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Trails Shaped by Fire

After a wildfire, what's left is a changed landscape that can make for a fascinating hike. Bright purple fireweed contrasts with blackened trees, and morel mushrooms occasionally poke through the duff. New green growth pops against an arid environment, and a new landscape is born.

Wildfires are a fact of life in our forested regions. Changing conditions have turned natural low-intensity blazes into superhot fires that cover a lot of ground. Fires can be a destructive force that disrupts the hiking season but they can also be regenerative force.

After the flames have died down or are contained by hardworking fire crews, what's left is a changed landscape that can make for a fascinating hike. Bright purple fireweed contrasts with blackened trees, and tasty morels poke through the duffy ground. New green growth pops against an arid environment, and from a huge firestorm a new landscape is born.

Knowing the history of a fire can make a hike like this even more interesting. Below are hikes -- including family-friendly strolls to weeks-long backpack ideas -- across Washington that have been transformed by fires.

Know the hazards

  • Know before you go. WTA's Hike Finder Map shows where fires are actively burning during the summer. Click the checkbox next to the map to see which trails to avoid. This fire map also shows where wildfires are actively burning.  
  • Look up. Dangling branches (known as widow-makers) or rotted out dead trees are the biggest hazards in old burns. The year or two after a fire, the soil can be unstable (as well as prone to landslides). Many trails remain closed after a fire for this reason.
  • Don't hike through when it's windy. Wind and storms can bring dead trees down without warning. If you're halfway through, get out taking the shortest route to safety (forward or back).
  • Don't stop in the middle of an old burn. Take your snack or water breaks on either side.
  • Avoid recently burned areas. It goes without saying to avoid hiking in or near active fires due to immediate hazards and poor air quality, but once a fire has been put out, you will still want to steer clear for a while so hazard trees can fall during winter storms and damaged trails can be repaired. 

Eastern Washington

Dishman Hills - Deep Ravine to Eagle Peak to Lost Ponds/Nimbus Knob Loop

Location: Spokane area
Mileage: 5 miles, roundtrip 
Elevation Gain: Varies 

Fire: The 2008 Valley View Fire was caused by an unattended recreational fire left smoldering in a tree stump until it eventually flared-up, burning a total of 1,200 acres in and around the Dishman Hills Natural Area and destroying thirteen homes on adjacent privately owned property.

A forest of ponderosa pine trees. Photo by TrailKat
The trail winding through the trees at Dishman Hills. Photo by TrailKat. 

Check out the work of WTA volunteer crews on the Deep Ravine and Nimbus Knob portions of this hike, and watch for signs of the 2008 fire in this rapidly recovering burn area. The area most impacted by the fire is just west of Eagle Peak, but one would hardly know it just a few years later. Native plants are thriving in the wake of the fire.

> Plan your trip to Dishman HIlls using WTA's Hiking Guide

Iller Creek--Big Rock Loop

Location: Spokane area
: 5 miles, roundtrip 
Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet 

Fire: High winds toppled trees onto powerlines, and the resulting sparks ignited 92 separate fires that formed the inferno known as the Firestorm of 1991. Over 100 homes burned to the ground in this fire event that predates the purchase of this Conservation Futures property.

View from the summit with some exposed rock in the foreground and a valley in the distance. Photo by Suhleenah.
Views of the valley below. Photo by Suhleenah. 

Take the creek-side trail all the way to Big Rock, the perfect place to enjoy a snack break while contemplating views of the Palouse that extend to Steptoe Butte 40 miles distant. Then return via the ridge trail to complete the loop. Don’t forget to watch for moose munching on willows, one of the first shrubs to reestablish in the wake of the fire. Come in May and June for the peak wildflower displays.

> Plan your trip on the Iller Creek and Big Rock Loop using WTA's Hiking Guide

Fishtrap Lake

Location: Spokane area
 4 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 126 feet

Fire: 2014 Watermelon Hill Fire. Caused by unknown persons shooting exploding targets, the resulting wildfire burned 13,000 acres.

A lake is surrounded by golden grass and few trees. Photo by California Girl
On a calm day, Fishtrap Lake reflects the big sky overhead. Photo by California Girl. 

Beginning from the trailhead on Fishtrap Road, the trail runs parallel to the lake for two miles. At times the trail takes hikers to the cliffs overlooking the lake, and at other times it contours through ponderosa pine and aspen groves, or passes near basalt outcroppings, but it only descends to the lakeshore in two spots. It's an excellent out and back, but there is also a longer loop option that takes hikers close to the Farmer's Landing trailhead and the old Ranch House before returning to the starting location. The spring wildflowers should be fantastic in the wake of the fire, and young aspen shoots are already popping out beneath the charred remains of their parent plants.

