Little Spokane River Natural Area
The Little Spokane River Natural Area is a local hotspot for birders and naturalists alike. Situated in the southeastern corner of the Okanogan ecoregion, just outside Spokane city limits, this protected site offers several miles of undisturbed river, six miles of riverside trails, and ancient rock paintings done by Native Americans. Ponderosa pine forest, with many cliffside snags, and riparian habitat dominate the area and make for good birding year round, but especially May through September.
The Little Spokane River is an especially important area for riparian breeding species. Birds to be found along the 3.6 mile Painted Rocks trail are: Hooded Merganser, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Red-naped Sapsucker, Downy, Hairy, and Pileated Woodpeckers, Western Wood-Pewee, Willow and Western Flycatchers, Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Red-eyed, Cassin's, and Warbling Vireos, a variety of swallow species, Canyon, Rock, Bewick's, House, and Winter (moist thickets in the winter months) Wrens, Veery, and Swainson's Thrush, a scattering of warblers including Yellow-breasted Chat and American Redstart, Black-headed Grosbeak, Bullock's Oriole, Cassin's Finch, and Red Crossbill. There is a Great Blue Heron rookery about one mile down the trail. A Tennessee Warbler was banded along the river in August 2002.
To get to the Little Spokane River Natural Area, leave I-90 at Exit # 281 and head north on Division Street (US-2/US-395) 4.4 miles to the intersection with Francis Avenue (Route 291). Turn left (west) here and in 2.2 miles turn right onto Indian Trail Road. In 4.8 miles, you will reach Rutter Parkway. Bear right onto Rutter and drive 0.9 miles to a parking lot on the left called Painted Rocks, just past a bridge over the Little Spokane River. The Painted Rocks parking lot is controlled by a gate, which is open from 6:30AM to dusk. Parking here costs $5 for the day. The only restroom in the area is found near the parking lot. A trail on the other side of the Little Spokane River bridge offers similar bird possibilities. This section of the river is an important area for the Little Spokane's MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) bird-banding project.
You'll want insect repellent in the spring and summer, as mosquitoes can be quite thick.