of fishing guides and dedicated customers, Silver Bow posts weekly fishing reports on regional rivers and lakes, with fly recommendations and weather forecasts. Brand notes that the Spokane River also provides plenty of rewarding fishing.
For beginner anglers, Silver Bow offers a variety of classes throughout the summer covering equipment, casting, fly presentation and fly tying. The shop also provides guided trips along the Spokane, St. Joe and Coeur d'Alene rivers. Schedules and rates are available at silverbowflyshop.com.
"We're fishing constantly," he says. ♦