The Best Geysers You'll See in Yellowstone
Oh, the geysers you’ll see!
Yellowstone National Park is well-known for its wildlife and natural beauty. But what may not be so obvious is what lies beneath—its hot, flowing lifeblood. I’m talking, of course, about magma, seeping from the vents in the massive Yellowstone supervolcano.
Known by such names as “many smoke," "wonderland," and “land of many vapors," the U.S.’s first national park has long roiled, boiled, bubbled, and groaned with hydrothermal activity. And none of these features are as rare and wondrous as its geysers.
In fact, Yellowstone is home to over half the world’s geysers! With over 500 geysers in the park—yup, you heard me, over 500—it’s a tough task to travel to each and every one. Some are more accessible, some are must-sees, and some aren't quite as rewarding as others.
Navigating Yellowstone's Geysers
How are you to know which is which? With this guide, of course! First, I’ll let you know a little bit about the different types of hydrothermal, including geysers, and then I’ll list them all by region, or basin, going clockwise across the map.
With a park expanding across 3,472 square miles, you’ll want to know how far away each basin is. I’ll label which basins and geysers are park highlights, and give you all the details on crowds, the best time to visit, and average eruption times.
I suggest you check the map (below, at Geyser by Geyser) to get an idea of how close/far these basins are from one another. After all, it can take anywhere from 4-7 hours just to drive across the park.
To learn more about traveling across the park, check out our itineraries!
What’s bubbling in Yellowstone?
First up, here are a few key terms that might help you figure out what's cooking in Yellowstone National Park.
Geysers, including well-known features such as Old Faithful, captivate visitors as the showstoppers of Yellowstone. These astonishing craters mesmerize with their sporadic eruptions of steam and water. An underground reservoir of superheated water powers these eruptions, releasing upward as the only possible way.
These are like the sleepy siblings of geysers. There’s plenty of water, and it’s bubbly and hot, but it isn’t going anywhere far anytime soon. But these features are far from boring!
Yellowstone is bejeweled by hot spring pools that shimmer in emerald, turquoise, sapphire, and gold! They are also home to thermophiles–colorful, heat-loving microorganisms. When you think of hot springs, think of colorful features like Grand Prismatic Spring.
Fumaroles operate a little bit differently than hot springs and geysers. Instead of an underground reservoir that fills with water, fumaroles are vents in the earth that release scalding gases, including carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and hydrogen chloride. The heat inside these vents is so intense that it flashes any dripping water into steam, creating hissing, or even growling sounds.
If this sounds to you like a pot of bubbling mud, you’re practically ready to become a geologist. Unlike the other hydrothermal features, mudpots, while appearing to boil, may not be particularly hot. These muddy puddles bubble, gurgle, and pop due to hydrogen sulfide gas escaping from underground.
Paintpots are a special variety of mudpots that are colored by minerals. They come in a variety of colors, including pastel pinks, yellows, and grays, and their lively activity makes them a crowd favorite.
Geyser by Geyser, a comprehensive guide
Okay, let’s set off on an imaginary journey. We’ll start out at Madison Junction. This is where West Yellowstone, the most popular entrance, connects to the main road known as Grand Loop Drive. Heading clockwise, these are all of the major hydrothermal features and geyser basins that you’ll see. We’ll conclude our journey back where we started, at Madison Junction.
U.S. National Park Service, restoration/cleanup by Matt Holly, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
This uncrowded roadside hot spring can be a fun first experience with hydrothermal features. The 0.2 mile boardwalk loop parallels a large, deep hot spring in a grassy meadow surrounded by lodgepole pines. The boardwalk itself is flat, with no stairs or steep inclines.
Beryl Spring (Must See!)
Image from Flickr by Penny Higgins
Beryl Spring is an unforgettable early stop, and you'll definitely want to pull into this roadside hot spring on your way to Norris Geyser Basin. Its bright blue color is luminous on sunny days, and the stop itself will only take about 10 minutes. In fact, this feature is so beautiful, it may just give you some of your favorite photographs of the entire trip!
Monument Geyser Basin
Just 9 miles after turning north at Madison, visitors are offered a chance to see beautiful geysers on a hidden (relatively speaking) trail. This is a great chance to escape the crowds and see geysers not often seen by most park visitors. The most famous geyser here is Monument Geyser, which regularly sprays over 8 feet high.
The trailhead is located just across the road from Gibbon Geyser Basin (no separate pullover). The trail is short at only 2.3 miles, but it does have 700 feet of elevation gain. For more information on this and all other hikes, check out our Yellowstone hiking guide.
