6. Boulder Fire, Gros Ventre Wilderness, Wyoming
“The good thing about this fire is that it ran primarily through conifers and open parkland,” says Linda Merigliano of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. “Since aspens are incredibly valuable for wildlife, and the best mechanism for aspen regeneration is fire, this could help out the habitat.” The 4,200-acre Boulder fire burned steep country between Granite Creek and Little Granite Creek, on the southern slopes of Pinnacle Peak in the Gros Ventre Range. “It affected the part of Highline Trail that runs from upper Granite Creek Road through the high bench lands along the south side of the Gros Ventre spine,” Merigliano adds.
Hot Hikes: Jump on the 15-mile Highline Trail, which winds below numerous 10,000-foot summits from Cache Creek Road (FR #30450), immediately east of Jackson, to Granite Creek Road (FR #30500) off US 189/191 through Hoback Canyon. For a look at growth to come, head north for an overnight or longer. “In 1988, about half of the Teton Wilderness burned,” says Merigliano, “so people can see later-stage succession ecology from Huckleberry Lookout, a steep (4-mile, 4,500-foot) hike from the Sheffield Creek trailhead, just south of Yellowstone National Park, on the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway.” From there, a web of trails covers the Wildcat Peak/Bobcat Ridge highlands, offering round-trips of 5 days or longer.
Kick Some Ash: Not much rehabilitation needs to be done in the wake of the Boulder fire, but with its high recreation demands, Bridger-Teton National Forest still struggles with maintenance from widespread blazes since the “Yellowstone” fires. Contact: Teton Division, Bridger-Teton National Forest, (307) 739-5500; www.fs.fed.us/btnf.
7. Phillips Ranch Fire, Great Basin National Park & Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Nevada
The blaze was “really weird from a fire ecology standpoint,” says Jim Schlinkmann, chief ranger for Great Basin National Park. “It was spotting ahead 100 yards at a time in timberline areas where there were almost no trees. We were worried about the ancient bristlecone pines on the East Ridge of Mt. Washington, but it never got into ’em.” Generally, wildfires don’t burn at high elevations, but the 2,500-acre Phillips Ranch fire looped around Mt. Washington and burned the west side at altitudes exceeding 11,000 feet.
Hot Hike: Head for the southern and western flanks of Mt. Washington, which are spectacular but remote. Access is via the Minerva Highway, south of Ely, and the Wheeler Peak Mine Road, which begins at milepost 5. From the mine, a defunct four-wheel-drive track (known locally as the Pole Canyon Trail) climbs southeast into Lincoln Canyon, then north again to the 11,676-foot summit, following the rough path of the burn. Pack in all your water and expect to spend most of a day climbing the 6 miles and 3,800 vertical feet one way.
Kick Some Ash: No direct rehabilitation is planned in the fire’s area, but “if somebody wants to do a fire ecology research project, this would be a great one,” Schlinkmann recommends. Contact: Great Basin National Park, (775) 234-7331; www.nps.gov/grba.
8. Chimney and Brushy Ridge Fires, Linville Gorge Wilderness, North Carolina
After the West fizzled out, the East caught fire in late October and early November, when two separate wildfires burned 10,081 acres in and around Linville Gorge, one of the Southeast’s most dramatic and popular wilderness areas.
Hot Hikes: The Jonas Ridge Trail along the eastern rim of Brushy Ridge offers views of that fire’s path. The 11.5-mile Linville Gorge Trail, along the Linville River’s western bank, takes you to where the Brushy Ridge blaze began and shows how the Chimney fire climbed toward the ridgetops. Camping permits are required in Linville Gorge in summer.
Kick Some Ash: “Thankfully, most of the fire stayed in the leaf litter and understory vegetation, but we’ll be dealing with erosion and blowdown for a long time,” says District Ranger Mike Anderson. Contact: Bonnie Amaral, Grandfather Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, (828) 652-2144; www.cs.unca.edu/nfsnc.