> Plan your trip to Fishtrap Lake using WTA's Hiking Guide

Canyon Creek and Log Flume

Location: Kettle River Range 
 2 miles, roundtrip 
Elevation Gain: minimal  

Fire: 1929 Dollar Fire. Few signs remain of this fire that burned 98,000 acres.

A slumping wooden platform in the forest.
A piece of the historic log flume along the trail. Photo by austineats.

Begin by traveling the Log Flume Heritage trail, a paved loop with interpretive signage explaining the history of logging operations on the Kettle Crest. Few remnants of the 1929 Dollar Fire remain, but the historical markers help give visitors a feel for life along the remote log flume long before easy emergency notification and rapid evacuation.

Extend the hike by adding the Canyon Creek trail, which begins at the west end of the parking lot and picnic area. This paved out and back runs parallel to Sherman Creek, crossing it on a lovely footbridge at the approximate halfway mark.

> Plan your visit to Canyon Creek on the Log Flume Heritage Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide

White Mountain via kettle crest Trail 

Location: Kettle River Range 
 28 miles, roundtrip 
Elevation Gain: 1,500 feet

Fire: A lightning strike coupled with extremely dry conditions burned 20,000 acres from White Mountain to Highway 20 at Sherman Pass in the 1988 White Mountain fire.

A view down the ridge with no trees. Photo by RangerP.
A rocky outcropping along the Kettle Crest. Photo by RichP. 

Not only is this the prettiest hike in the Kettle Range, it’s one of the best places to observe how forests recover from fire. Thick stands of lodgepole pine on the lower slopes give way to lush grasses beneath towering western larch, survivors of numerous fires that predate the 1988 inferno.

Closer to the summit, note the still-standing snags of trees that didn’t survive before checking out the summit and former fire lookout site. Come in late June to mid-July for peak wildflower blooms.

> Plan your visit on the Kettle Crest to White Mountain using WTA's Hiking Guide

Old Stagecoach Road to Copper Butte

Location: Kettle River Range 
6 miles, roundtrip 
Elevation Gain: 1,640 feet

Fire: In 1994, a lightning strike burned 10,473 acres in the Kettle River Range

A section of trail going through a forest of charred trees. Photo by austineats
You can really experience the extent of the fire damage along this trail . Photo by austineats.

The Old Stagecoach Road, abandoned in 1898, is the original highway running east to west across the Kettle River Range. Now a hiking trail, it is still open to horse-drawn wagons should anyone wish to attempt it. Hikers can use it to access the Kettle Crest Trail #13, following it south as it climbs to the summit of Copper Butte, highest peak in the Kettle Range. The trail passes beneath the ghostly still-standing snags of the 1994 fire. In June, the hillsides are purple with lupine blooms.

> Plan your on the Old Stagecoach trail to Copper Butte using WTA's Hiking Guide

Shedroof Divide to Helmer Mountain

Location: Colville Area
10 miles, roundtrip 
Elevation Gain: 3,700 feet

Fire: 1994 Mankato Fire. Caused by lightning.

A trail winds through burned trees with a view down to the valley. Photo by JamieR
The slopes of Helmer Mountain still show evidence of the burned forest. Photo by JamieR

From the southern terminus of the Shedroof Divide at Pass Creek Pass, this trail starts high and stays high, contouring beneath Round Top, Mankato, and Helmer mountains. Standing snags mark the extent of the fire, but the real draw here are late-summer huckleberries. Watch for bear in the berry patches, and the very luckiest of hikers could potentially catch a glimpse of the rare woodland caribou that eke out a very narrow survival in this remote corner of the state. When the trail starts to descend near Helmer Mountain, retrace your steps to the trailhead.

> Plan your trip on the Shedroof Divide using WTA's Hiking Guide

Salmo Loop and Little Snowy Top

Location: Colville area
 19 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 3,400 feet 

Fire: 2006 lightning strike on Little Snowy Top and Plowboy Mountain in Idaho.

A mountaintop with a burned tree looking out over the valley.
From Little Snowy Top you can get an overview of the burned areas and see how things are coming back. Photo by Public Lands Hunter. 

Ford the Salmo River, then begin climbing to the Shedroof Divide, where tinder-dry conditions combined with stormy weather nearly took out the Little Snowy Top fire lookout in 2006. Fire crews saved the structure by wrapping it in flame-resistant sheeting and dropping fire retardant (which is why the rocks are tinted orangish-pink at the summit); in the surrounding forest, the fire smoldered on until winter snows could extinguish it.

