The West Branch Trail starts out with a flat stretch parallel to Laramie River Road, but don't be fooled. This mostly uphill trail gains over 2500 feet in just over six miles. You and your dog are sure to end the day panting after hiking this trail, whether you camp near the trail's end or push to make it into an epic day hike. In addition to the elevation gain, another challenging feature of this trail are its several water crossings in soggy boglands and across rushing streams. If you follow the trail all the way to its end, you'll be rewarded with the pleasant vistas of Island Lake and Carey Lake.
There's a quintessentially western feel to much of this hike. As you dip in and out of aspen and pine forests into open meadows, you can feel the landscape calling you forward even as the mountains all around shelter you. As you climb, the full scale of the surrounding mountains becomes apparent. The West Branch Trail is equally beautiful in the summer, when everything's green, and the fall, when golden grasses wave in the wind, seemingly inviting you to set up a homestead here. Do note that the trail is closed in the winter, as Laramie River Road is not plowed.
Enjoy the sounds of the stream as your dog puts nose to trail to try to track one of the many wildlife species that live in the Rawah Wilderness, which include marmots, chipmunks, dusky grouse, bighorn sheep, moose, elk, and deer. Wildflowers are abundant along the trail, including golden aster, blue columbine, and orange paintbrush.
The best feature of the West Branch Trail may be the expansive vistas that open up as you climb in altitude. Gold and green hills fold against one another until they become pale blue mountains rising in the distance. Spruce and fir frame vistas against hillocks of golden grass. This is some rare air up here—and it's sure to send you and your pup home refreshed.