Do You Know How Best to Explore Yellowstone's Most Famous Features?
Yellowstone holds the planet’s most diverse and intact collection of geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles (the small openings where hot sulfurous gases are coming out).
The more than 300 geysers here make up two-thirds of all those found on earth.
Combine this with more than 10,000 thermal features comprised of brilliantly colored hot springs, bubbling mud pots, and steaming fumaroles, and you have a place like no other.
Yellowstone’s vast collection of thermal features provides a constant reminder of the park’s recent volcanic past.
Our Loop Around Yellowstone
We took the Lower Loop around that park which is the geothermal route. We didn’t realize until we first visited how active this place is.
The park is among the most active geothermal regions in the world and experiences about 2,000 earthquakes a year. It is the largest volcanic system in North America.
We saw dozens of the geysers, including Old Faithful. There were over 1,000 people waiting for it to go off when we found our spots up front on the benches that the park service has installed.
About every 70 minutes it erupts (plus or minus five minutes or so) and it did not disappoint!
There are so many great locations to explore in this area of Yellowstone that it’s difficult to hit them all in a day but you can sure try!
Dealing with Traffic in Yellowstone
When you are deciding where to go each day you’re in the park, factor in at least 20-30 mins for dealing with traffic.
In the more popular roads, every time a wild animal is spotted in the park, a traffic jam forms.
Expect to be slowed down by at least one of those traffic snarls. People literally stop right where they are,
even though they are not supposed to.
Visiting Old Faithful, Geysers, and Thermals in Yellowstone
If you’re staying in Madison Campground or outside the park in West Yellowstone, once you turn at Madison Junction and head down to Old Faithful there are a bunch of locations to see along the way.
I’m going to write these in sequential order, however, depending on what time you hit this area you may want to skip everything and head straight to Old Faithful before the crowds start to show up and then circle back to explore these.
Grand Prismatic Spring
From the Madison Campground, it’s about a 20 min drive to Midway Geyser Basin. This is a quick, compact boardwalk hike but it packs a punch in Grand Prismatic Spring.
If you’ve only seen one photo from Yellowstone it was probably Grand Prismatic Spring.
At 120 feet deep and 370 feet in diameter it is the largest hot spring in the US and the 3rd largest in the world.
Apart from its size, the Spring’s dramatic rainbow colors give it a surreal appearance.
The colors come from different species of heat-loving bacteria, called thermophiles. In the Spring, heated water rises up from underground and disperses across the pool.
In the middle of the Spring, the temperature remains extremely high, making the water sterile so it stays blue year-round.
However, as the water cools on the outer edges of the pool, there are several distinct “rings” of temperature. Each of them with different corresponding thermophiles which cause them
to be different colors.
Due to this, the colors of the spring tend to change with the seasons, with the hues deepening in the summer months and fading in the winter.
Less than a mile down the road from the Midway Geyser Basin parking area is a parking area for Fairy Falls. While the actual out and back hike for Fairy Falls is about 5 miles, you can go partially up the trail for about half a mile to get to an observation point for Grand Prismatic Spring.
This is a really great lookout and there are usually less people than the Midway Geyser Basin boardwalk.
If you want to complete the full hike to Fairy Falls, you’ll be rewarded with views of Fairy Creek plunging 200 feet down over the edge of the plateau into a small grotto below.
Further down the road and just before Old Faithful, there are two short boardwalk hikes with beautiful
features, Black Sand Basin and Biscuit Basin.
At Biscuit Basin you can enjoy views of Black Opal Pool, Jewel Geyser, and several springs but the real beauty is the deep blue hue of Sapphire Pool.
When you’re on the Biscuit Basin boardwalk, you have the option to complete the loop or continue on the trail for about another mile.
If you do, you’ll enjoy the terrific views of Mystic Falls!
We highly recommend a hike to Mystic Falls.
The falls cascade majestically down 70-feet with two sections and over several steps. From the bottom of the falls you can also hike to an overlook where it feels like the entire Upper Geyser Basin is under your domain!
This hike is about 3.5 miles roundtrip. When we did it we were surprised by how winded we were. That’s because of the altitude.
We followed the suggested protocol of drinking lots of water and had no serious issues, except probably moving a little slower than normal.
If you love waterfalls, you should also check out 13 Stunning Waterfalls in the U.S.
Black Sand Basin
At Black Sand Basin you can view the Rainbow and Emerald Pools (I’ll let you imagine why they’re named that way) as well as Sunset Lake.
The parking lots for these areas are quite small so you may have to park on the road or try to get in at non-peak times.
Finally, we’ve made it to the grand destination, Old Faithful.
Old Faithful gets its name for its predictability, erupting on average 20 times a day which is every hour to hour-and-a-half.
When you show up, inside the Visitor Center you can find posted prediction times for when the next eruption will be so you don’t miss it!
There are thousands of visitors who come to see Old Faithful each day so if you aren’t a huge fan of crowds, try to come earlier in the day (before 10am) or later (after 6pm).
Upper Geyser Basin
Once you’ve seen Old Faithful, don’t hop in your rig and leave!
You are now in Upper Geyser Basin which is home to more thermal features than anywhere in the world!
We would recommend taking the boardwalk to the right side of Old Faithful, up to Geyser Hill (where you can usually get a less-crowded view of Old Faithful) and then continue on the boardwalk past Grand Geyser, Beauty and Chromatic Pools, Grotto Geyser, Riverside Geyser, and all the way up to Morning Glory Pool.
You can then turn around and take the bike path back to the Old Faithful Visitor Center for a chance of scenery on your way back. It’s about 3 miles roundtrip.
Complete RV Travel Guide to Yellowstone
There is SO MUCH to see and do at Yellowstone– you don't want to miss out on any of it! Jennifer and I have created a comprehensive guide to maximize your big trip to Yellowstone.
Our 7-Day Adventure guide maps everything out for you. All you have to do is download the guide, load up the family, and hit the road!