But hiking with three other people was actually really fun. It was hard to get a good pace down at first. I tend to either walk very very fast, or very slow when I'm looking at the scenery. We took turns being trail leaders, but in a natural way-- when one person lost the trail (I'll get to that in a minute), we would all stand together and work to find it, sometimes someone would skip ahead to check out a possibility, and someone new would usually start in the front, the rest of us behind. We also fooled around a lot, which is usually what annoys me about other people on the trails I go on, but was actually refreshing to take a little less of a serious approach to hiking. It was fun to talk, see where the conversation took us, or sometimes just walk in comfortable silence. There is always something to talk about though when you think you're lost or about to be impaled by elk. It was fun to take ridiculous pictures and romp around! I really, completely enjoyed myself, and could definitely see me going on these outings more often. It's definitely a very different experience, but not in a bad way at all!
So, Lone Elk Park. We took the only trail that is there, the White Bison Trail, which is about 3.25 miles around a lake. This was nice because it was a different vista than I've been doing lately-- trading out my rocks and rivers for deep woods and lake overviews. Some of the trail is a lot less wild than others I've been on, following the road that drivers take around the lake to view the elk from the safety of their vehicles. These cars then proceed to stare at you strangely because it does look indeed like you are somewhere you are not supposed to be-- it is not widely marked through the park that there is a hiking trail.
Actually, the trail itself is badly marked. I would NOT recommend this trail for a late fall hike. There were so many leaves on the ground that most of the time the trail was completely unreadable, and the trail is seriously lacking in signs or posts-- some of the posts that were on the trail had markings that had been worn or actually taken off and were completely bare, while other signs that seem to have been meant for trees were either fallen on the ground or lacking actual arrows. We lost the trail about half the time we were one it, and only with stupid luck of pushing forward despite not knowing which way to go did we find the trail again. The visitors office was out of trail maps, and the ones I had in my 60 Hikes in 60 Miles was not detailed enough to be helpful. We worked extra hard climbing up incredibly steep (and slippery) inclines that were probably not the trail at all, but it was so hard to tell that our only hope was to keep pushing forward.
The hiking trail gets you closer to Elk than I actually thought it would, or possibly closer than I needed to be! There are signs posted telling you when to be careful of mating season, and to always keep a safe distance of 100 feet from the animals. This would be good advice, except twice on the trail, groups of elk, both male and female, were actually blocking the trail. Giant creatures, beautiful to watch, but regardless blocking the visible trail. The first time was easier-- we were about to cross and follow the road to the second part of the trail anyway, so we were easily able to not interrupt the elk, but also get a really good view of them from where we were. They barely paid attention to us at all, eating and resting under the trees. The second time the elk blocked the trail was NOT as easy. There were quite a few large males, and we had to walk up a steep hill towards the road above us, walk over the ridge and carefully try to pick up the trail on the other side of the elk. They didn't seem to mind us too much (obviously the animals in such a park are completely used to people being around them, there was even a deer that was within a few feet of us that didn't move while we tried to maneuver our way through the weeds), but did follow us watching in case we got too close. obviously one of the best parts about this trail is getting so unbelievably close to these giant, amazing animals.
I would love to revisit this trail in the springtime and see if it is any easier to navigate, since the stress of feeling completely lost every 15 minutes started taking it's toll after awhile. Obviously the best part of this trail was getting so incredibly close to the animals, which makes up for the incredible amounts of deer/elk poop. The lake was beautiful, and while though sometimes the cars driving by on the road were slightly annoying, some of the trail was also secluded (and the road helped us get our bearings more than once). I had a really good time, and it was pleasant to do something different.