Spoiler alert: I didn’t get any pictures of said bear, because I’d tucked my phone off into my backpack in anticipation of a river crossing (which turned out to be a trickle crossing, so I’d tucked it away for naught).
Nevertheless, Church Rock is a fun albeit rocky hike with wonderful views. It’s an out and back, roughly 8 miles, and is fairly moderate in difficulty minus a rock scramble near the end that isn’t marked well. That said, as someone who’s generally directionally challenged, I had no trouble finding my way to the summit. I very much consider myself a comfort hiker too (i.e. blue skies during summer or spring), but because of how lovely the views are all along this hike, I’d recommend doing this one once some of the leaves are gone.
If you’re looking for churches, you won’t find any physical buildings here. But if you’re craving some solitude, this is the trail for you. On a relatively sunny, mild Saturday afternoon, my friend Leanne and I saw maybe five people in all and we had the overlook to ourselves.
The trailhead can be a little difficult to find depending on when you hike this, so I’d recommend downloading a map on All Trails or screenshotting instructions before embarking. When we hiked this, the gate to the upper parking lot was closed so we trekked almost the full 8 miles, but if the gate is open, you’ll shave off a couple of those. This area is popular with hunters, so you’d probably want to wear bright colors, just to ensure you’re not mistaken for a deer. The trek to Church Rock intersects with a lot of other random roads and trails, but for the first few miles you’ll stay on the yellow blazed Church Rock trail until reaching the white blazed Talc Trail that takes you up to the rock scramble.
However, we were still several miles away from scrambling when my peripheral vision caught sight of a black mass barreling down the mountain. A bear mere yards away from us in a mad sprint! We must’ve spooked him (or her) because the bear ran past us and down the mountain until out of sight. Despite my love of picture taking, both myself and Leanne were too surprised to do much besides stare as the bear ran out of our field of vision. Our decision to continue hiking probably wasn’t the smartest one, but we did stand there for about 20 minutes waiting for either a gaggle of bears to appear, or for Spooked Bear to return, neither of which happened so on we went!
This turned out to be the right choice as the rest of our hike was uneventful except for the wonderful views along the way. As we approached the overlook, the forest thinned into something like a meadow, and was really one of the prettiest things I’d seen in a while.
All in all, Church Rock is a great hike if you’re craving some seclusion, but it’s important to be bear aware while enjoying that solitude. Most National Parks have helpful tips on their websites for potential bear encounters, but the few that stick with me are 1.) hike in a group 2.) talk and make noise while hiking 3.) be on the lookout for fresh bear tracks, droppings, or even cubs 4.) carry bear spray 5.) if you see a bear, don’t run but make yourself look big and be loud 6.) if you do run from a bear, make sure you’re faster than the person you’re hiking with.