> Plan your trip on the Salmo Loop using WTA's Hiking Guide

Central Cascades

Tumwater Pipeline Trail

Location: Steven's Pass - East 
2.4 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1,400 feet

Fire: The Hatchery Creek Fire in 1994 was one of a number of fires that threatened the Central Cascades.

A view of an old railroad bridge spanning a river. Photo by Spencer W. Bailey.
Here the trail follows the pipeline along this metal trestle. Photo by Spencer W. Bailey. 

As you take a stroll along this lovely river canyon on a family-friendly trail right outside of Leavenworth, imagine a different scene years before. Starting high on Icicle Ridge, the Hatchery Creek Fire, one of a massive complex of fires in the area that year, "exploded into Tumwater Canyon," wrote Fred Carani in the Cashmere Valley Record. It jumped the Wenatchee River and burned up Tumwater Mountain and into neighboring canyons, threatening Leavenworth.

> Plan your trip on the Tumwater Pipeline Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide

Davis Peak

Location: Snoqualmie Pass 
10 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 4,000 feet

Fire: The 2006 Polallie fire was started by a lightning strike. Thanks to the hard work of volunteers and wildland firefighters it was relatively contained, but did burn along the ridge to Davis Peak and along the western slope.

A dusty hiking trail travels uphill through a sparse forest of burned tree trunks. Photo by JWint206
Hike through the burned area, then see the contrast in landscapes from the summit. Photo by JWint206. 

This trail offers a stark example of a landscape shaped by fire, because over the course of the hike you will get a before-and-after example of fire on a hillside. Davis Peak is consistently steep, marching up a ridge via switchbacks to the summit. You start out in an intact forest then enter the burn zone which continues until you break out of the tree line. At the top take in views of Cle Elum Lake below. 

> Plan your trip to Polallie Ridge using WTA's Hiking Guide

North Cascades

Chewuch River Trail

Location: Pasayten
Mileage: 37.4 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 3,300 feet

Fire: The interpretive drive to the trailhead tells the story of the famous 2001 Thirtymile fire, from the campfire that started the fire to memorial for the four firefighters who died fighting it.
Read the book: The Thirtymile Fire, by John Maclean

A lush understory with a forest of burned tree trunks. Photo by Rachel Wendling.
WTa volunteers and members of the Youth Conservation Corps have done a ton of work to repair the trail in this area. Photo by Rachel Wendling. 

The fire has left this scenic valley trail with very little shade, so it can get very hot mid-summer. But among the blackened lodgepoles, wildflowers blanketing the open slopes down to the water can dazzle a casual day hiker or distract the backpacker heading deeper into the Pasayten Wilderness from this key access route. Besides the fireweed, look for tiger lilies, scarlet gilia, columbine, asters and penstemon. Berry seekers should keep their eyes peeled later in the season for currants and huckleberries. For a day-hike, consider making the small falls at the 3-mile mark your turnaround point, or climb farther up the trail into subalpine meadows. Backpackers should get an early start to avoid the heat, and have any number of options, including aiming for popular Cathedral Lake or this alternative approach to Horseshoe Basin.

> Plan your trip on the Chewuch River Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide

Tatoosh Buttes

Location: Pasayten
Mileage: 10.2 miles, one-way
Elevation Gain: 2,900 feet

Fire: In 2017, the Diamond Creek Fire burned through the Pasayten Wilderness, causing extensive damage. The fire was human-caused and left behind a landscape prone to erosion, especially in the areas where it burned the hottest.

A valley is covered with burned trees and a rocky snow-covered peak rises in the distance. Phot by Dave n'gretchen.
The wide open views here give hikers a sense for the area that burned. Photo by Dave n'gretchen.

The Tatoosh Buttes are a great destination in the Pasayten. Wind your way through this wilderness where wildflowers mingle with scorched snags and big sky views. Climb to the buttes where you can take in a bird’s eye view of the landscape. They can be reached on a long day trip, but an overnight allows visitors to experience one of the best places in the state for stargazing.

> Plan your visit to Tattoosh Buttes using WTA's Hiking Guide 

Purple Pass Trail 

Location: Lake Chelan
Mileage: 15 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 5,700 feet

Fire: This trail was caught up in both the 2006 Flick Creek Fire and the 2010 Rainbow Ridge Fire. Both fires threatened the town of Stehekin and burned extensive swaths of land on the eastern shores of Lake Chelan.

View from a high ridge looking down at Lake Chelan and across to a ridge of mountains rising from the lakeshore. Photo by Karmot
This is a challenging hike, but these views of Lake Chelan can't be beat. Photo by Karmot. 

