Spokane, Washington’s Downtown Parks


There really are two, completely separate, Washington States.  There’s the I-5 corridor, where Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia all meld together to form one big metropolis.  Then you head east, across the Cascades, and you’re in an entirely different place.  The closest thing to a metropolis in the “other” 3/4 of Washington State is Spokane, and Spokane does a great job at fulfilling the role of big city.

With just a short time to visit (it was starting to get dark) I wanted to spend the day’s fleeting moments exploring Spokane’s picturesque downtown. I knew they had a clock tower, and a giant wagon for the kids, but that’s about all I knew, so I found a parking spot and started exploring.

Spokane’s downtown revolves around the Spokane River, which flows right through the center.  The city draws electricity from the river, which means there are dams and generator plants right in the middle of things.  You’d probably expect that to result in some ugly scenery.  You’d be wrong.

Above is the aforementioned clock tower, which serves as a centerpiece of the city.  Any internet search for tourist information on Spokane will certainly lead you to a picture of the tower.

The clock tower sits on a peninsula that sticks out into the middle of the river.  There’s another island on the other side, and the whole area combines nicely to create Riverfront Park.

Ah yes, there’s the giant Radio Flyer wagon, complete with a ladder in the rear and a slide (instead of a handle) on the front–the city calls it an “interactive sculpture”.  It’s neat to look at, but there were too many kids around to allow me to ride the slide, without feeling like a very strange old man.

Here’s another view of the clock tower, and one of the bridges that crosses over onto the peninsula.  This part of the river is high, because this is the side that’s dammed up.

The clock tower is part of Spokane’s old Great Northern Railroad station, and has been standing since 1902.  It’s basically a giant, four-sided grandfather clock, which must be wound every eight days.

You’ll want to pose for pictures alongside this public work of art, titled “The Joy of Running Together”.  Although in this case, the available light made for a terrible picture, you can kinda make out the line of metal figures, running along Spokane’s streets.

Other attractions in Riverfront Park include an Imax Theatre, Looff Carousel, and several carnival-style rides.  Check out Riverfront Park’s website here.

OK, now to the river itself.  To enjoy the best view of the river, as it tumbles down the falls in the middle of town, you need to find a pair of pedestrian foot bridges.  Look for two things: the Washington Water Power Company’s Upper Falls power plant, and the YMCA.  both of these are located at the point where the peninsula connects with the mainland (off N. Post St.).  You’ll think you’re walking into the Y’s parking lot, but no, you’re actually headed to the suspension bridge.  Too bad this isn’t better marked–it would have saved me a lot of trial-and-error time.

At any rate, once you finally find the pedestrian bridges, you can cross over to Canada Island, then on over to the north side of town.  Both bridges cross over the rocky canyon where waterwould be, if there was no dam forcing the water through the power plant.

The Upper Falls Power Plant can generate 10.2 megawatts of electricity, enough to light 6,300 homes.  Another power plant just a few blocks away generates even more.  All that juice is carried away from the power plants by high-voltage underground wires, so there are no high-tension lines ruining Spokane’s skyline.

For a closer view of the falls, take a ride on Riverfront Park’s gondola skyride.  For $6, you travel down into the canyon and back.

After leaving the park, I drove around the city for a while longer, and somehow found myself stuck on the opposite side of the Spokane River.  It’s difficult, I discovered, to find your way to the bridge you want, because many side streets cross over the road that leads to the bridge, instead of connecting with it.  After wandering around aimlessly, I ended up on a dirt road that runs along the bluff above the river’s canyon.  The view wasn’t spectacular, but good enough to count as my final picture of the day.

Although I ended up in the wrong place, and then gave up, what I was trying to find was a good place to view the Monroe Street Bridge, a beautiful old bridge with three concrete arches, that crosses the Spokane River just below the falls. 

After trying to find a hotel room in Spokane, and discovering that everything downtown would cost at least $100, I decided to drive on into Idaho, and find a room in Post Falls.

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.  Much of the same area was covered in the Big Sky trip in 2014.

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