Spokane’s population of 195,000 makes it the largest city between Seattle and Minneapolis and the second-largest city in Washington. Though Spokane is less than half as large as Seattle, and has less urban sprawl, the two cities have had much in common from their earliest days: Both were leveled by great fires, after which both towns were rebuilt in brick; both cities attribute some of their early growth to outfitting gold and silver miners; both have impressive park systems designed by the same firm; and both cities hosted a world’s fair. The legacy of that fair remains Spokane’s centerpiece: the 100-acre Riverfront Park.
Known as the “Lilac City” for its bountiful springtime blooms, Spokane has the friendly, comfortable atmosphere of a small city in the Midwest. As it’s located just 18 miles from the Idaho border, its tall downtown buildings and spreading suburbs seem an odd apparition among the undeveloped landscape of eastern Washington.
The surrounding landscape is a mixture of rich agricultural lands, especially in the Palouse to the south, and piney hills as you head north toward the Selkirk Mountains. Slicing through it all is the Spokane River, or at least the dammed version; seven hydroelectric dams hold back the river waters between its origin in Coeur d’Alene Lake, Idaho, and its junction with the Columbia River near old Fort Spokane.
Spokane is the driest city east of the Cascades; it gets less than 17 inches of rain a year. Summers days frequently reach into the 80s, and winters are fairly mild, though it does snow.
Getting to Spokane
Spokane International Airport (www.spokaneairports.net), just west of town, is served by several major airlines, including Delta, Horizon, Northwest, Southwest, and United, along with Central Mountain Air (800/776-3000, www.flycma.com) with service to Calgary, Alberta.
Amtrak’s Empire Builder (221 W. 1st St., 509/624-5144 or 800/872-724, www.amtrak.com) has daily service to Spokane from Chicago and Minneapolis, continuing west to Ephrata, Wenatchee, Everett, Edmonds, and Seattle or southwest to Pasco, Wishram, Bingen, Vancouver, and Portland.
Spokane Transit (509/328-7433, www.spokanetransit.com, $1) serves downtown Spokane and the Cheney area. It offers a trolley (the Plaza Arena Shuttle) that circles the Riverfront Park area, with a side trip down Wall Street.
Greyhound (221 W. 1st Ave., 509/624-5251 or 800/231-2222, www.greyhound.com) provides nationwide connections from the Spokane bus terminal (221 W. 1st Ave.), as does Northwestern Trailways (509/838-5262 or 800/366-6975, www.northwesterntrailways.com).
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition