Across the western states, geothermal energy is pulsing through the ground.
While some of these geothermal attractions have gone through various stages of commercialization, many of these magnificent resources are left in their natural state to be viewed and enjoyed by visitors. That’s because many of these grandiose geothermal attractions are in Yellowstone National Park. And it’s no coincidence: much of the reason Yellowstone National Park became our nation’s first National Park is because of its geothermal displays.
Fly Geyser—Gerlach, Nevada
When a drilling company first struck what is now Fly Geyser, they discovered the water wasn’t hot enough to support their needs, so an attempt to cap the leak was put in place. Eventually the forces of nature prevailed and broke the seal, creating what is now known as Fly Geyser.
What makes Fly Geyser unique isn’t just its remote location, but it’s the colorful cone and lively shape that really defines this Nevadan geyser. Its large shape and rainbow-like appearance can be attributed to the mineral-rich waters it sprays into the air and the thermophilic algae that loves the warm environment. For nearly the entirety of its life, Fly Geyser resided on the land of the private Fly Ranch, but in June 2016, the organization behind the nearby Burning Man event made an announcement that they were purchasing the property where Fly Geyser is located, eventually opening its wonders to thousands of more people each year.
Grand Prismatic Spring—Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Located in the Midway Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Prismatic Spring is Yellowstone’s largest and perhaps most colorful hot spring. Today, the Grand Prismatic is a big tourist draw within the park, and its influence on the surrounding environment, or the environment’s influence on it, can easily be seen with with each visit. Surrounded by every color of the rainbow, the picturesque hues of Grand Prismatic Spring are created by the thermophiles that thrive in the hot-water environment, creating not only a vibrant, eye-catching attraction but also a living community of extreme microorganisms.
Hot Springs National Park—Hot Springs, Arkansas
Once known as the “American Spa,” Hot Springs National Park has a rich history surrounding its thermal waters, and a delicate, if not complex, relationship with its popularity among the people. Native Americans were the first documented civilization to utilize the thermal waters of the area, and when Arkansas was purchased with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the hot springs were discovered by the Dunbar-Hunter Expedition one year later. Shortly after the Dunbar-Hunter discovery, the town of hot springs began to flourish, and a bathing industry was born, attracting personalities and establishments like an Army-Navy Hospital, Al Capone, and Major League Baseball Teams. Today, the town of Hot Springs and Hot Springs National Park share a close border. Upon a visit, plenty of opportunities to take traditional baths or soak in a pool are available, and each one provides insight on why Hot Springs has been a popular place from the beginning.
Hot Springs State Park—Thermopolis, Wyoming
Located in the tourist friendly town of Thermopolis, Hot Springs State Park is not only a slightly less crowded alternative to the nearby Yellowstone National Park, it also contains the world’s largest mineral hot spring. Serving as the center attraction for the park, the Big Spring issues over three million gallons of water per day at a constant 127 degrees, and creates the eye-catching and colorful terraces that line the adjacent Big Horn River. There are a lot of ways to enjoy the hot springs at Hot Springs State Park, including the State Bath House with 104-degree water, which is free and open to the public.
Lone Star Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
For a great day hike, and a chance to experience a geyser that doesn’t generate such a crowd, the Lone Star Geyser erupts roughly every three hours, and blasts water up to 40 feet in the air. Lone Star Geyser is considered a backcountry geyser, meaning you can’t just drive your car up to it. While it’s only a three-mile hike on a forest service road to reach the Lone Star Geyser from Old Faithful, these extra miles to see the spray result in a more personal viewing experience of the geothermal activity found in Yellowstone.
Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Mammoth Hot Springs is a complex collection of hot springs found on the northwestern border of Yellowstone National Park. Through thousands of years of activity, the heated water of Mammoth Hot Springs has created quite the collection of travertine terraces that are rich with calcium carbonate and photographic opportunities. Often labeled as an “inside-out cave”, the travertine terraces that spring to life in this section of the park are a popular and very accessible attraction within Yellowstone, and with campgrounds and indoor lodging nearby, Mammoth Hot Springs serves a great basecamp for a multi-day stay in Yellowstone.
Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Old Faithful isn’t only reliable to erupt every 60–110 minutes, it also provides a fantastic show of boiling hot water spraying over 100 feet into the air every time. Easily accessible via Yellowstone’s West Entrance, Old Faithful sits in the Upper Geyser Basin and is adjacent to the Old Faithful Inn, which provides rustic accommodations as one of the few remaining log hotels in the United States. To witness the clockwork geothermal mechanisms at play sprouting out of Old Faithful is a unique sight you have to see for yourself.
Soda Springs Geyser, Soda Springs, Idaho
The Soda Springs Geyser of southeastern Idaho is the world’s only captive geyser, ensuring you see its spray 365 days of the year. Soda Springs Geyser was first discovered seven decades ago when town residents were searching for a hot water source for a natural swimming pool. Accidentally creating an eruption of cold water, and incidentally flooding the area, the newly formed geyser was capped and put on a timer, set to go off every hour, and which can still be seen in current times at Geyser Park in Soda Springs. The geyser isn’t the only geothermal attraction to be found in Soda Springs either, and the city itself was named for the abundance of hot springs found within its borders, including in present times the tourist friendly Lava Hot Springs Mineral Pools.
West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park
Consisting of a wide range of pools, springs, mudpots, fumaroles and lakeshore geysers, the West Thumb Geyser Basin packs in a lot over its half-mile boardwalk trail. With the Historic West Thumb Ranger Station located nearby, a deeper understanding about the geothermal activity beneath your feet can be easily obtained through the many informational exhibits and interpretive walks offered.