Fly Geyser

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 GeyserFly 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 SpringGrand 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 ParkHot 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 parkHot 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 BasinLone 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 springsMam­moth 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 FaithfulOld 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 GeyserSoda 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 GeyserWest 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.

If you’ve had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to vis­it our nation’s first nation­al park, you know how over­whelm­ing it can be. Encom­pass­ing more than 3,000 square miles and con­tain­ing the largest con­cen­tra­tion of geot­her­mal attrac­tions in the coun­try, it’s safe to say there’s a lot to see in Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park.


Out­side of the gey­sers, fumaroles and hot springs, Yel­low­stone also con­tains a vast back­coun­try wait­ing to be explored, moun­tain peaks to be climbed, and dozens of his­toric struc­tures worth stop­ping in to. Whether you only have a hol­i­day week­end or you’re plan­ning to spend the sum­mer explor­ing all that Yel­low­stone has to offer, these nine attrac­tions should be at the top of your list.

1. Upper Geyser Basin 
Home to the Old Faith­ful geyser and a pletho­ra of oth­er geot­her­mic hot spots, for many, the Upper Geyser Basin is the epit­o­me of Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park. It’s not only Old Faith­ful that’s worth see­ing though; stretch­ing for near­ly three miles away from the Old Faith­ful Vis­i­tor Cen­ter, planked board­walks lead vis­i­tors to oth­er var­i­ous hot springs, fumaroles and worth­while gey­sers in the area.

2. The Old Faith­ful Inn 
Con­struct­ed in 1903 and locat­ed a few hun­dred yards away from the Old Faith­ful geyser, the Old Faith­ful Inn is an archi­tec­tur­al and his­tor­i­cal won­der to behold. With a clas­sic log-and-stone struc­ture, the ambiance of the Old Faith­ful Inn res­onates in the Gold­en Age it was built, and the his­to­ry it holds res­onates with every­one who vis­its. Reser­va­tions for the Old Faith­ful Inn need to be made months in advance, and if you can’t get your­self a book­ing, it’s still rec­om­mend­ed to check out the Old Faith­ful Inn Din­ing Room for a full-course meal or an awe­some break­fast buffet.

3. West Thumb Geyser Basin 
Over­look­ing the mas­sive “West Thumb” of Yel­low­stone Lake, the West Thumb Geyser Basin takes vis­i­tors on a board­walk tour cov­er­ing lakeshore gey­sers, per­fo­rat­ed pools and surg­ing springs (plus a “paint pot” or two). The view of Yel­low­stone Lake isn’t half-bad either, mak­ing the West Thumb Geyser Basin a quick stop that can be remem­bered for a lifetime.

4. Mid­way Geyser Basin 
The Mid­way Geyser Basin presents some of the largest geot­her­mal attrac­tions found in the park. Most notably, vis­i­tors to the Mid­way Geyser Basin are treat­ed to the mul­ti-col­or arrange­ments of Grand Pris­mat­ic Spring, which can leave you won­der­ing what plan­et you just land­ed on. Upon any vis­it, be sure to not only walk the board­walk sur­round­ing the spring, but take the time to hike from Fairy Falls trail­head to give you a more bird’s-eye view of Grand Pris­mat­ic and the sur­round­ing Mid­way Geyser Basin.

5. Lamar and Hay­den Valley 
If spot­ting wildlife is high on your pri­or­i­ty list when vis­it­ing Yel­low­stone, the Lamar and Hay­den Val­leys should be up on your list. As you sim­ply dri­ve by these cen­tral and north Yel­low­stone val­leys, your chances of spot­ting wildlife are good, and so is the chance of bison cross­ing the road right in front of you. Bring binoc­u­lars along to use while parked at one of the many pull-offs—or ven­ture forth through­out the trails found in the area—and with healthy respect toward the wildlife, you can catch a glimpse of many of Yellowstone’s native res­i­dents includ­ing buf­fa­lo, bears, wolves, and elk.

