Purple Mountain is another hike that appears, when looking at a map, as easy or moderate but is actually moderate-to-difficult. Do not let the 3 miles to the top fool you, this hike is steep. But if it is exercise you want, a few good views, or easy access to a hike when staying at the Madison Campground, Purple Mountain is the right choice. The trail ascends 1,500 feet to the summit of Purple Mountain. This hike does pass through areas burned in the 1988 fires but shade can easily be found en route.
What Makes It Great
The trail begins 0.2 miles north of the Madison Junction and is walking distance from the Madison Campground. The trails climbs up right from the trailhead. But once a rhythm is established the trail becomes more of a challenge than a burden and can be quite fun. The footing is soft and the path is well established. Halfway up there is a great view location placed, almost perfectly, to catch a breath and have a few sips of water. The view here is actually better than the summit itself. As the route climbs, the trail grade begins to lessen in a series of switchbacks. Before you know it, the 8,433-foot summit of Purple Mountain is reached. Time to take out the snacks and a camera. Selfies are encouraged — you’ve earned it. Early season hikers might want to check at the nearest visitor centers for snow conditions. Snow above 7,500 feet in Yellowstone National Park can linger through June.
From both the midway viewpoint and the summit there are clear lines of sight down into the Gibbon River Valley. Downstream, the Gibbon meets the Firehole River to form the Madison River. After leaving Yellowstone, the Madison joins two other rivers in Three Forks, Montana to form the Missouri River, which eventually flows into the Mississippi River. From atop the Purple Mountain it’s hard to imagine that snowmelt from this peak will eventually flow past New Orleans and into the Gulf of Mexico.
Who is Going to Love It
Intermediate and expert hikers will love the Purple Mountain Trail and the cardiovascular challenges, it presents, especially those staying in the Madison Campground. For many campers entering through the popular West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park and staying at the Madison Campground, the Purple Mountain Trail is a great place to test your legs after the long drive. If you do not have enough time, try hiking to the midway viewpoint in the evening once your tent is pitched and the campfire is ready to be lit upon your return.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From the Madison Junction: Drive North 0.2 miles to the trailhead on the west side of the road. Parking is free with an Entrance Pass.