At 12,951 ft, Clark Peak is the highest mountain in the Medicine Bow Mountains. (This Clark Peak is not to be confused with its taller cousin by the same name to the east of Capitol Peak). Clark Peak is also the high point of Jackson County and is the tallest Colorado Peak this far north (i.e. there are no mountains taller that are farther north inside Colorado.) The Medicine Bow Mountains stretch about 100 miles from Cameron Pass in the northern part of Colorado up into Wyoming and terminate near the town of Medicine Bow. In Colorado, the range consists of one long spine of peaks that makes up the boundary between Jackson County on the west and Larimer County on the east. Few of these rugged peaks are named and the ones that are look to be the easiest to climb. The Medicine Bow Range also separates the Colorado State Forest on the west and Roosevelt National Forest on the east. The eastern slopes of Clark Peak, and many other peaks, are contained in Rawah Wilderness (administrated by Roosevelt National Forest).
There are many viable options for climbing Clark Peak. These range from class 2 walkups across tundra and scree slopes to an exposed class 3+ ridge traverse. Clark Peak can be climbed easily in half a day from the west in Colorado State Forest via Jewel Lake Trail. Longer, more scenic routes begin from the east in Rawah Wilderness. It’s possible to do these hikes in a day, but it would require a huge effort as they would be somewhere in the fifteen-mile range and involve upwards of 4,000 ft of elevation gain. The two most logical trailheads to start from are Blue Lake Trailhead and West Branch Trailhead. Fortunately the area is very beautiful and there are countless good backcountry camping spots in the Timber Lake/Island Lake area and a few good spots around Blue Lake and Hang Lake. Making a weekend adventure of Clark Peak by spending a night at Timber Lake or Blue Lake is time well spent.
- Via West Branch Trail in Rawah Wilderness
From Fort Collins, take hwy 287 north to hwy 14 (Poudre Canyon). Take hwy 14 west 52 miles to Laramie River Road (this road sneaks up on you so if you pass Chambers Lake you know you've gone too far). Go north on Laramie River Road for eight miles to the West Branch Trailhead (right after Tunnel Campground on your left). Hike up West Branch Trail approximately 6.5 miles. When the trees begin to thin out leave the trail and head south. For more specific route information click here.
- Via Blue Lake Trail in Rawah Wilderness
From Fort Collins, take hwy 287 north to hwy 14 (Poudre Canyon). Take hwy 14 west approximately 55 miles to the trailhead on the right side of the road (north side). If you pass Joe Wright Reservoir you know you’ve gone too far. Hike up Blue Lake Trail approximately four miles to Blue Lake. From Blue Lake one option is the northeast ridge. To begin the ridge, hike to the top of Blue Lake Pass and then scramble up to point 11,614’ to attain the ridge.
- Via Jewel Lake in Colorado State Forest
From Fort Collins, take hwy 287 north to hwy 14 (Poudre Canyon). Take hwy 14 west over the top of Cameron Pass and through the town of Gould. After passing through Gould look for Colorado 41 on your right. Take this into Colorado State Forest and past Michigan Reservoir. After Michigan Reservoir the road will curve north. After the road curves north look for Ruby Jewel Road on your right. This road may be a little rough for passenger cars. Take Ruby Jewel Road until it deadends at the trailhead. Hike up the trail to Jewel Lake and then follow the path of least resistance to the saddle north of Clark Peak. These directions are rough because I’ve never actually been here. It might be a good idea to contact Colorado State Forest for more accurate directions.
There is plenty of camping in the area. If you're backpacking in Rawah Wilderness, camping is allowed anywhere as long as your campsite is 200 ft from any major body of water. Also, fires are not allowed over 11,000 ft. There are endless camping possibilities in the Timber Lake/Island Lake area and a few good spots in the Blue Lake/Hang Lake Area.
For car camping, Tunnel Campground, Chambers Lake Campground, and Brown's Park Campground all sit on the eastern boundary of Rawah Wilderness. I'm less familiar with camping opportunities on the west side of Clark Peak in the Colorado State Forest. Contact Colorado State Forest for more info.
Fishing in Rawah Wilderness can be spectacular. I’ve caught, or seen people catch, fish in Timber Lake, Island Lake, Carey Lake, Twin Crater Lakes, Rockhole Lake, and Bench Lake. I've seen fish cruising in both Blue Lake and Hang Lake but I haven't tried to catch any there. Depending on what lake you're at you can expect to catch native Greenback cutthroat as big as twenty inches as well as Brook Trout reaching thirteen inches.
If you're beginning from the east side in Rawah Wilderness no fees or permits are required. Campfires are not allowed above 11,000 ft in Rawah Wilderness and camping sites should be 200 ft from the nearest body of water.
If you're beginning from the west side in Colorado State Forest a park pass is required. These run you $5 per day per vehicle and can be obtained at self-serve kiosks.
When To Climb/Mountain Conditions
Clark Peak is best climbed during the summer and early fall to avoid large amounts of snow. During the winter, West Branch Trailhead is inaccessible because Larmie River Road closes. I'm not sure about the winter access to Ruby Jewel Trailhead in Colorado State Forest. Contact Colorado State Forest for more information on winter accessibility.
For up-to-date mountain conditions try contacting Canyon Lakes Ranger district or Colorado State Forest. The following weather forecast gives info for the town of Gould, Colorado which sits in North Park on the west side of Cameron Pass.