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Madison Canyon is a tranquil valley where the Firehole and Gibbon rivers converge to form the Madison River, one of three primaries that form the headwaters of the Missouri River. But this peaceful valley narrowly escaped development during the mid 1960s. The National Park Service proposed that two large developments be built in Yellowstone for their "Mission 66" projects. One development, Grant Village, was carried through. It's sister project at Madison was to be be "grander than the valley of Yosemite." But Madison escaped development first because funds were being diverted to the building of Mammoth residences and then later because of a waning lack of interest by the Park Service. The campground at Madison is one of the few in the park that is centrally located, providing access to the thermal basins and some of the best fishing sites. A diverse system of trails also originate at the campground. Some of the trails lead along the river to bathing "hotpots", secret lakes or spectacular views from a mountain summit.

Other trail areas reached from Madison include short and long hikes from West Yellowstone, as well as hikes originating from the Gallatin Parkway. This area witnesses less foot traffic but possess wonderful and scenic hiking terrain.

Purple Mountain
Length: 2.6 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 6,840 feet (1,590-foot gain).
Trailhead: Located at Madison Junction, about 0.3 miles north of the junction on the Madison-Norris Road. The trailhead begins at the barricade on the west side of the road, where there is a small turnout for parking.

Most hikers staying at Madison Campground can approach the trailhead on foot by hiking past the campground entrance station, crossing the road, and following a path to the Park Service employee-housing area. From there, roughly follow the road east, and route-find through the development to the trailhead. Following the highway also is possible, but heavy traffic and narrow shoulders make the highway hazardous for hikers.

The trailhead starts at the western edge of a Gibbon River meadow, and the area generally is saturated by springs at the foot of the mountain and run off from nearby thermal Terrace Spring. Once into the trees, the trail begins a steep ascent of Purple Mountain (8,433 feet). From halfway up to the roundish summit are excellent views of the surrounding landscape, visible through thin stands of trees. Just to the south is National Park Mountain, which is part of the southern rim of Madison Canyon. Beyond the rim is the relatively level but undulating and extensive Madison Plateau. It was here during mid-August of 1988 that the man-caused Northfork Fire raced across the plateau and burned Purple Mountain. Campers staying in Madison Campground were not given adequate notice of the advancing threat. As the fire approached, most campers were out sight-seeing and, upon their return, were cut off and unable to claim their possessions for several days. Luckily, nobody was trapped or injured in the blaze. The extensive burn can be seen on the plateau. Purple Mountain, and Gibbon and Madison valleys. Purple Mountain was named in 1904 by geologist Arnold Hague, probably for weathered outcroppings of rhyolitic welded ash.

Harlequin Lake Trail
Length: 0.3 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 6,789 feet (120-foot gain).
Trailhead: Located on the north side of the West Entrance Road, 1.9 miles west of Madison Junction. The trailhead is not well-marked, but on the opposite side of the road is a visitor turnout that overlooks the Madison River.

This is a short, enjoyable hike for campers staying at Madison Campground. The trail wanders through lodgepole pine that burned in the 1988 fires to a IO-acre lake that is rimmed with cattails, rushes and yellow pond-lily pads.

Harlequin Lake was known as "Secret Lake" during the late 1940s and 50s because of its secluded location near the road. At that time, trumpeter swans were frequent nesters at the lake but in 1958, the lake was named after the colorful duck. On the northern edge is a beaver lodge, and elk frequent this lake in the early summer and fall as well. But the lake itself is considered barren of fish. It is between 4 and 11 feet deep, and most of the lake freezes during winter.

Riverside Trail
Length: Up to 4.0 miles.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 6,640 feet (no substantial elevation change).
Trailhead: The turnoff for the old service road is 0.5 miles east of the West Entrance. The turnoff is on the north side of the road and leads another 1.0 miles to the parking area. Or, a spur ski trail or bike path leads from the town of West Yellowstone, avoiding the necessity of driving to the trailhead.

This is an excellent, easy, short hike that is accessible from West Yellowstone. It can be made as long or short as possible because it primarily follows game and fishermen trails along the bank of the Madison River. It is an especially interesting hike early in spring when wildflowers are emerging and blooming in the meadows.

A fun spur trail accesses the Riverside trailhead from town and this trail is one of the few bike paths in Yellowstone. For residents of West Yellowstone it is a popular mountain bike ride or a short ski trip. The spur trailhead begins at the east end of Madison Avenue at the park boundary at a break in the pole fence. From there the trail follows a power line to the old service road and merges with it shortly before Riverside.

The scraped gravel meadows at the end of the service road formerly were called "the Barns" in reference to their use as a staging area for livestock back to the Army days of the 1880s. It later became a dumping area and also serves as the trail exit for the Cougar Creek Trail (see Cougar Creek Trail for description).

The Riverside Trail also is used as a fishermen's access. The south path leads to a turnout on the West Entrance Road, and the north path leads downriver, past the river ford, to wildlife meadows and willow thickets. It is possible to reach U.S. Highway 191, emerging at Bakers Hole Campground. But the last section requires bushwhacking through willow thickets and marshy seeps.

Sentinel Meadows and Queens Laundry
Lengths: Fountain Flat Freight Road/Steel Bridge/Ojo Caliente Trailhead to:
Sentinel Meadows I mile, one way.
Queen's Laundry 1.7 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 7,200 feet (No substantial elevation change).
Trailhead: Located at the steel bridge, about 1.3 miles from the start of the north entrance to the Fountain Flats Drive.

Sentinel Meadows is located off the Fountain Flats Drive (which once was the old Freight Road) in the Lower Geyser Basin. The road is a spur road off the Madison-Old Faithful Road, and the trailhead is about 1.3 miles from the junction at the crossing of the Firehole River by means of the steel bridge. The trail begins across the river from Ojo Caliente Spring and heads west to the meadows and thermal springs.

The flat, open, sedge- and rush-covered meadow is dotted with hot-spring mounds. Most of the cones are 20 feet high and nearly void of plant life. On the top of each is a boiling spring, usually encrusted with a sinter rim. During early summer, the sedge meadow is bright green, dotted with blue-eyed grass and, by fall, the sedges cure to a golden orange.

Sentinel Creek meanders through this meadow, at the extreme western edge of which is Queen's Laundry. In 1880, Army Park Superintendent P.W. Norris, while constructing a road across Fountain Flats, noticed steam rising along Sentinel Creek. The construction crew discovered the large pool with a drainage channel cool enough for bathing. They strung up their bright clothing on stumps and branches and the camp cooks "dubbed it the Laundry, with a variety of prefixes, of which I deemed the most appropriate adheres, and hence the name." The following year, Norris built a two-room bath house with a sod roof. This curious log cabin still remains.

Just east of Queen's Laundry, the trail junctions and leads into the forest; this trail also returns to the Fountain Flat Drive. Most of the trail is through lodgepole forest, small marshy meadows and circumvents a small knoll between the two trails. This trail connects to the Fairy Creek trail and emerges about a half mile south of the steel bridge.


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