40 miles of history — a guide to the Centennial Trail

The trail will also take you to Lake Coeur d’Alene, if you’re willing to go another 24 miles

This is the third installment in a five-part series that features some of the landmarks that make Washington such a special place. Some of the stops will highlight the Evergreen State’s natural beauty while others are the product of human hands and minds. Article No. 1 appeared in the July 5 edition and featured Washington’s state waterfall, Palouse Falls. Part 2 took us, again, east of the Cascade Mountains to Goldendale and one of the nation’s largest public telescopes. Today’s effort provides the final journey east of the Cascades, to a 40-mile ribbon of state park known as the Centennial Trail. This series is delivered by a retired journalist who now makes every effort to visit Washington’s wonders with his wife and two dogs, pickup truck and travel trailer. Articles are planned through late August.

For those who plan their travel itineraries to include a heavy dose of Mother Nature and an abundance of regional history, combined with an urban vibe, the answer lies less than 300 miles east of the Puget Sound metro region.

The Spokane River Centennial Trail can be a singular goal in itself, never mind the fact that it slices through the middle of Washington’s second-largest city and all the opportunities (and troubles) that city life brings.

The Centennial Trail is a state park, albeit a long and skinny one. It’s 8 feet of asphalt that runs 40 miles to the Idaho state line. Add in the 24 miles of trail extending into the Gem State and it’s a 64-mile adventure that begins in the pine trees northwest of Spokane and finishes near the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene.

The trail is open to hikers and bicyclists, joggers and rollerbladers. A section of the Centennial Trail is even fair game for those on horseback.


The ribbon of asphalt is 40 miles long, so it passes three distinctly different areas.

Let’s start at the northwest end of the trail and follow it for about a dozen miles. It begins at the Nine Mile Falls Recreation Area, home to early settlers, and is easily the most scenic area of the trail. It’s also the only section of trail that could be considered physically challenging. It passes through Riverside State Park on its way to Spokane.

The second section, maybe 14 miles in length, enters the city in the West Central district, heads into the trendy Kendall Yards neighborhood and drops directly into crowds and cars. The trail runs directly through Riverfront Park before heading into the Gonzaga University district and along Upriver Drive into the city of Spokane Valley (incorporated in 2003).

The final stretch of the Centennial Trail continues to follow the Spokane River through Spokane Valley for approximately 14 miles to the Idaho state line. It’s mostly flat and offers plenty of opportunities to stroll into the cool river water.


The Centennial Trail passes over lands that were inhabited by Native tribes long before the first Europeans arrived. Battles were fought throughout the Spokane area, the military had a presence and some of the documented activities are now being viewed in a far different light.

Along the Centennial Trail, for example, is the Slaughter Camp monument where, in 1858, soldiers killed 800 Indian horses in an effort to quell future native uprisings.


While the Centennial Trail can be considered a destination on its own merit, why not check out a plethora of other family-friendly opportunities?

If the trip east includes camping, there are spots at Riverside State Park’s Bowl and Pitcher Campground (one of four campgrounds in close proximity). Cross the Spokane River on a suspension bridge to access a lengthy system of trails. The massive boulders at the river’s shoreline are spectacular.

Downstream from the park are more passive opportunities (think kayaking and paddle boarding) found in Lake Spokane and on the Little Spokane River.

Once in downtown Spokane, the atmosphere quickly changes from trees-and-trails to traffic and commerce. In the heart of the city of almost 230,000 people is Riverfront Park with its iconic clock tower and a gondola ride that takes guests over Spokane Falls.


This is a state park but a Discover Pass is not needed in most areas. There are many trailheads, but nearly all allow free access. The exception: where the trail crosses into Riverside State Park, also part of the state system, a pass is required. There are four automated pay stations in Riverside State Park where passes can be purchased, either a $10 day pass or a $30 annual pass.


Check out the following websites:




Photo by Kevin Hanson 
One of the many attractions on the Centennial Trail is the Great Norher Railroad depot clock tower, built in 1902.

Photo by Kevin Hanson One of the many attractions on the Centennial Trail is the Great Norher Railroad depot clock tower, built in 1902.