Norris Geyser Basin
Artists Paintpots (Recommended)
Image by Rachel Ennis
Artists Paintpots Trail is a fantastic stop just 4 miles south of Norris Geyser Basin (and 11 miles, from the west entrance). The easy 1.2-mile boardwalk and gravel trail winds through an area with several colorful, bubbling paintpots. This is a great midday stop because it stays relatively uncrowded, even when the surrounding areas are swarming with tourists.
Norris Geyser Basin (Must See!)
Image by Rachel Ennis
Norris Geyser Basin is definitely a do-not-miss attraction. This is the hottest and most acidic of all of the basins in Yellowstone, as well as one of the largest. It is divided into two basins, the Porcelain Basin in the front and the Back Basin.
The Porcelain Geyser Basin packs a short, steamy 0.9 mile boardwalk with geothermal features. Some of its bigger names include the turquoise Colloidal Pool and Pinwheel Geyser, along with many others.
The boardwalk trail around the Back Basin is 2.6 miles, and is home to Steamboat Geyser, the highest shooting geyser in the park. This unpredictable geyser can shoot over 300 feet into the air!
Though this is a major Yellowstone attraction, it is generally not as crowded as other big name stops, such as Old Faithful. Still, don’t expect to have the place to yourself—especially midday. Arrive outside of the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for a more relaxed experience.
Tip: Bring your sunhat! All together (Porcelain and Back Basin Trails), you’ll walk almost 3 miles in exposed sunlight.
Frying Pan and Bijah Springs
Just over three miles north of the Porcelain Basin lie several roadside springs. Two of these have pullovers that allow you to listen to and watch the sizzling, steaming hot springs nestled in Yellowstone's beautiful lodgepole pine forest.
The Roaring Mountain (Recommended)
This roadside stop between Norris and Mammoth is unlike any other. This "roaring mountain" steams and hisses, almost as if a sleeping dragon lies beneath it. And, in a way, that’s almost what the supervolcano is!
This is a rare chance to see and hear fumaroles “roar” out of a smoking gray mountainside, created with the aid of acid and heat. Though the sounds of the mountain have diminished in recent years, hearing the results of volcanic activity for yourself is still an amazing experience. This is a good stop at any time of day, though it may be difficult to hear the fumaroles during the midday rush.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces (Must-see!)
The white travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs are located on the northern edge of the park, just 5 miles from the north entrance. These chalky terraces, which look as though they belong deep inside a cave, were formed by calcium carbonate deposited by hundreds of hot springs. The flow and color of these steaming, spilling waters change almost daily, causing the landscape to change with them.
Mammoth Hot Springs is divided into two terraces, upper and lower, and both are highly recommended.
The Upper Terrace is a drivable loop with stunning features like the Orange Spring Mound and Aphrodite Terrace. The drive itself will take less than 10 minutes, but there are several pullovers where drivers can stop to get a closer look at the features.
To access the Lower Terrace, you can reach it either by taking several hundred stairs or by parking at one of the lower parking lots along the boardwalk trail. The boardwalk itself is about 1.75 miles long and loops around over a dozen features, including Mound Spring, Jupiter Terrace, and the towering Liberty Cap.
Though not really a hydrothermal feature itself, the boiling river has a section where you can dip your toes (or more) into warm, hot spring mixed waters. You’ll find this area between Mammoth Hot Springs and the north entrance. This is a great place to bring the kids, as the water here is shallow and mostly without much current.
Soda Butte, a massive hot spring cone in the heart of Lamar Valley on the east entrance, is a quick roadside stop along your drive to or from the northeast entrance. While this feature is no longer active, you’ll find lots of cliff swallows and even bison taking advantage of its shelter and mineral-rich waters.
Mud Volcano Basin
Mud Volcano Basin (Must see!)
Despite its remoteness from the larger basins, Hayden Valley's Mud Volcano is home to some of the park's most intriguing and dynamic features. Mud Volcano rests on what is called a “resurgent dome," a region that is still reacting and deforming under the influence of the volcanic magma below.
As the name implies, this is a great place to see and hear mudpots. Thanks to the mudpots’ hydrogen sulfide, it’s also a great place to smell them. In fact, some claim it to be the park's most odiferous location.
There are a few roadside features here as well as a large parking lot for its looping boardwalk trail. The boardwalk circles about half a dozen features over a distance of 0.6 miles. The two stars in this basin are Dragon’s Mouth Hot Spring and Black Dragon's Caldron (a mudpot). These features are loud, lively, and always have something to say. Be sure to take some video with sound!
The crowds here vary, but in general, expect there to be a fair amount of people midday. Recommended arrival: anytime before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.
About 17 miles from the east entrance along Lake Yellowstone's northeastern shore, you can find a few steamy roadside hot springs. From Steamboat Point, a quick and easy roadside stop, you can see several of these hot springs. If you're traveling to or from the east entrance, be sure to swing in for a great photo stop.
