Rawah Wilderness Camp Lakes to West Branch Loop

Mar 18, 2014
I decided to get out of Dodge - or Boulder County - before heading back to work next week. The only spot on the radar that didn't call for monsoonal rains was North. I contemplated driving 500+ miles to do a loop in the Beartooths of Montana, but I figured I'd best save that for when I have some company. A friend told me a about a remote 3 day loop in the Rawah Wilderness up near Cameron Pass up the Poudre River canyon. I'd put it on my list but didn't figure I'd be venturing out this summer. But when the weather points you in a direction you just go.

From my house it took nearly 3 hrs to drive the winding roads up Poudre Canyon past Fort Collins and then take the spur road (dirt) 6 miles to the trailhead from CO 14. I was surprised to see quite a few cars there as a friend told me it was a desolate place over Labor Day weekend years back when he went. I guess the word caught on.

That's (one) issue I have with Colorado, is once the word catches on, there are few spaces left in this state to seek real solitude. I found it a few weeks back in the Lime Creek drainage south of Eagle. Here too, I was able to find space from others, for the most part. The one thing I was impressed with was the wildlife. Here's my list of what I saw in my 3 day loop.

In the first 2 miles I had a bear encounter on the trail. I've probably only seen 3 other bears in over 10 years of living out here. Luckily, I scared him with my commanding presence (backing away nervously).

Also, 2 Moose, 1 grey owl, a herd of bighorn sheep, ptarmigans/grouse (I can never tell which one I'm seeing), deer, and a fox visited my camp on the last morning. That's a pretty good list for a 3 day Colorado outing.

Overall it was pretty peaceful and I was able to get 10+ hrs of sleep each night. I tried some free Mountain House meals for the 1st time. I'm not sure I'm sold. I still like Cup of Noodles as a quick fix.

Last note - at Twin Crater lakes I was frustrated with these huge fish swimming past my lures. No one wanted them. I finally decided to tie a fly onto my spinning line and put a weight about a foot up the line from it to get some ability to toss it out into the water. I watch as 3 huge trout emerge from behind a rock and the biggest gulped my fly. Here I am trying to pull what I was informed was a Mackinaw or Lake Trout out of the lake with a skimpy line and a tiny fly. I got his size on video but I could not get that sucker on the side of the lake to take a photo. It easily would have been the biggest fish I ever landed. Alas, with no net, I was setting the rod down with him near the shore and about to grab him out of the water with 2 hands and he broke the line. It was an insane fish battle for this amateur fisherman.

Here are some photos:
P1220033.jpg Aspen AlleywayP1220035.jpg Spur trail from the West Branch trailP1220048.jpg Lower Camp LakeP1220055.jpg Love these purple doodads. Not sure of the name.P1220058.jpg Moose staring content.P1220068.JPG Upper Sandbar LakeP1220071.JPG Tent spot for night #1. Peaceful shallow tarn in the background.P1220076.jpg Upper Sandbar LakeP1220081.jpg Lower Camp lake - or Lower Sandbar lake - so many lakes!P1220082.jpg Off trail area i hiked through with lots of big deadfall. This is where I heard the whooshing of wings, looked up, and saw an enormous grey owl fly over me. Kind of spooky.P1220087.jpg 1st Rawah LakeP1220100.jpg 2nd Rawah lakeP1220102.JPG the ones I caught were tiny on this trip P1220106.jpg quality is sub-par: super zoomed in. you get the point. I filmed the ram jump the creek in HD though.P1220109.JPG flower strewn banks of the creeksP1220110.jpg there's that state flower againP1220113_4_5Natural.jpg so lushP1220119.jpg peacefulP1220133_4_5Natural.jpg leading into the basinP1220138.jpg 3rd Rawah lake panorama leading up to 4th lakeP1220144.jpg OK - help me end the debate - ptarmigan or grouse?
P1220149.jpg rock hoppingP1220161.jpg lunch spotP1220180.jpg P1220210.jpg I think I counted 14 lakes and/or tarns in this viewP1220216.JPG black and white is sometimes niceP1220222.jpg selfie - i was here. P1220254.JPG coming down below Grassy PassP1220264.jpg views on the way downP1220289.jpg wildflowers - name?P1220292.jpg heading up into another lake basin for the nightP1220297.jpg winding trailP1220304.JPG tent setup - BA seedhouse sl2 - love it!P1220324.jpg morning panoP1220343a.JPG Tent site viewsP1220346.JPG FlowersP1220384.JPG PaintbrushP1220391.jpg Last pano of Twin Crater lakesP1220416.jpg Strange Aspen burl P1220417.jpg Thanks for coming!
Seems like more and more Colorado people posting - yay! lol
How long can a list of places I want to go, get?:D

The flower is Larkspur. It's poisonous to cattle. I remember riding out in the hills with a friend whose dad ran cattle and him getting down off the horse, kicking at them and saying "F$%%in' Larkspur!"

So it has stuck...For me, I always thought they were kinda nice tucked in amongst the scrub oak.