I woke around 7:00a to do some packing and get my gear ready for my hike. I set out to do the Charon’s Garden trail, hitting the trail head at about 9:00a. The Charon’s Garden trail is only a 2 mi./2hr. trail, and it seems to me to be a fairly intermediate difficulty – nothing too taxing, but plenty of rocky areas. The trail heads through a nice valley next to Elk Mountain, a beautiful area of the reserve.
Stop by the reserve visitor center and get a topographical map for about $3 before you try this trail and you could easily spend the entire day exploring the Charon’s Garden area that the trail cuts through. One caveat – as with the whole reserve, the bison and elk are free range, and they don’t call it Elk Mountain for nothin’. Last time I hiked this area we encountered an elk from within 2 yds. and during the hike this year I had three separate encounters with bison ranging from 2 yds. to 20 yds. off the trail. Please, look, but don’t touch.
The temperature was perfect for hiking, somewhere in the 60′s. The sky was foggy on my way out, but cleared off on the return.
Overall I had a good experience on the Charon’s Garden trail, but there was one disappointing thing about the trail – it is very poorly marked. You will have to rely on some hikers markers and – if you’re lucky – some good footprints to keep you going. Of course, this was particularly irritating for me because I was on a solo hike (and I had not yet purchased an area topographical map). It came to the point that I lost the trail toward the end going on an offshoot for about 45 min. I still got to see some pretty sweet scenery, but it was a real pain trying to stay on the trail, and I couldn’t regain the trail and go to the end due to my own time constraints. I’d recommend the trail for hiking through some beautiful country, but you should know what you’re getting into – and how to get out of it. If you do give it a shot, you’re going to see some beautiful granite rock formations, a wonderful plateau in the valley, great streams and wildlife in their natural home. Well worth the trip.