The hike to Purple Pass is a challenging climb to gain the ridge on the eastern shore of Lake Chelan. It starts out behind the Golden West Visitor Center and climbs up 5700 feet, opening up views of Lake Chelan and the valley and all the peaks that surround it. For another approach to this ridge, consider the War Creek Trail, which starts in the Twisp River Valley and climbs through a burn zone from a different fire, the 2018 Crescent Mountain Fire, which burned 33% of the Twisp River Watershed!

> Plan your visit to Purple Pass using WTA's Hiking Guide

Olympic Peninsula

Duckabush River Trail

Location: Hood Canal
10.6 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2,300 feet

Fire: In 2011, the Big Hump fire burned on the steep slopes on both sides of the Duckabush River on the Olympic Peninsula. The lush Olympic forest grows enormous trees, something that distinguishes this burn area from many of Washington's eastern experiences.

A river runs through mossy rocks and trees. Photo by nschmidt.
It rains so much on the peninsula, it's hard to imagine a fire burning here, but that was the case in 2011. Photo by nschmidt. 

On this woodland wander, start with a couple miles of gentle up-and-down, through forest coated with thick mosses, with glimpses of a crashing river that’s an ethereal shade of blue-green. Then begin steadily climbing up switchbacks, the beginning of your journey through an aging forest fire, and on to views of a verdant river valley rolling out at your feet. An added bonus – this is one of WTA’s most frequently-visited trails. Trees in the burn area fall routinely, so the access you enjoy to these surroundings is thanks to volunteer crews who visit this trail year after year to remove them.

> Plan your visit to the Duckabush River Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide

South Cascades

Stagman Ridge - Horseshoe Meadow

Location: Mount Adams Area 
9 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain:
1,70 feet

Fire: Mount Adams has been hit hard by wildfires in recent years, including the Cascade Creek Fire, ignited by a lightning storm in September of 2012. In about a month, the fire had consumed 31 square miles (and $15 million dollars), the largest fire in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest since 1927 and the largest on Mount Adams since 1885. (Darryl Lloyd wrote about it for Washington Trails magazine in 2013.)

A backpacker walks through a burned forest that sits at the base of snow-covered Mount Adams. Photo by Susan Saul.
The stark contrast in colors between flower-filled meadows, burned forest, and snow-covered Mount Adams, makes for a stunning landscape. Photo by Susan Saul. 

You'll start to see evidence of the Cascade Creek Fire on the drive to the trailhead. Then, as you climb the spine of Stagman Ridge, you'll meander the burned forest before reaching the Pacfic Crest Trail, meadows and stunning views of Mount Adams. This will be an area to return to over the coming years to watch the forest and flower meadows recover.

> Plan your visit to Stagman Ridge using WTA's Hiking Guide

Mount Adams South Climb

Location: Mount Adams Area 
12 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 
6,700 feet

Fire: The 2012 Cascade Creek Fire burned along the southwest corner of Mount Adams, starting down on the forested foothills and stopping at the line of the glaciers that cover this peak.

A hiking trail goes through a burned forest with views to the glacier-covered Mount Adams. Photo by Erinn C.
The stark contrast between the burn zone and glacier-covered Mount Adams make for a unique landscape. Photo by Erinn C. 

As the least technical and most popular approach to Mount Adam’s summit, this route also happens to go through a burned area. Start out in the trees where you will notice the charred evidence along the trail. These forested foothills eventually give way to the glaciers that lead to the summit. This marks the start of the climb and the end of the fire. This route does require knowledge of glacier travel and some specialized climbing gear such as an ice axe and crampons.

> Plan your climb up Mount Adams using WTA's Hiking Guide

Greenwater Trail to Lost Lakes

Location: Highway 410
12 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 
2,700 feet

Fire: The Norse Peak Fire burned through this area in 2017. It was started by lightning and burned a total of 55,920 acres on the east side of Highway 410.

An aquamarine lake surrounded by forest and a rocky outcropping in the distance. Photo by KZMoves.
Some of the forest on the slopes surrounding Lost Lake burned, while others didn't. Photo by KZMoves. 

This trail starts outside the burn zone along the Greenwater River. Follow the valley as it passes the Greenwater Lakes before veering up Lost Creek. About a mile before Lost Lake you will enter the burn zone and notice the change in landscape and terrain. Forest fires can wreak havoc on trails, but luckily WTA volunteer trail crews have been hard at work repairing this trail.

> Plan your visit to Greenwater and Echo Lakes using WTA’s Hiking Guide