By Elaine Williams
For Inland 360
LIBERTY LAKE — Nestled between Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, it’s tempting to dismiss Liberty Lake.
Yes, the city has been incorporated for less than two decades. It is a bedroom community for Spokane with hundreds of tidy, likely-built-in-this-century homes arranged around cul-de-sacs.
Yes, Safeway is the anchor tenant for one of the biggest retail districts, a strip mall, not a downtown.
It lacks the flashy reputations of its neighbors — Spokane with its culture and Coeur d’Alene with its playground for the rich and famous.
But Liberty Lake’s exterior disguises an outdoor playground that rivals many towns marketing themselves as tourist destinations.
For starters, it has a lake with at least two public access points. One is a boat launch operated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The second is at Liberty Lake Regional Park. It has a swimming beach, which doubles as a jumping off point for paddleboarders and kayakers.
An eight-mile hike at Liberty Lake Regional Park features a different ecosystem almost every mile. The trail goes alongside a marsh that turns into a stream at higher elevations, enters a cedar grove and reaches 3,400 feet above sea level.
Plus, Liberty Lake boasts more than 10 independently owned eateries or regional chains serving everything from Asian specialties to free-range chicken. And, since it’s a little more than a two-hour drive from the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and Palouse, it can be a day or overnight trip.
Here are some pointers on how to make best use of your time in Liberty Lake.
THINGS TO DO
The Liberty Creek Trail at Liberty Lake Regional Park is a spring opener of sorts to the hiking season because it’s often doable early in the season without special equipment. Expect to encounter hikers walking dogs and toting infants on their backs, pursuing adventures that match their ability levels. Younger children may not want to climb all the way to the summit but the first two relatively flat miles offer a lot — beaver dams in a marshy area and bridges crossing Liberty Creek. To Liberty Creek Falls is a 6-mile, out-and-back route for moderate hikers. Ignore the warning sign in the cedar grove about severe trail damage. The trail is still easy to navigate past the grove. The most gung-ho hiker can cover the entire eight mile loop, which tops out near Camp Hughes Cabin at 3,400 feet above sea level. The elevation change between the parking lot and the cabin is 1,300 feet.
From Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, the park’s entrance fee is $2 per person.
Mica Moon Zip Tours offers a 2 ½ hour tour on Mica Peak on a course with eight zip lines and two hikes. Depending on age, cost ranges from $85 to $96 per person. Tours run from around April to October. Customers get occasional glimpses of hawks, deer, elk and moose while soaring over a mountain stream, a private valley and historic moonshine camps where illicit booze was produced during Prohibition. (www.micamoon.com)
An entrance to the Spokane River Centennial Trail, with parking and bathrooms, is
north of Interstate 90 Exit 296 on North Harvard Road. The Spokane River Centennial Trail connects to North Idaho Centennial Trail at the Idaho state line. The trail system extends east to Spokane, north to Nine Mile Falls, and west to Higgens Point through Coeur d’Alene. A printed trail map of the Washington section can be purchased for $5.75 at spokanecentennialtrail.org. The Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce gives away free copies of the Idaho side at 105 N. First St. in Coeur d’Alene.
Three Liberty Lake courses give golfers a place to tee off against the stunning backdrop of Mount Spokane and Mica Peak.
Liberty Lake Golf Course, 18 holes, tee times at (509) 255-6233
MeadowWood Golf Course, 18 holes, tee times at (509) 255-9539
Trailhead Golf Course, nine holes, tee times at (509) 928-3484
Vessels of all types can launch from Liberty Lake Boat Launch. The Spokane River Recreation Area is north of Interstate 90 Exit 296 on North Harvard Road. It gives rafters, kayakers and inner-tubers access to the Spokane River. Expect rapids of Class 2 and lower, depending on water flows. Floating downstream to the next take out point at Barker Bridge takes roughly 1 hour 30 minutes, depending on conditions.
Kayakers and paddle boarders seeking calmer waters start from Liberty Lake Regional Park’s beach.
FOOD AND DRINK
Celebrate children’s good behavior after a hike or bicycle ride at Just Chillin Eats and Sweets. Adults can reward themselves at Liberty Lake Wine Cellars. For Asian food in a sit-down setting, try Ding How Restaurant. Other popular venues: Cork House or Hay J’s Bistro, where reservations are recommended. Those choices are for the crowd who understands the subtleties of wine pairings and likes to check the credentials of the growers who raised what’s on their plate.
WHERE TO STAY
The adventurous can camp at Liberty Lake Regional Park. It has 17 recreational vehicle hookups with water and power, 11 tent sites, and four cabins. The park has bathrooms, showers, and a central waste station for sewage disposal. Reservations are available online at https://secure.itinio.com/spokane.
Other choices are Quality Inn & Suites Liberty Lake and Best Western Plus Liberty Lake. The ambitious and adventurous can stay in Spokane or Coeur d’Alene and make Liberty Lake a destination on a bicycle day-trip. Spokane is 17 miles to the west. Coeur d’Alene is 18 miles to the east.
Williams may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2261.