dogs on leash
I've hiked this loop in both directions. Amazing trail with great views. I would suggest starting at Albert's pike and going clockwise toward viles branch first. You'll hit the easy trail first then Athens-Big Fork the hard way. And you'll finish coming down via Little Missouri. Just my preference though, some like to go counter-clockwise.
We did a quick trip up to see some of the views and it was very nice and worth it. We parked at the Athens big fork intersection with the Little Missouri trail. We hiked up to a scenic overlook and then back down. It was steep at times but only took about two hours total. The view was great, even on a cloudy day in march. I hope to come back one day with a smaller group and backpack the whole loop.
Just completed this trail yesterday with my daughter and a friend with her daughter. We hiked clockwise from the parking lot near Albert Pike Rec Area that is in the direction of the Winding Stair taking 3 days, 2 nights. We were all glad we hiked clockwise after it was over as the ridges seemed manageable going that direction... but who knows really, since we didn't go the other way? We had A LOT of water crossings, and each one of us managed to fall in at some point. The water was up, the gauge at Langley was right at 4 feet, so we probably had more wet crossings than usual. That was not a problem though, just ate up some time. The trail is loaded with camp sites and we had no issue finding a great site each night even thought there were many people on the trail. We camped just below Eagle Rock Vista next to a creek the 1st night and about .5 miles past Little Missouri Falls the 2nd. Both with great water and fire pits. Not gonna lie, the hardest part for me were the ridges. Some of them are very steep. Just be patient and take a breather if you need it and you will be fine. A few sections of the trail are rocky and very narrow so just watch where you put your feet. And take some time to look at the stunning scenery! It's gorgeous every step of the way on this trail and if you do a forced march you will miss everything you came out to see on the great trail.
Did a 14 mile out and back with my wife and daughter on the Athens Big Fork section from the southern trailhead over 2 days. Great weather during the day, but had a cold and rainy night. Trail was quite full with spring breakers. Did the entire loop 2 years ago and saw 5 people, saw at least 50 on this short section hike. Trail was in great condition and well maintained. Had a great time. Will definitely come back for a longer trip later in the spring.