6. Mount Washburn
If you want to add some ele­va­tion to your Yel­low­stone adven­ture, Mount Wash­burn can take you there. With two trail­heads that access the sum­mit of Mount Wash­burn, and the cor­re­spond­ing oper­a­tional fire tow­er found there, vis­i­tors can choose between steep switch­backs and not-as-steep switch­backs. Either route includes a 5‑plus mile round trip, and both deliv­er on big views that include Hay­den Val­ley, the Grand Canyon of Yel­low­stone and even Grand Teton on clear days.

7. Grand Canyon of Yellowstone 
While Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park might be best not­ed for its incred­i­ble geot­her­mal attrac­tions, it also deliv­ers when it comes to grand vis­tas and water­falls. No bet­ter exam­ple of that can be found than the Grand Canyon of Yel­low­stone, cre­at­ed by the rush­ing water of the Yel­low­stone Riv­er. Both South Rim and North Rim hikes offer views of the oil paint­ing-esque land­scape if you don’t mind tra­vers­ing a good num­ber of stairs to see it all.

8. The Boil­ing River 
Locat­ed near the north­ern bor­der of Yel­low­stone in Mon­tana, the Boil­ing Riv­er is part of the Mam­moth Hot Springs area of the park and offers one of the few legal ther­mal soak­ing areas to sit in. Vis­i­tors to the Boil­ing Riv­er do not, and should not, soak in the near­by hot springs itself, but instead can enjoy the warmth at the junc­tion where the hot water meets the cold water of the Gard­ner Riv­er, cre­at­ing a per­fect place for folks to enjoy the ther­mal pow­ers that make Yel­low­stone what it is.

9. Nor­ris Geyser Basin 
Fea­tur­ing a scorched envi­ron­ment lined with geot­her­mal fea­tures, the Nor­ris Geyser Basin unveils the hottest, old­est and most dynam­ic area of Yel­low­stone. Split into the Back Basin and Porce­lain Basin, the board­walk trails through­out the area feel like gate­ways to a dif­fer­ent plan­et, and the sul­fur steam adds a vis­cer­al ele­ment to the expe­ri­ence. While there are many geyser basins to check out in Yel­low­stone, Nor­ris Geyser is deserv­ing of your time.

©istockphoto/kwiktor
Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park is a mag­i­cal place any time of the year, with dozens of species of ani­mals, pris­tine eco­log­i­cal fea­tures and enough land area (2.2 mil­lion acres) to spend a life­time explor­ing. No won­der this park receives more than 3 mil­lion vis­i­tors a year. And while Yel­low­stone is most pop­u­lat­ed dur­ing the warmer months of sum­mer vaca­tion, this park is still a year-round attrac­tion. In fact, the win­ter sea­son brings a whole new twist to this wild won­der­land, and not to men­tion a lot less of a crowd (2010–2011 win­ter vis­i­tors: 88,000).

A Brief History
Forty-four years before the Nation­al Park Ser­vice was even cre­at­ed, Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park became the country’s first Nation­al Park in 1872. Locat­ed main­ly in Wyoming and parts of Mon­tana and Ida­ho, Yellowstone’s mis­sion, which can be seen inscribed on the gates of the North Entrance, is the “preser­va­tion of its many won­ders and for the enjoy­ment of the peo­ple.” Since the time of its open­ing and the advent of auto­mo­biles, Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park has been one of the most pop­u­lar parks with­in the Nation­al Park System.

Geo­log­i­cal Wonders
Yel­low­stone is itself an active vol­cano, and that’s what cre­ates many of the notable geo­log­i­cal attrac­tions with­in the park, includ­ing the most famous Upper Geyser Basin (Old Faith­ful). But the fun doesn’t stop with Old Faith­ful; in fact, the entire park is home to approx­i­mate­ly 10,000 ther­mal fea­tures includ­ing gey­sers, hot springs, fumaroles (steam vents) and mud­pots. And while many of these ther­mal fea­tures are dan­ger­ous to touch (or swim in), they pro­vide quite the sight to see and often are hosts to thriv­ing ecosys­tems. Out­side of the ther­mal fea­tures, Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park also has an array of water­falls and scenic view­points to gan­der across as you make your way through the park (includ­ing “The Grand Canyon of Yel­low­stone”). Of Yellowstone’s five entrances which lead to the vari­ety of geo­log­i­cal fea­tures, only one of them is open dur­ing the win­ter to pub­lic vehi­cles (North Entrance out­side of Gar­diner, MT). To vis­it oth­er attrac­tions, com­mer­cial vehi­cles and guid­ed tours are the only way to get around (see below).

