The Yellowstone Upper Geyser Basin trail begins at the Old Faithful Inn and Old Faithful Geyser and offers access to hundreds of thermal features in what is frequently described as the world’s largest concentration of thermal activity. The paved trail follows the Firehole River for 1.5 miles to the much photographed Morning Glory Pool. There are many side trails and extensions available to the east, before it loops back to a more direct route to the Inn. An unpaved extension allows access to additional, somewhat more remote features. The is another in our series on Top 10 actvities for families with teens and tweens visiting Yellowstone National Park. Click the link to see the rest.
Take the Time to Fully Explore the Upper Geyser Basin
The thermal activity in Yellowstone is due to the fact that the park sits on a geothermal hot spot, that has been responsible for several massive volcanic blasts, the most recent being approximately 600,000 years ago. The area is very seismically active with frequent low level earth quakes and occasional large ones. The average temperature of the hot springs and thermal pools throughout the Upper Geyser Basin is approximately 199 °F, so it is important to stay on the boardwalks and trails. The ground around many of the formations may be unstable as the water rises several miles under the earth’s crust, creating many cracks throughout the rock.
We took several hours to explore the features along the main trail as well as side trails. It was a hot day but our teen and tween were intrigued by all the thermal activity. One of the most interesting phenomena is the bright multi-colored hues of many of the thermal pools. Some like Blue Star Spring are deep blue. Others can be ringed with yellow, green, red or brown rings. The colors are caused by bacteria that thrive in the hot, mineral-rich waters. The National Park Service hosts an online tour of the Upper Geyser Basin which provide photos of many of these wonders. Other formations include hissing steam vents known as fumaroles and bubbling, sulfer smelling mudpots. There are also several predictable geysers besides Old Faithful if you have the time to track one down. The park rangers will be able to tell you the most likely spots to see activity the day you are there.
Many visitors, particularly those that are staying outside the Park end up missing much of the grandeur of the Upper Basin. They crowd around Old Faithful, stop to take a picture of Morning Glory Pool, and then hit the road. There is so much more to the Upper Basin, and you can see it all walking rather than driving. We recommend planning a morning to really take it all in.
Handicap Accessible Thermal Features
Just a reminder that there are many active thermal areas around the park. The Lower Geyser Basin areas offers access to some features from the road or via short stolls on boardwalks, if the Upper Basin walk seems too demanding. Mammoth Hot Springs provides easy access to dramatic features from the road.