Yellowstone National Park: Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Geyser Basin

After an exhilarating hike outside Bozeman, we drove through the rain to the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park — the first major stop on my birthday road trip.

Despite arriving just after lunchtime, which is much later then we would typically arrive at any national park. we had no trouble entering and driving to our first destination, Mammoth Hot Springs.

We headed straight for the travertine terraces, put on our masks, and set out on the boardwalks to explore. The white travertine occurs when hot water and limestone meet, building crazy rock sculptures across the landscape. I couldn’t get over the bright orange and rust colors or how slick and shiny everything looked as the water flowed over and around the rocks and steam vents. It ended up being one of my favorite spots in the park!

Although we were masked and trying to stay away from others, our fellow park visitors were not doing the same and the boardwalks were not conducive to social distancing. We enjoyed the main terraces and then set out south toward Norris Geyser Basin.

Along the way we drove over the bridge at the Golden Gate Canyon, which was originally built in 1885. We noticed a number of people parked at a pullover and walking back along the bridge to look at something across the canyon and decided to follow suit.

Sure enough, across the canyon was a family of mountain goats with two babies! Brian ran back to the car to grab our big camera lens, and we watched them navigate the rocky cliff, both parents keeping an eye on everyone. So cute!

Another fun spot along the road was Frying Pan Spring. This was a perfect pulloff to really watch the hot springs in action, and these definitely earned their name! We took a break to watch the water bubbling and boiling and listen to the sizzling sound of dozens of pools surrounding the boardwalk.

Bonus: because this stop isn’t called out on the park map, there were very few people and we could safely remove our masks for a photo opp!

Much like Mammoth Hot Springs, the Norris Geyser Basin area was packed when we arrived and we struggled to find parking. The lots were full of signs warning visitors to park at their own risk — the unreliable Steamboat Geyser can go at any time and spray scalding water well into the parking lot and over all of the vehicles!

We masked and set off on the boardwalks to complete a short loop through a series of hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles (steam vents). It was discouraging to see so many people sitting right on top of each other at the Steamboat Geyser — we ducked our heads, made our way through the crowd, and stood for a few minutes behind everyone to see if the geyser was showing any signs of activity. It wasn’t, and people continued to pile up, so we headed on our way.

Our final stop for the day offered another entirely different geological experience — paint pots and mudpots!

We set off on the short and sweet Artist Paint Pots trail, which wandered out to a fork in the path that allows you to loop around some of the main features and then back out to the parking area. At the split, we began to encounter some of the paint pots — amazing, sky blue hot springs surrounded by colorful microorganisms that thrive in the heat and moisture.

The trail loops uphill, where you can look out over the fields of hot springs, and discover a series of mudpots! The mudpots have limited water supply and their consistency changes with the amount of water each season. They were thick and muddy for our visit, but the occasional burst of activity would still shoot some of that mud up into the air! I posted a short video clip below.

We left the area and headed out of the park via the west entrance to find our lodging for the next couple of days in West Yellowstone.

Along the way, traffic slowed down and before we knew it we were driving alongside a major bison herd replete with dozens of baby bison! There were rangers everywhere and we weren’t able to stop or slow down so I tried snapping a few photos out the window of our car. Most didn’t turn out, including the ones of the babies, but it was an incredible sight and the biggest herd we saw throughout our trip.

For only having half of a day, we were able to experience quite a variety of stops and wildlife, and it made me even more excited about having a few more days to explore more of Yellowstone National Park!

6 thoughts on “Yellowstone National Park: Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Geyser Basin

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