Highlights: An overnight circle-on-a-stick backpack into the high alpine country we see on the far southwestern horizon from Cheyenne, Wyoming: the southern Medicine Bows. Here, above tree line, twelve pristine lakes sparkle in the shadow of North and South Rawah Peaks. Rawah is pronounced Ray’-wah and is a native American word meaning “wild place.”
Location: The Medicine Bow range south of the border in Colorado
Elevations: West Branch trailhead 8, 580’; high point at Grassy Pass, 11,220’
Distance: 19.3 miles without the spur trails
Maps: Rawah Wilderness by Mountain Jay Media; Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests; USGS quad Rawah Lakes; Roosevelt National Forest pamphlet “Rawah Wilderness”
Guide: Raymond Ave’s Backcountry Adventure Guide to Colorado’s Rawah Wilderness
is an excellent guide to it’s trails, history and geography.
Trailhead: From Cheyenne, take I-80 west 48 miles to Laramie exit 311. Go southwest on WY 230 24 miles to Woods Landing. Then take WY 10 south 34 miles (In Colorado it is County Road 103) until you come to the well-marked West Branch parking area. (An alternative would be to go to Ft. Collins, go west on CO 14 then north on CR 103.)
The Hike: The trail starts in the meadows and aspens of the Laramie River Valley. Follow the West Branch of the Laramie River into the Rawah wilderness on trail 960 through deep timber. The route hovers well above the laughing waters below. At 3.7 miles turn right on Rawah Trail 961. After 1.8 miles there is a spur trail that leads 1.3 miles to gorgeous Twin Crater Lakes. The lakes are above tree line in a mat of tundra sheltered by a massive rock bowl scooped from the Medicine Bow range.
Back on Rawah Trail 961 continue northwest to the high point of Grassy Pass. The views here are heavenly and the climb will produce more than enough endorphins to really enjoy it. High peaks stretch north and south. The Rawah lakes are like blue and green gems sprinkled into the landscape. Coming down from the pass is a joy. You can count down the Rawah Lakes, beginning with number four, down to one.
There are many good camping areas to pick from. Regulations require a 200 foot distance from lakes and steams to prevent destruction of the sensitive vegetation.
To complete the loop turn right on Camp Lake Trail 968. At Lower Camp Lake another spur trail leads .7 miles to big Upper Camp Lake, a peaceful wonder of quite and solitude. The Camp Lake Trail gets long and hot. For a couple of miles it follows the lip of an abandoned irrigation ditch then plunges steeply down the forested mountain side past a couple of ruined cabins to join the West Branch trail. Turn east to return to the trailhead.
Pointers: These high alpine areas are not heavily used, probably because the hike to them is typically 7 up-hill miles. As an alternative to backpacking, many take a trailer or a tent to the Tunnel Campground and make a long day hike to Twin Crater Lakes, Grassy Pass or to Lower and Upper Camp Lakes. As you might expect, prepare for mosquitoes and bright sunshine.