GU students take a hike in Spokane

Students should use hiking to get out of the house for socially distanced fun during the pandemic. 

The Inland Northwest boasts some of the most impressive natural landscape in the United States. From the rolling hills of the Palouse to the impressive peaks of the Rocky Mountains, Spokane is situated as a gateway to the great outdoors. 

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic significantly altering the daily lives of Gonzaga students, exploring Spokane’s natural landscape is a great way for students to socialize in a socially distant manner.

The Beacon Hill trail complex, located four miles from GU up the Spokane River offers plenty of space to explore the outdoors. With over 1,000 acres of undeveloped land, the park provides a fabulous space for hikers, bikers and students who want to get outside.

The Beacon Hill trail complex consists of two designated parks, Camp Sekani Park and John H. Shields Park. Both parks are joined together by an intricate trail system through the unprotected natural landscape that surrounds Beacon Hill.

The south end of the park system borders the idyllic Spokane River. Near Camp Sekani Park, Boulder Beach offers convenient access to the water, whether you prefer to swim with friends or spend some quiet time fishing.

Additionally, Camp Sekani offers a frisbee golf course that climbs through the surrounding hills.

John H. Shields Park, while smaller, boasts a trailhead that will allow access to the Beacon Hill trail complex. For rock climbing enthusiasts, the park offers massive boulders that can be summited using proper equipment.

The main attraction of the Beacon Hill Parks is the massive system of trails that connects Camp Sekani and John H. Shields Parks. These trails are fabulous for hiking, mountain biking and traversing the beautiful natural landscape of Spokane.

Both Camp Sekani and John H. Shields Parks have parking lots with access to trails that lead to Beacon Hill. Additionally, students can access the western part of the trail complex at the Esmerelda Golf Course off Courtland Avenue The Esmerelda trail is a favorite for students looking to spend time outdoors.

Departing from the golf course along the Esmerelda trail, students are enveloped by the natural landscape. The first half-mile is light hiking, as the trail courses through spruce forests without gaining much elevation.

The trail transitions to switchbacks to gain elevation, and before long the first ridgeline will be in sight. Summiting the ridge, the trail dips downhill before beginning the final climb to Beacon Hill.

The second climb is more strenuous but should be capable for all levels of hikers. There is another series of switchbacks that helps gain altitude and at this point the evergreen forest starts to thin itself out. 

The final climb of the trail is the steepest and most exposed to the elements. Tall grass surrounds the trail and the first views of the summit will come in to focus. Plenty of electric wires converge at the summit, so it will be impossible to miss the peak.

The view from the peak of Beacon Hill is impressive and unparalleled. On a clear day, one can easily see downtown Spokane and a trained eye can pick out the twin spires of St. Al’s Cathedral. The open view extends down the Spokane Valley towards Idaho and the picturesque Rocky Mountains.

Hikers on the Beacon Hill trail complex should come prepared. With roughly a 2,500-foot elevation gain, it’s a good idea to bring a full water bottle on the hike. 

The complex system of trails around Beacon Hill can be tricky to navigate as well. Downloading a trail map of the area via the internet or the Trailforks app (available on the App Store or the Google Play) is recommended.

With the crackdown on traditional social gatherings on and off campus, turning to the outdoors is a great solution to spend time with friends in a safe, socially distant manner. The Beacon Hill area offers a wide variety of activities to GU students from fishing to hiking and every activity in between.

Matthew Dobner is a staff writer. 

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