By Jeff Wise
Last summer, the Rockies burned to the ground. At least, that was the impression the newspaper headlines gave. Truth be told, wildfires did wreak devastation on a nearly unprecedented scale. In the northern Rocky states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, some 2.5 million acres of trees were reduced to ash.
But as severe as the damage was, only a tiny fraction of these vast states was affected — just 1 percent, in fact. And burning a forest is not the same as destroying it. "Fire is part of the ecology of the land," says naturalist Ken Sinay, who runs safaris in and around Yellowstone. "It opens up the ground to more types of plants, and that in turn increases the diversity of the animals that can live there."
Even after a firestorm, the northern Rockies are one of the most spectacularly scenic regions of the United States, offering a slew of summertime adventures. We surveyed experts throughout the area and came up with 10 of the top guides and outfitters for high-altitude, high-latitude fun. Here's what we found.
You're right, there is no sea in the northern Rockies. But there is Jackson Lake, a 20-mile-long swath of sky blue in the shadow of the Grand Tetons. Outdoor Adventure River Specialists (O.A.R.S.), which puts together rafting and paddling trips all over the western United States, is the only outfitter with a concession to provide overnight trips on the lake. From a private camp on Grassy Island, on the southern end of the lake, kayakers snake through shoreline canyons, investigate waterfalls, watch for moose, and listen for the rustle of a blue heron's wings. Come nightfall, they gather for hearty meals by the campfire and hard-earned slumber under the wide Wyoming sky. No need to worry about being a skilled paddler on these calm waters—most clients have never been in a kayak before.