©istockphoto/pknowles

Win­ter Wildlife
Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park hosts such a vari­ety of wildlife that it is con­sid­ered its own ecosys­tem. The fact that all the road­ways in the park sport signs warn­ing vis­i­tors to“beware of wildlife on roads,” is a sure sign that you might see some wildlife on your win­ter vaca­tion to Yel­low­stone.   And whether you catch a glimpse of the Amer­i­can Bison that use the cleared roads to trav­el, or you share a camp­site with the many elk or deer inhab­i­tants, be sure of one thing, these ani­mals are wild and should not be approached. Spend a lit­tle extra time in the park and chances are you’ll run into some larg­er ani­mals includ­ing, but not lim­it­ed to, griz­zly bears, bighorn sheep, coy­otes, moose, and wolves.

Cross Coun­try Ski­ing & Snowshoeing
One win­ter attrac­tion that draws a lot of atten­tion in Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park is cross coun­try ski­ing and snow­shoe­ing, most­ly due to the sheer amount of trails avail­able. While some are groomed when con­di­tions are right, much of the snow trav­el in Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park is con­sid­ered back­coun­try. That means with tem­per­a­tures falling to below sub-zero, it pays to know what you’re doing. Plan ahead and make sure to pack the appro­pri­ate gear, get your trail maps and talk to the rangers to let them know what you’re doing. Not inter­est­ed in going at it alone? Yel­low­stone NP also offers many ranger-guid­ed trips and a large num­ber of out­fit­ters car­ry per­mits to guide with­in the park’s boundaries.

Snow­coach­ing and Snowmobiling
Per­haps the eas­i­est, and warmest, way to get around Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park in the win­ter is by snow­mo­bile or snow­coach. While the park doesn’t allow per­son­al snow­mo­biles in the park, there are sev­er­al oper­a­tors licensed to rent and guide the win­ter roads of Yel­low­stone. These guid­ed ser­vices allow vis­i­tors to see all the fea­tures with­in Yel­low­stone that aren’t acces­si­ble due to the vast major­i­ty of unplowed roads that line the park. And with prices rang­ing from $100–$400+, there are plen­ty of options to find the adven­ture that fits your budget.

©istockphoto/brytta

Lodg­ing
While the Mam­moth Camp­ground is open year round, the cold tem­per­a­tures might scare even some of the most sea­soned win­ter campers. If you have a lit­tle mon­ey to spare, both the Mam­moth Hot Springs and Cab­ins and Old Faith­ful Snow Lodge and Cab­ins are open dur­ing the win­ter. And to add to the thought of heat­ed rooms each night, the lodges also offer awe­some win­ter pack­ages includ­ing a “Nordic Heav­en” pack­age and a “Win­ter Wildlife Expe­di­tion” package.

Trip Plan­ning and Addi­tion­al Resources
With so much to see and do, and some rea­son­ably cold con­di­tions to deal with, a win­ter trip into Yel­low­stone does take some research. Laid out above is plen­ty to get start­ed, but to get the most out of your unfor­get­table trip, these addi­tion­al resources will help you stay safe, stay warm and enjoy your vis­it to our Nation’s very first Nation­al Park:

  • NPS Offi­cial Yel­low­stone Website
  • Offi­cial Yel­low­stone NP Newspaper
  • Offi­cial Web­site of Yel­low­stone NP Lodging
  • Yel­low­stone Park.Net
  • Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park.Com