Pulaski Tunnel

The Pulaski Tunnel trail is a great history lesson, chronicling the events of the 1910 Great Burn that consumed 3 million acres across the northwest in only 2 days. Just a half-inch of rain had fallen in June of that year, followed by none in July and by August 1,400 fires were burning across the western states. On August 20th, hurricane-force winds fanned the flames into an inferno. A crew of 45 men, led by Ed Pulaski, fought the fires near West Fork Placer Creek, some 10 miles southwest of Wallace. Pulaski’s crew retreated towards Wallace, but was trapped by a newly sprung-up fire. As a last resort, Pulaski ordered his men and two horses into the Nicholson adit, a small prospecting mine only 250 feet deep. Miraculously, all but 6 of the men survived.

Location St. Joe Mountains
Rating 2.4 out of 5
Difficulty Moderate (uphill hiking)
Distance 3.9 miles
Duration 1:17 hours moving time (hiking)
Elevation Gain 713 feet
High Point 3,671 feet (Nicholson adit)
Low Point 2,895 feet (Trailhead)
Trail Type Out-and-back
Trailbed Blacktop, packed gravel, packed dirt
Water Creek
Status National Register of Historic Places
Administration Coeur d’Alene National Foreast
Permits None required
Conditions Excellent
Camping There is a vault toilet at the trailhead
Maps USGS Wallace
Trailhead In Wallace, head west on Cedar Street until it ends at First Street. Turn left onto First, then right onto Bank Street. Follow Bank until it ends at King Street. Turn left and follow King Street for a mile out of town to the trailhead. It is well marked and there is parking for 4 – 5 cars.

Google Directions (47.458862, -115.935872)

Season Year-around
Squirrel Density Fabulous!
Features Structure
Distance From
  • Coeur d’Alene 49.1 miles
  • Lewiston 165.9 miles
  • Sandpoint 94.2 miles
  • Seattle 359.6 miles
  • Spokane 81.8 miles
Resources
Nearby Hikes
    Date July 30, 2017

    There are numerous interpretive signs along the trailThe story of the fire and Pulaski’s heroics is told by means of a dozen or so interpretive signs spread out along the 2-mile (one-way) trail, which climbs steadily uphill paralleling West Fork Placer Creek. Signs aside, there are also a number of mining remnants along the way, such as dams, piping and a ventilator (of the War Eagle mine, a much larger mine that Pulaski wanted to reach but wasn’t able to). Most of the trail is a wide single-track of packed dirt or gravel (the first few hundred yards are blacktopped and ADA-accessible). A few brooks and Placer Creek are easily crossed via wooden bridges.

    What the mine entrance looked like immediately after the calamityIt is difficult to imagine what the area looked like after the fire. Today, the forest–fir and spruce and thick undergrowth–is lush and verdant. At trail’s end, charred-timber replicas, view-able across the creek, stand guard over the open mouth of the mine (the mine itself is barred).

    One more thing: Pulaski is the inventor of the mattock-axe combo tool the forest service uses to this day to fight forest fires!

    Enjoy this hike? Let us know in the comments below!

    Commemorative Sign at trailhead
    Commemorative Sign at trailhead
    West Fork Placer Creek
    West Fork Placer Creek
    There are numerous interpretive signs along the trail
    There are numerous interpretive signs along the trail
    A number of bridges keep your feet dry
    A number of bridges keep your feet dry
    Mining remnants
    Mining remnants
    The trail is a nice wide single-track throughout
    The trail is a nice wide single-track throughout
    Devils Club. Nasty stuff
    Devil’s Club. Nasty stuff
    Views are limited
    Views are limited
    The trail closely follows West Fork Placer Creek
    The trail closely follows West Fork Placer Creek
    The "blower" is the pipe behind the sign
    The “blower” is the pipe behind the sign
    A still-standing cedar snag, burnt in the 1910 fire
    A still-standing cedar snag, burnt in the 1910 fire
    Youll find frequent strategically-placed benches along the trail
    You’ll find frequent strategically-placed benches along the trail
    What the mine entrance looked like immediately after the calamity
    What the mine entrance looked like immediately after the calamity
    What the mine entrance looks like today
    What the mine entrance looks like today
    The "burnt" timbers were recreated in 2010
    The “burnt” timbers were recreated in 2010
    Seating near the overlook of the Pulaski tunnel
    Seating near the overlook of the Pulaski tunnel
    Trailmap

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    4 Comments Add yours

    1. montucky says:

      I love these photos. When I was a kid growing up here in the 40’s and 50’s, my Dad pointed our many of the scenes of that great burn and explained those events to me. I have never forgotten. I also always have a Pulaski in my truck box along with a shovel.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. naughtyhiker says:

        most of the stuff that we see today is from immediate aftermath of the fire, with all the lookout tower rubble and miles and miles of telephone wire in the woods… They did a really good job, though, with that trail. It was quite busy, too.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. History, hand tools, and hiking: a wonderful combination any day. Appreciated the article, I’ll have to try to walk it next time I’m in the area.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. naughtyhiker says:

        There’s probably snow in a month or so but it would make for an excellent snowshoe trek

        Like

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