At an elevation exceeding 4000 feet, Mount Spokane offers prime conditions for cross-country skiing. Groomed trails exceed 30 miles and include two warming huts. Grooming is typically exceptional and accommodates classic (track) as well as skate skiing. Plus, a patrol is on duty, just in case. In short, Mount Spokane offers some of the best cross-country skiing in the Inland Northwest.
Cougar Bay is a conservation effort, with the Nature Conservancy and the BLM contributing two almost-adjacent parcels of land. The area is particularly well-known for a large variety of waterfowl, nesting ospreys, beaver, and otters. The trail winds 3+ miles along a wetland and through forest to a lookout platform with views of Coeur d’Alene, the lake, and the Spokane river.
The Eagle Hut Loop is part of Fourth of July Pass’s winter recreation area. The 8.5-mile loop leads along both groomed and ungroomed trails and culminates at a back-country warming hut. The A-frame, built by Ian Truscott in 2007 as an Eagle Scout project, comes complete with benches and a small wood-fired stove.
Glenrose Cliff is a new addition to the Dishman Hills area in Spokane, situated in between the Dishman Hills and Iller Creek conservation areas. The trail reaches a highpoint early on, then crosses an open ridge and drops lower and curls around the mountain to end near granite rock formations with commanding views of the Spokane valley.
Jeanette’ Jaunt is an excellent showshoe trail for beginners, following an old logging road along the side of a mountain paralleling I-90. For most of the trail the incline is negligible, signage is superb, trail maintenance is much improved, and heavy usage turns much of the trail into easily-traversed packed snow.
At just over 3000 feet altitude, snow-sufficiency can be hit or miss at the Fourth of July Recreation area. When there’s enough, this is a convenient and popular cross-country skiing and snowshoeing area, located just minutes from I-90. The trail system south of the freeway is entirely reserved for non-motorized recreation, and some of the trails are groomed for tracked cross-country skiing.
Lake Darling is one of five lakes situated in this northwest corner of the Cabinet Mountains. A pleasant trail leads through an evergreen forest of fir and spruce to the lake, which comes with a pretty campsite and a good chance of seeing a moose. The ascent to the Pend Oreille Divide opens up views of the Selkirks, Cabinets and Purcells, while the return trip through alpine meadows high above Gordon Creek rounds out the loop.
East Canfield Butte is West Canfield’s less famous and less tall twin. Access is from the Fernan trailhead, which is certainly less used and a bit more tranquil, especially during the winter months, when dirtbikes are absent. It is fairly densely forested, though, with limited views. If the weather cooperates a short sidetrip to West Canfield is almost a necessity.
Iller Creek is one of the most interesting loop hikes close to Spokane, leading to spectacular outlooks across the Spokane valley and the Selkirks to the north and only a short distance later the sprawling Palouse to the south. The trail continues to the Rocks of Sharon (Big Rock) area, featuring oversized boulders popular with rock climbers. On the return trip there’s the option to turn it into a figure-eight loop and ascend the flank of Tower Mountain.
The Saltese Uplands are a grossy knob situated in the southernmost reaches of the Selkirks. Located between Spokane and Liberty Lake, the conservation area offers generous views of urban sprawl and the remnants of the Saltese Flats, a marshland drained in favor of Timothy hay in the late 1800s.