West Thumb Basin
West Thumb Geyser Basin (Recommended)
This lakeside basin is unique to the others in Yellowstone, as it is located in and along Yellowstone Lake. Its closest entrance is 23 miles to the south, at the entrance bordering Grand Teton National Park.
Visitors to the West Thumb will witness countless hot springs, mudpots, and geysers steaming and sputtering inside the brilliant blue expanse of the largest high-elevation lake in North America.
The main attraction here is unquestionably the Fishing Cone Geyser. Due to the rise in lake levels, this geyser can no longer erupt and has transformed into a hot spring. However, the geyser spouted high and hot in the 1800s, making it an ideal way to poach fresh lake-caught fish. The cone is still a fantastic feature to behold.
The West Thumb has two short, easy-to-walk boardwalks. The inner trail is 0.25 miles, and the outer loop is 0.5 miles. While this is one of Yellowstone's most beautiful basins, the boardwalks stay relatively uncrowded.
Upper Geyser Basin
Lone Star Geyser Basin
Looking to breathe in a little peace and quiet? The Lone Star Geyser Basin is about as uncrowded as basins get in the park—at least without camping in the backcountry.
The Lone Star trailhead is just off the road and about 3 miles south of Old Faithful. The trail itself is paved, smooth, and considered by most to be an easy 5.3 mile out and back route.
The basin itself is home to several geysers and hot springs, but the pièce de résistance is the Lone Star Geyser. This 12 foot cone erupts on a regular basis, erupting up to 50 feet every 3 hours.
Old Faithful (Must see!)
When you finally make it to the heart of the Upper Geyser Basin, you'll be blown away! (Yes, pun intended.) Not only is this home to one of the most recognizable geysers in the world, but the upper basin is home to over 150 geothermal features! And, yes, I recommend you see as many as you can. To get to the basin, drive about 27 miles north of the south entrance or about 25 miles south of the west entrance.
Old Faithful Geyser erupts about every hour to an hour and a half, depending on a variety of factors. When you first approach the Old Faithful viewing deck, there will be a sign to tell you when the next eruption is expected, plus or minus ten minutes. If the next eruption is less than 30 minutes away, I suggest you plop down on a bench seat with a good view and wait.
If you’d like to see the geyser from higher up, you can take the Observation Point Trail behind the geyser to a viewing platform. To learn more about all of your Old Faithful options, including tips, tricks, and hiking information, check out our guide.
Exploring Beyond Old Faithful
But enough about Old Faithful! There's a lot to see in the Upper Geyser Basin, and you won't want to miss anything. Here’s a few additional must-sees along the Continental Divide Trail.
You’ll definitely want to visit the basin’s four other predictable geysers: Castle, Grand, Daisy, and Riverside. (There are other active geysers as well, but these 4 are always predicted by the NPS.) And don’t forget to visit the stunning multi-colored hot springs, such as Beauty Pool and Chromatic Pool as well. For all the deets on the Continental Divide Trail, check out our hiking guide!
Black Sand Basin (Recommended)
Image by Rachel Ennis
Just over 1 mile north of Old Faithful lies the Black Sand Geyser Basin. You can walk to this basin from Old Faithful, but it will be about 2 miles each way. Named for its black obsidian sand, this basin has some stunningly colorful hot springs like Emerald Spring, Rainbow Pool, and Opalescent Pool.
Cliff Geyser, a geyser that erupts about every 30 minutes, will entice visitors to the center. This is an excellent stop if you want to see a guaranteed geyser eruption without having to wait too long. The boardwalk itself is flat, easy, and only 0.5 miles long.
Biscuit Basin (Recommended)
Biscuit Basin derived its name from the small, biscuit-shaped sinter deposits that once surrounded features like Sapphire Pool. However, the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake shook the area, resulting in the scarcity of biscuits found in Biscuit Basin today.
Nonetheless, the features here are accessible and colorful; they are definitely worth the stop. You’ll find Biscuit Basin just 2.5 miles north of Old Faithful. You can connect to this area from Old Faithful as well, via the Artemisia Trail.
The 0.6 mile Biscuit Basin boardwalk encircles several shining jewels of hot springs. With luminous emerald, turquoise, and milky blue hues, be sure to see the Sapphire Pool, the Black Opal Pool, and the Diamond Pool. There’s also one regularly spewing geyser known as Jewel Geyser that erupts every 4-12 minutes.
Around the back of the boardwalk is the 2.4 mile out-and-back Mystic Falls Trail, leading to the Mystic Falls waterfall.
Midway Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic Spring (Must see!)
