Geyser Basins

Geysers, mudpots and other thermal features

Yellowstone is famous for geysers and that reputation has been well-earned.  The majority of the world's active geysers are located in the park.  Add the beautiful scenery, wildlife and recreation and I believe Yellowstone is a must-see on every travel buff's to-do list. 


There are several different thermal areas in the park which are outlined on this page.  It is typical to find boardwalks and paths in the thermal areas.  Be sure to stay on them and obey all signs.  Watch children carefully to ensure they stay on the paths and do not attempt to touch what may look like an inviting pool but is actually very dangerous.  If you feel ill from the fumes leave the area immediately. 


Old Faithful Area


There are four different geyser basins in the Old Faithful area.  The star of the geysers here is Old Faithful herself in the Upper Geyser Basin.  Old Faithful is located in the heart of the developments in that area.  You can view the Old Faithful eruptions from the viewing deck right at the Old Faithful Inn.  There are benches that surround a portion of the geyser where visitors wait to view the eruptions that occur approximately every 90 minutes.  Eruption predictions are posted in the lobby at the inn, as well as in the nearby Visitor Center.  Castle Geyser was actually my favorite geyser.  Castle Geyser was erupting about every 12 hours when we visited.  We waited for over an hour for it to erupt.  I had read that the eruptions can last for 30 minutes.  When we visited, the water phase probably lasted about 30 minutes and then there was a very strong steam phase that lasted for about 20 minutes.  We could observe the eruption while touring the other geysers in the area.  In contrast, the Old Faithful eruptions only last a few minutes. 


You can pick up trail guides that contain maps and useful information about the different geyser basins at the Visitor Center and at some of the trails for a 50 cent donation.  We picked up one for all the main attraction areas and they really helped guide us along the trails.  While there were always crowds of people around Old Faithful when eruptions were imminent, we found the trails in the Upper Geyser Basin Loop to be amazingly uncrowded.  Some of the thermal features we especially enjoyed on this basin were Anemone Geyser, Doublet Pool, Morning Glory Pool, Grotto Geyser (which can erupt for 1 ½  to 15 hours at a time) and the previously mentioned Castle Geyser.  The rangers at the Visitor Center post predictions for Old Faithful, Castle, Grand, and Daisy Geyser in this area.  You might want to note the predictions and see what geysers might go off when you are in the area.  I highly recommend trying to see Castle Geyser in action.  Grand Geyser in the Upper Basin is said to have the tallest predictable eruptions in the world with eruptions as high as 200 feet    I recommend walking the entire basin to experience the lovely scenery and the variety of thermal features located there.  


Also in the Old Faithful vicinity are the Black Sand Basin, Biscuit Basin and Midway Geyser Basin which are all worth a visit.  Probably the most photographed feature of these areas is the Grand Prismatic Spring located at the Midway Geyser Basin.  It is the largest hot spring in the park and has colorful rings created by algae that can live at these high temperatures.  Visitors should note that there are fumes at many of the thermal features in the park.  As an asthmatic, I worried about whether the fumes might cause breathing difficulties.  I did not experience any problems but those concerned should probably check with their doctors and leave the areas if they notice breathing difficulties. 


About 8 miles north of the Old Faithful area is the Firehole Lake Drive where Great Fountain and White Dome, and Pink Dome geysers can be found.  The Old Faithful Visitor Center provides predictions for the Great Fountain Geyer during the summer months.  Just north of the Firehole Lake Drive is the Fountain Paint Pot area.  This was our first stop at the thermal features when we arrived in Yellowstone and we really enjoyed the clear blue pools, bubbling mud pots and geysers located here.  This was one of the few geyser areas (other that Old Faithful) that we found to be fairly congested with people. 


Other Thermal Areas


Heading north on the west side of the park you will find Norris Geyser Basin.  This is said to be one of the hottest areas of the park.  The hydrothermal features in this area are highly acidic and it is the one of the most seismically active area of the park.  There are many colors here resulting from the bacteria that thrive in the hot temperatures found here.  The most famous feature at this basin is Steamboat Geyser, which is the world’s tallest active geyser.  Steamboat Geyser has very small eruptions every few minutes.  Steamboat’s full scale eruptions can reach heights of 300 feet.  Steamboat is a very unpredictable geyser which may not erupt for months or years at a time. 


Continuing north on the Upper Loop road you will arrive at the Mammoth Hot Springs area.  This area has travertine terraces formed when water containing calcium carbonate flowed over the limestone deposited here millions of years ago.  Many of the formations here are orange and/or white in color.  During our late July visit the water flow was low so the area was pretty dry.  The Mammoth Hot Springs Trail guide has a map which explains the features.  There are some steep stairways here and a portion of the boardwalk is wheelchair accessible.  The Upper Terrace Drive is an automobile accessible loop that will take you by the features in that area.  At the northern end of the area is a tall slender rock formation called Liberty Cap.  Adjacent to that area is the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins development.  When we arrived there a herd of elk was taking an afternoon rest on the lawn.  There is a Visitor Center there, as well as restaurants and shops.  The Map Room in the hotel has an interesting map of the United States on the wall that is worth a stop. 


Between Canyon and Grant Village there are a few thermal areas worth checking out.  The first is the Mud Volcano Trail located about 10 miles south of Canyon.  I remember this particular thermal area as somewhat smelly from sulfur.  There is  2/3 mile trail that will take you past such features as Mud Volcano, Mud Cauldron, and Dragon’s Mouth Spring.  This area is less colorful than other basins but the pools of gray, bubbling and sputtering mud make this spot worth a visit.  


Heading further south is the West Thumb Geyser Basin along Lake Yellowstone.  There is a short loop walk to view various thermal pools.  The most famous of those is probably Fishing Cone.  Fishing Cone is basically a cone with a boiling pool inside sitting in lake. When the lake level is high from snowmelt in the spring and early summer the entire cone may be submerged.  Many years ago people would hold the fish they caught over the pool to try and cook it.  People sometimes referred to Fishing Cone as the Chowder Pot or Fish Pot.  Today, boardwalks keep visitors from damaging the cone as the fisherman of the past had done.  There are also other interesting features here such as the Thumb Paint Pots, Black Pool and the Abyss Pool to name a few. 


Yellowstone Travel Tips

Yellowstone Overview

Yellowstone Lodging



Old Faithful


 Morning Glory Pool


Doublet Pool


Castle Geyser


Grand Prismatic


Thermal Pool


Travertine Terraces at Mammoth Hot Spring


Mud Volcano Area


Fishing Cone