Home of the Pulaski Axe
Overview: Popular trail alongside West Fork Placer Creek to the site of Pulaski Tunnel, where 45 firefighters sought refuge during a fire in 1910.
History: The summer of 1910 brought severe drought to the region. Fires were widespread, and high winds in August 1910 threatened the nearby town of Wallace with fire. Ranger Ed Pulaski gathered up a crew of 45 men to head up into the mountains southwest of Wallace to try and save the town. While fighting the fire, high winds caused the fire to rage and overtake the crew. Pulaski was familiar with the trails in the area and knew of a mining tunnel where they could try to find safety.
Pulaski and his crew raced downhill through the firestorm, and reached the tunnel, losing one man to a falling tree along the way. The crew gathered in the tunnel, using wet blankets to try to keep the fire out. Eventually, the men passed out, waking the next morning. As they emerged from the tunnel, weakened from exhaustion, bad air, and lack of water, they discovered that all but five of the men had survived the night in the tunnel. Pulaski spent two months recovering in the hospital, but most of the town of Wallace survived the fire.
Hike: From the parking area on the east side of the road, take the trail across the street and head west up the West Fork of Placer Creek. The trail parallels the creek most of the way and is easy to follow. The elevation gain in the first mile is gradual. The area has lush vegetation and has almost a rainforest feel in the summer. There are numerous interpretive signs along the trail, explaining the events of the Great Fire of 1910.
Signs also point out old mining equipment and a remaining cedar tree--the burnt stump still standing. There are several benches to rest on, and the trail is in excellent shape.
The last mile is steeper, but still in good condition. As you approach the end of the trail, take the left fork that is signed as Pulaski Tunnel. You will see the mine entrance from across and above the creek. If you don't mind a steep creek bank, you can walk to the tunnel entrance, but it is gated off a few feet inside, preventing further entry. Don't turn around at the tunnel view, continue along the trail to the rest of the signs and follow the tiny loop around and back to the main trail to retrace your steps back down to the trailhead.
The trail is open year-round, but summer is probably the best season. Hikers, dogs, and bicycles are allowed, but no motorized vehicles. Cell service is minimal to none. No admission fee, but there is a box for donations.
Check out the Official Route and Triplog.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.