This is a very dynamic area and things can change very quickly, so don’t be surprised if what you see isn’t quite as I’ve described it. Nonetheless this should give you an idea of what to expect at the many different geothermal walks outside of the Upper Geyser Basin.
Be sure to look at my tips on Taking Your Kids to US National Parks, Gordie’s Favorite Things In Yellowstone, Accommodations, Things to See Around Old Faithful, Other Things to See In Yellowstone and Wildlife of Yellowstone.
1. Norris Geyser Basin
Worth the stop – It’s a good stop, but you’re not going to see much here that you couldn’t see somewhere else
Approximate time – The Porcelain Basin Area is a fairly short walk, but if you did the Back Basin Area as well it would take over an hour.
Difficulty of walk – Primarily easy but some areas have steep sections.
My thoughts – This is a great area to see some of the different colors that the water can be. The Porcelain Basin Area is can get can get pretty hot on a warm day, but the Back Basin Area is more wooded.
2. Fountain Paint Pots
Worth the stop – I would highly recommend it
Approximate time – Short (0.8 km round trip)
Difficulty of walk – easy, but there are some steps
My thoughts – I really enjoyed this walk. The mud pots here were my favourite in the park – very active and bubbly. And Clepsydra Geyser erupts almost constantly. We also saw Jet Geyser erupt while we were there.
3. Firehole Lake Drive (one-way enterance in the south)
-Firehole Canyon Drive ( one-way starting in the north, swimming hole along the drive)
Worth the stop – Definitely
Approximate time – Both drives are will only take your a short way out of your way
Difficulty of walk – you don’t even have to leave the car if you don’t want to
My thoughts – I would highly recommend taking these two short detours.
4. Mammoth Area
Worth the stop – You don’t want to miss this area
Approximate time – If you only have a short time you can do a short walk at the lower level of the lower terraces, if you want to do the lower, main and upper terraces, expect it to take a while. Not to mention the Fort Yellowstone area is here as well.
Difficulty of walk – There is an short accessible path and at some times of the year you can drive the upper terrace loop (but it is not an easy drive and not for big vehicles (such as motor homes) the rest has stairs or steep paths along the way
My thoughts – This area is unlike any other. It’s not a particularly dynamic area, but it is gorgeous. The terraces are described as living sculptures. This area does change constantly though with different areas becoming active and inactive. We noticed changes just between our two trips. Apparently, the overall activity and volume of water remain fairly constant despite all this change.
5. Artists Paintpots
Worth the stop – A great stop but not a must see
Approximate time – Fairly short (1 mile round trip)
Difficulty of walk – generally flat and easy, but there is one very steep section
My thoughts – This is another great spot to see mud pots. They are at the very top of the hill though, so if your party is not up for the climb, go to the Fountain Paint pots instead. The walk includes a wetland meadow making it even prettier than some of the other geothermal areas.
6. Mud Volcano Area
Worth the stop – I’d give it a pass unless you are in the area looking for something to do
Approximate time – short (1km)
Difficulty of walk – there are some steep sections to get to the top of the loop
My thoughts – This area seems like it would be a lot more fun than it is. Unfortunately the geothermal features are not as dramatic currently as they once were. The Mud Volcano name sake has broken apart and is now just a mud pot. If you do decide to go, most of the interesting features are along the lower levels. Our favorite was the Dragon’s Mouth Spring where the water growls.Gordie walked away mimicking it.
7. West Thumb Geyser Basin
8. Midway Geyser Basin – Grand Prismatic Spring – Fairy Falls
In front of the Grand Prismatic Spring
View of the Grand Prismatic Spring from a hill along the trail to Fairy Falls
Worth the stop – yes just so you can tell people you stood beside the grand Prismatic Spring
Approximate time – The Midway Geyser Basin is a quick walk (.5miles) but if you really want to get a good view of the Grand Prismatic Spring you need to walk about a mile down the Fairy Falls path and scramble up a small hill. It is definitely worth it though.
Difficulty of walk – The Midway Geyser Basin is an easy walk. The Fairy Falls to the lookout for the Grand Prismatic is along a dirt road (no vehicles allowed) which we managed to push a stroller along.
My thoughts – This is one of the most impressive things in the park in my opinion. Unfortunately the best view of the Grand Prismatic Spring is directly above it. It frequently appears from this angle in books like “Earth from Above” and for good reason – it is truly gorgeous. When you are at the base of the spring you see what is in the top two pictures. Still impressive, but you lose a lot of the blue and green colors. The 3rd picture is taken from the hill along the path to Fairy Falls. The lookout point is not marked on the path, so you have to look at where the Spring is to figure out which hill you need to go up. There is a good chance though that someone else will be up it because it really is a view.
Just a note, if you find the hill make sure you look for the path up instead of scrambling straight up the hill. It’s not a bad climb if you find the path. My husband managed to do it while carrying Gordie last year (14 months old).
Check out the next post in this series – Other Things to See In Yellowstone.