Commonly Backpacked · Lake · River/Creek · Wildflowers
The Rawahs are an unsung corner of wilderness in northern Colorado. The West Branch trailhead is a popular parking area (can easily fill up on weekends) with access to the Tunnel Campground as well as other numerous designated or dispersed campgrounds along Poudre Canyon and Laramie River Road.
This out-and-back uses the West Branch Trail #960
in its entirety up to Carey Lake and Island Lake and was done as a one-night backpack. It could also be done as a long day hike or altered to link up with other surrounding trails in any number of combinations.
Need to Know
Laramie River Road is dirt but easy to travel for 2wd cars. A few creek crossings, but downed trees help keep feet dry. Mosquitoes can be annoying up around the lakes in summer.
From the parking area, look south for the kiosk and the start of the West Branch Trail #960
. It begins awkwardly along the road for a hundred yards before diving into thick willows heading west along the creek on a wide gravel doubletrack. This stretch is wide and easy for any ability and makes for a lovely stroll.
The trail then arrives at a bridge which marks the start of the more narrow and root-strewn tread which you can expect for the duration. Generally speaking, heading west/southwest means heading uphill. The grade isn't that bad, but it is sustained and some switchback sections can be tough.
The tree cover is much appreciated for shade in the warmer months or for cover during passing rain showers. The signage is good marking access to the Tunnel Campground, entrance into the Wilderness area, and any branching trail like the Camp Lake Trail #968
, Rawah Trail #961
, and Blue Lake Trail #959
The higher in elevation you get, the more frequent the meadow crossings with views of the peaks to the west will be. The creek is an ever-present lullaby with easy access for filterable water. There are a number of cleared camp spots at logical junctures along the trail with logs across any potentially deep creek crossings.
The last mile of the trail kicks it up a notch in grade, but the excitement and anticipation of being above treeline dilute the lactic acid building up in your quads. The trail peters out at the end where hikers can travel off-trail to find their Wilderness-approved dispersed campsites or turn back for a long day hike.
Flora & Fauna
Songbirds (Pine Siskin, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch), Osprey and other raptors, marmots, deer. Alpine sunflowers (Hymenoxys grandiflora), Elephant's head (Pedicularis groenladica), Colorado blue columbine (Aquilegia coerulea), Sulphurflower buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum), Rocky Mountain Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja covilleana).
Shared By: Zander Göpfert