Distance: .5 miles (one way)
Best time of year: Spring, Summer, Fall
Last hiked: 2015 September
Harlequin Lake is a short and sweet hike for anyone wanting to take a break around the Madison Junction area. The trail is only one mile round trip and with the exception of a couple of moderately steeper sections, is overall an easy hike to an extremely picturesque lake tucked away against the rim of the Yellowstone Caldera.
The trail starts off gently climbing through a young forest burned in the ’88 Fires. You’ll notice that some trees are growing quicker than others as it wanders north through the densely packed trees. It’s a great opportunity to study how the older trees begin winning out in their competition for more light, thereby thinning out the forest. At a little over halfway, the trail makes a sharp turn to the west where it also levels out and gradually brings you down to the southern shore of Harlequin Lake.
The lake is tucked away against the edge of a large cliff and though not terribly large, is big enough to consume a 180 degree view. That large cliff is also part of the eastern rim of the Yellowstone Caldera, the rim of the volcano leftover from the eruption 640,000 years ago. Enjoy your time here, and head out the same way you can when you’re ready to leave.
From West Yellowstone, enter the park and take the main highway east for 12 miles and look for a large parking area at the top of a knoll on the right side of the street. There will be a sign also marking the trailhead which begins on the other (north) side of the road.