Grand Prismatic Spring is one of Yellowstone’s most famous features and every bit as much of a park icon as Old Faithful. A rainbow of green, yellow, orange, and red encircles this blue pool, measuring 370 feet in diameter. Brilliant colors like these, found in other hotspring features within the park, occur due to thermophiles—microbes that thrive in high temperatures.
Grand Prismatic Spring is split into two parking lots:
- The southernmost parking lot (first, coming from Old Faithful) is an absolute must-see stop. This parking lot marks the Fairy Fountain Trailhead. At 0.8 miles, this trail overlooks the Grand Prismatic Spring and provides a better view than the boardwalk. Visitors can then choose to continue on to Fairy Falls or the Spray and Imperial Geysers, at 1.6 miles and 2.2 miles, respectively.
- The second lot is also highly recommended. This is the parking area that leads to the Grand Prismatic Boardwalk that encircles the hot spring. It’s a great way to see the spring up close and admire the biomats that live and grow in the hot waters. For a bird's-eye view and a lot less steam in your photos, you’ll still want to take the Fairy Falls trail as well.
Navigating the Crowds
Expect intense crowds and even worse traffic regardless of which parking lot you visit (hopefully both!). The turns to Grand Prismatic being backed up for miles are not unusual. Therefore, it is not recommended to visit this stop during midday.
Unfortunately, visiting early mornings is not recommended either, as mist obscures the view of Grand Prismatic. Ideally, aim for any time between 2 and 6 p.m. Yes, it will be crowded, but you will want strong, bright daylight and the mist to have cleared before you arrive. That’s the best way to appreciate Grand Prismatic’s multihued majesty.
Lower Geyser Basin
Firehole Lake (Recommended)
Image from Flickr by James St. John
The lakes on this crescent drive are unlike any you've seen, with deep copper and brown streamers and centers that look like black holes. Beyond its notable namesake, Firehole Lake Drive features several hot springs and geysers as well as a few roadside pullouts. Some of the most exciting features include Surprise Pool, White Cone Geyser, Pink Cone Geyser, and Great Fountain Geyser—the only predictable geyser in the Lower Geyser Basin.
Though the Fountain Geyser only erupts every 9-15 hours, it’s truly a spectacular sight to behold. If you can time your visit to coincide with one of these eruptions, the reward is more than worth it. It sustains an eruption of 75-220 feet (23-67 meters) that often lasts for well over an hour. And, in the glow of the setting sun? Ahh, phenomenal.
Quick reminder, to check the most recent geyser schedule, you’ll need to head to the NPS website.
Fountain Paintpots (Recommended)
Here's another exciting opportunity to see some of Yellowstone's most dynamic features: paintpots. Bubbling, popping, colorful mud puddles that are often overlooked but quickly become crowd favorites. Fountain Paintpots is a 0.6 mile looping boardwalk trail that includes not only mudpots, but also several geysers and hot springs.
The last "major stop" on this geyser journey is Fountain Flats Drive. This is a quiet side road with a few hot springs that empty into the Firehole River. This is an interesting area because visitors are allowed to fish and wade through the river (just don’t get too close to the hot springs themselves). There's even an interesting story behind one of the spring's names, Maiden Grave, but to hear it all, I recommend taking our Shaka Guide tour!
Freight Road, a trail that leads to an old laundry powered by hot springs, is an interesting side trip that lies at the end of Fountain Flats. Check out our Yellowstone hiking guide for more information on this and other hikes!
Firehole River Swimming Area
You did it! Firehole Canyon Road is the final hydrothermal stop on our exhaustive Yellowstone list. It's only 2 miles south of Madison Junction and 12 miles from the west entrance.
This scenic drive does not have any visible hot springs or geysers, but it is one of only two areas where visitors can swim in mixed hydrothermal waters. The drive itself provides spectacular views of the Firehole River Canyon. If you’re dying to dip your toes in some warm waters, be sure to swing by!
Location of Yellowstone Geysers & Hot Springs Map
Stay safe out there!
And now, you’re practically a Yellowstone hydrothermal expert. Since you know where all the park hotspots are, (ha! get it?) I’d like to leave you with a quick reminder on park safety.
As you are probably aware, it’s important to keep a safe distance from all hydrothermal features in the park. These features are not only delicate, but their temperatures are often well above scalding—some can reach over 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius)!
Easy advice to follow: stay on the boardwalks and paths; don’t touch any water near or around thermal features; keep a close eye on children; and, of course, never throw anything into the features.
Ready to take the tour? Check out Shaka Guide's Yellowstone National Park Tour!
We hope that we’ve given you all the information you need to make the most of your day. Your vacation is extremely important to us so if you have any questions feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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