Our final day in Yellowstone National Park we explored the geyser basins around Old Faithful. We entered from the west entrance, completed the western leg of the loop road, and exited the park via the south entrance on our way to Grand Teton National Park.
As we had been discovering throughout our time in the park, this leg was quite different from the northwest stretch of the park as well as the Grand Canyon, Hayden Valley, and West Thumb areas we had explored the previous day.
We arrived at the Lower Geyser Basin relatively early and didn’t have many people to contend with as we walked along the boardwalks around the Fountain Paint Pots.
Prior to 1959 this area was a grassy knoll — a major earthquake 25 miles away in Montana created shock waves across the land that led to the ‘birth’ of all the geological features throughout the area.
The Red Spouter in particular was very active, growling and spitting boiling water and steam up into the air. Depending on the seasonal amount of water, the Red Spouter can be a hot spring (as we experienced it), a mud pot, or a steam vent! Every visit to Yellowstone is different depending on the time of year, the weather, and the areas you visit.
Our stop at Midway Geyser Basin to see the Grand Prismatic Spring was much busier. We masked up and tried to socially distance among the crowds parking and walking the one-way loop around the hot springs.
This is another area that varies greatly depending on the weather. We had a cloudy morning with the sun fighting through the clouds and a decent breeze that was constantly blowing the steam around, making it difficult to get the full picture of what was surrounding us. Every once in a while the breeze would shift and uncover a brilliantly blue hot spring, a rainbow through the mist, or an unearthly and glistening landscape.
The thermophilic communities in this area are different from those we experienced at Mammoth Hot Springs, the Mud Volcano, and Norris Geyser Basin due to different pH levels, the type of rock, and the amount of silica in the water. These bacteria create the amazing colors surrounding and inside the hot springs.
They are especially abundant around the Grand Prismatic Spring, but it’s hard to really see the full effect walking alongside the hot spring — the view, we found, is better from above!
We found the best views by hiking the Grand Prismatic overlook trail, which you can access a short drive south of the spring itself.
We parked at the trailhead for Fairy Falls, which was our actual destination, but the Grand Prismatic Overlook is along the way — only .6 miles from the trailhead. The climb to the overlook isn’t terribly steep, and the views were well worth the detour!
After viewing the Midway Geyser Basin area from above, we continued our hike to Fairy Falls — a 5.4 mile roundtrip hike to the waterfall. The hike is very flat and easy through the geyser basin, into the woods, and finally to a clearing where you can view the falls.
It wasn’t the most interesting or challenging hike we’ve ever done — the most compelling part was the possibility of seeing bears, which had been spotted in the area. We didn’t see any bears, but we did make it to the falls and enjoyed some blue sky when we arrived!
We didn’t spend a lot of time in the Upper Geyser Basin because it was really busy — way too many people for us in the best of circumstances, let alone in the time of COVID-19.
We arrived just after Old Faithful had erupted so cars were leaving the parking lot en mass and we didn’t have too much trouble finding a spot. We walked toward Old Faithful and spent our time leading up to its next eruption walking the nearby boardwalks and admiring the other geothermal features of the surrounding area.
The Upper Geyer Basin hosts the majority of the world’s active geysers, including Old Faithful (which isn’t actually the most reliable geyser in the area…!). We found a spot to sit on a bench at the far end of the amphitheater and sat in the front row, trying to stay far away from other people. We were moderately successful.
Old Faithful erupted at exactly the time predicted, and once again we had a little bit of blue sky to mark the occasion. It was fun to see, but I wouldn’t consider it the highlight of our visit. There is so much to see and do in Yellowstone National Park beyond Old Faithful — there is much more we’d like to experience on our next trip, and I’d encourage you to explore beyond Old Faithful on your trip too!