Riverside State Park

Wilderness oasis near Spokane.

Jenny Willden Jan 1, 2017

Venture just six miles from the Eastern Washington metropolis of Spokane, and you’ll find the city’s backyard: A 14,000-acre outdoor retreat called Riverside State Park. The recreationist’s paradise along the Spokane River is popular for hiking, biking, rock climbing, fishing, swimming, horseback riding and ATV adventuring. In winter, visitors flock to cross-country ski and snowshoe the diverse trails.

A Storied Past

Today’s Riverside State Park was once a gathering place for Native American tribes in prehistoric times, and later, their winter trading grounds. The park’s Indian Painted Rocks area features preserved rock art from these early tribes. In the early 1800s, traders began meeting there to exchange their wares at the Spokane House, a historic fur trading post located near where the Spokane House Interpretive Center now stands.

In the early 1900s, Spokane residents began a quest to save the area from further development. The Civilian Conservation Corps took control of operation and turned it into a state park in the 1930s, building walking trails and picnic sites still in use today.

Bowl and Pitcher Area

The natural geological wonder called Bowl and Pitcher is the park’s most popular attraction. It’s named for the famous basalt rock outcroppings shaped like a pitcher in the blue-green river and a cave resembling a bowl tipped on its side. Visitors come to walk the pedestrian suspension bridge for spectacular views of the rock formations, and to connect to a 1.75-mile hiking loop and mountain biking trails on the river’s other side. More basalt, river rapids and a preserved Civilian Conservation Corps Camp can also be seen on the trail.

Cyclists can ride from Spokane to Bowl and Pitcher on the Centennial Trail, which runs 40 miles along the Spokane River beginning in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Currently, cyclists must briefly connect on the road to travel from downtown Spokane to the state park, but Spokane Mayor David Condon says trail connections are in the works that will keep the path along the river for traffic-free riding.

Open to pedestrians, cyclists and other nonmotorized vehicles, this paved pathway is the best way to see Riverside State Park’s wonders, Spokane city sites, eclectic art displays and the town’s iconic waterfalls.

But Condon says the trail is not the only adventurous option for reaching the park from Spokane: “It’s a two-hour float from town to the state park on the Spokane River.”

Whether driving, biking or floating to Riverside State Park, bring a Washington Discover Pass for free access or pay the $11.50 day-use fee.

Overnight Options

One day isn’t enough time to explore the entire park, so pitch a tent at one of the four campgrounds catering to every kind of camper. The Bowl and Pitcher Campground is near the river and open year-round for tent or RV camping. Nine Mile Recreation Area has tent and RV sites open May 15-Oct. 15 along with bathrooms, picnic area, dock, and beach with kayak and canoe rentals. Long Lake Campground is a scenic site set on a bluff overlooking Lake Spokane. Horse owners love the Equestrian Area, a unique campground with horse corrals, trailer-sized parking stalls, riding arena and miles of horse-friendly trails.

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