More of a stroll than a hike, there is very little elevation change on this trail. It is suitable for all skill levels. And because it's an out-and-back, one is under full control of the distance they wish to cover. Beautiful scenery. The sound of the river comes and goes as the trail alternates being close to and away from the water.
From everyone else's review, I would have loved to continue this trail. The river and initial section of the canyon is beautiful. However, within the first mile, the poison ivy was so thick along the single track path, that even long pants and long sleeves would have gotten contaminated. Also had to hop over what I think was a bull snake den - saw the holes and saw the snake in the grasses along the river bank.
Beautiful hike. I did an overnight hike on this trail this week, and loved it. I plan to go back and do it again this summer. First, a few things I think people should know starting out:
1. Fishing is allowed year round on this trail. This section of the Madison is very popular with Fly Fishers, and produces some huge brown and rainbow trout. I had a ton of difficulty trying to find out the fishing regulations for this stretch of river, so hopefully this will help someone out.
2. This trail has snakes and bugs. Lots of snakes and bugs. If that is bothersome, this trail might not be the one to hike. Be on the lookout for rattle snakes in particular, as they frequent this area, but there are also rubber boas near by that are much less dangerous.
3. The trail is listed as a 14 mile out and back. Along with other reviewers, I feel this falls short. It is probably closer to a 16-17 mile out and back. It is also listed as easy-moderate with little elevation gain. This is false. The entire last half of the trail is a series of steep inclines and declines, that probably gives you alot more elevation gain accumulated than indicated.
4. There are only campsites in the first half of the trail. I was unaware of this, and when I came upon a nice little camp site at around 5 miles in, I decided I still had enough energy to keep going for a bit, and figured I'd turn off at the next campsite within a few miles. There is NO such camp site. I walked, and walked, and walked, and finally came to the dead end Montana Power fence that marks the end of the trail. As I previously mentioned, this last half of the trail has ALOT of steep up and down sections. I was very upset that I now had to walk the 3-4 miles back to the last campsite. You are much better off to stop at one of the campsites along the first half of the trail, set up camp and dump your gear, and then dayhike the rest of the trail.
5. This trail is not dog friendly. While dogs are allowed on the trail, some of the more rocky sections could be pretty damaging to their paws. I brought my dog along, and finally ended up just carrying him across the rockier stretches, after watching his paws get pinched between rocks innumerable times. He never complained, but it was still not fun to watch.
All in all, this was an amazing hike with TONS of beautiful scenery. The craggy peaks and white water rapids make for some excellent views, and the noise of the river is nice to fall asleep to.
There was a devastating fire in this area about 2 years ago and the first part of the hike is thru this. Search Bear Trap Canyon Fire if you wish. Don't be too concerned as the hike is still very scenic. The first 3rd is really easy but the last two thirds are moderate to strenuous. The trail undulates from river level to quite higher up and then back down again and repeats this almost endlessly and for this reason the trail is difficult. I think the true vertical gain and loss is more like 2000 feet instead of the 500 that is the change from start to finish. Many guides show this as a 7 mile one way hike but I think it's closer to 8 or 9. We went on April 2, 2014 with about an inch of new on dirt. The trail was a bit slippery in spots and with the sheer drop offs to the river was an "interesting" hike. By noon the snow abated and most of it melted so it was more or less a standard hike. The canyon walls are near vertical in many spots that my neck is sore one day later from looking up so much. LOL. The trail ends abruptly at the power station property and is fenced off with no trespassing signs so you will know when you are at the end. We did sneak around the corner to see what we could see but there wasn't any power station in view so we returned back to our side and became law abiding citizens again. We were really hungry for lunch anyway. We didn't see anyone all day until about 2 miles from the parking lot. Overall a nice hike.
Make this hike as long or as short as you wish. The breath-taking views and flowing Madison River keep your mind off the distance and draw you deeper into this gorgeous canyons. Watch out for snakes in the Summer months as they will be out enjoying the sunshine (just like you are!). If time allows, I try to get all the way to Bear Trap Creek (its about 4ish miles back). This is a great spot to stop, grab a bite, wet your line, and take stock of all that you've seen. Early mornings and Late evenings are best for wildlife and dramatic lighting.