Away from the Grind

North Fork Little Laramie River, Medicine Bow National Forest

by Roger Ludwig

North Fork Trail, hiked July 4, 2011.

The deep snows of the past winter have delayed entry to the highest of the high country this summer. This mid-level trail opens a way to the snow’s gift: a bounty of wildflowers.

On the eastern side of the Snowy Range, the trail, for most of its four and a half mile length, follows the North Fork of the Little Laramie River, providing a welcome access for anglers fishing for rainbows, brookies and browns. 

Connecting two popular campgrounds, the North Fork on Sand Lake Road with Brooklyn Lake, it draws campers looking for a ramble. And if they walk far enough there is more to see along this path than a walk through the woods.

Those wanting an easy entry for backpacking will find it here, too. Within one to three miles are fine quiet campsites by the edge of both small and large meadows, bordered by the Little Laramie’s rushing water.

The waters are certainly rushing this summer, overflowing it seems with happiness, like new lovers, mad in their surge to join company but finding it so intense that a spat sends them apart into separate channels, only to be drawn together again in a powerful rush.

Melt waters, seeping out from the deep drifts, have brought rich green to the meadows and parks, bursting in flower. You could wear out your field guide. 

A million spring beauties gives the first big meadow a pink cast, dotted with yellow marsh marigolds, purple pasque flowers and the brilliant blue of gentians. Expanses of yellow dogtooth violets, aka glacier lilies, nod their delicate heads in homage or perhaps the weariness a wearing such a crown. Phlox in white and blue mats make small carpets of color. And there are marsh marigolds in the streams and pink mountain heather blanketing the drier hillsides, arnica in the shade, punctuations of white bistort in the sunshine. This is a great summer for wildflowers and this is a good trail to see them.

If you go….

Take I-80 west to Laramie, exit 331, Snowy Range Road. Follow WY 130 west. For the lower trailhead go 3.5 miles past Centennial, turning right on Sand Lake Road, FS 101. In two miles, past the North Fork Campground, there is a parking area on the left. The trail is reached by walking down a path by the registry.

For the upper trailhead go 8 miles past Centennial, turning right toward Brooklyn Lake, FS 317. Go north 1.3 miles. The trailhead is on the right.

The snow is so deep this year that the upper portion of the trail will remain snow packed until late in the season. 

Walking in from Sand Lake Road the trail is at first an old jeep track leading to a small logging camp. From there is becomes a nice path. There are fine campsites about a mile from the trailhead just before the first bridge and more after the second bridge, two miles at the first big meadow. The last meadow is a vast park at three miles and is well worth exploring. Beyond this park the trail crosses another bridge and climbs the hill through the trees to the trailhead near Brooklyn Lake.

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