LittleMan with Morning Glory Pool Old Faithful Yellowstone 3 header

The Geysers of Yellowstone: how to geyser

Almost anyone in the world can tell you that Yellowstone National Park in the USA is the place you go to see geysers.  Only the actual experience of being there will make you understand how amazing it is.  True:  there are millions of people in the Park throughout the summer, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t go and have a one of a kind experience in peace.  We’re going to teach you about the geysers of Yellowstone and just how to geyser.Yellowstone family guide to geysers 2traveldads.com

This blog post covers only geysers and hot springs.  There is so much more to the Park than these, but this is the first thing that anybody thinks of, so let’s just lay it all out.  To start, some basic Q&A:

What is a geyser?

There are cracks in Earth’s crust that allow heat and gasses to escape.  There are certain areas where these escaping gasses pool up and meet ground water, thus super-heating them and then releasing pressure by spewing out of the ground.  Hot springs are similar, but tamer; they just kind of sit there.  So, why is this such an interesting phenomena to see?  Watching science happen in front of you isn’t common (except when you find something moldy in the fridge).  Yellowstone presents a place with more than 60% of the world’s geothermal features (more than 10,000 vents) and the sight of it is breathtaking.

Don’t geysers run on schedules?

Rob Taylor and LittleMan West Thumb Geyser Basin Yellowstone 1Nope, but because geologists have been observing them for so long, many geysers are predictable based on their history.  Check out the posted times at the Old Faithful and Norris visitor centers to understand the timing of the geysers of Yellowstone better.

How much time should be invested in this?

We have found that more than 2 hours in any area is too much.  As an adult with time to spare, you might want to park yourself in front of a geyser that will erupt within a several hour window, but if you’re with kids, it’s best to keep moving.  See below for actual recommendations.

or view video here, on our YouTube channel.

Must See Geysers of Yellowstone 

LittleMan and Morning Glory Pool Old Faithful Yellowstone 2Yellowstone has several geyser basins to visit.  Since it was the first National Park, it has a solid infrastructure that makes most of them very accessible.  Do you need to see all of them?  No.  Here is a breakdown of what is a must and why.


Old Faithful Geyser Basin

It’s home to thousands of tiny spewing geysers and vents, sure, but it also has…Old Faithful.  If you don’t have time to gingerly stroll or wait for several hours for an eruption, Old Faithful will give you the show you’re looking for and will do so with impressive punctuality.  While you’re there, you can complete the full circle of the basin which is completely stroller/wheelchair accessible.  You’ll see so much more than just the one geyser.  This basin is home to Grotto, Grand, River and Daisy geysers too, all of which have signs beside them telling when they will most likely go off again.  Morning Glory Pool is the other must-see here.  It’s a hot spring at the very end of the path.  The colors are breathtaking and you won’t be disappointed.Old Faithful Inn Yellowstone 1

Kid rating:  4 stars, there’s lots of open space to run; there is excitement due to eruptions and wildlife (bison, deer, birds); there are lots of resting places

Adult rating:  3 stars, see above…and add thousands of people directly around Old Faithful itself.  Get away from this one geyser and the crowds depart.  Crowds are the only reason for the lower adult rating.

Hearth in Old Faithful Inn Yellowstone 1Tip 1:  after a day of walking without shade, take time to chill out in the Old Faithful Inn or the Old Faithful Lodge.  Both have beautiful National Park architecture and provide rocking chairs and ice cream.  **see Old Faithful webcam here.

Tip 2:  the Visitor Center at the Old Faithful Geyser Basin focuses on the geysers and hydro-thermal activity of the super-volcano that is Yellowstone.  It’s a great way to help kids understand what’s happening around them.

Tip 3:  Don’t forget to get a stamp in your National Parks Passport here.  They’ve got the Yellowstone cancellation of course, but they also may have one or two others available, including a geyser one, that add to the fun and the memory of a complete National Parks Passport

West Thumb Geyser Basin

Black Pool West Thumb Geysers YellowstoneThis is my favorite.  There aren’t geysers shooting 100 feet into the air or loud explosions, but the hot springs are beautiful and it’s set directly on Yellowstone Lake.  There are even geysers in the lake (dormant, but visible).  As we sat by the lake, enjoying the view and sunshine, we got to hear a kayak tour guide talking about the West Thumb to his paddlers, and he told them that this was the only basin visible from the water.  It’s true, and being on the water gives the whole area a very different feel and it’s very relaxing.  The geysers here are nothing thrilling, but the beautiful pools are beyond words.

Kid rating:  2 stars, it’s stroller friendly and there are benches for tired toddlers, but there’s nothing exciting to watch and the wildlife is limited to birds.  There’s also not much shade so on a hot day.
Adult rating
5 stars, the walking paths are well maintained; there are benches; the beauty of the scenery and the fascinating pools are the best in the park.  The crowds are also a lot less here due to the lack of explosive geysers.Taylor Family West Thumb Geysers Yellowstone Lake 1

Tip:  close by is the Grant Village Visitor Center which has really interesting exhibits about the fires that swept through Yellowstone in the 80s.  It’s helpful for kids who are wondering why so much of the Park is still showing fire scars.

Tip 2:  beware elk lurking about Grant Village area.  They are everywhere and really are just lurking.  The Park staff will be present or provide warnings if there is any danger or broody cows, but you should always be wary.

 

Norris Geyser Basin:

Rabbit Hare Norris Geysers Yellowstone 1If you have extra time, this is a fun place to visit.  It is split into a few different basin sections so you can pick your walking loop.  It’s not as stroller friendly as Old Faithful, but the walking is worth it.  Norris is home to Steamboat geyser, which is the tallest in the world and one of the coolest geysers in Yellowstone, but catching an eruption from it is unlikely, because unlike Old Faithful, it’s not faithful in its schedule.  The best part of Norris is the view from the visitor center.  It really captures the vastness of the basin and the impact the hydro-thermal features have on the area.

Kid rating4 stars, there’s lots of geyser activity to see and there are lots of smaller animals just hanging out, but there aren’t bathrooms except in the parking lot.

Adult rating3 stars, it’s a nice place to visit and the crowds aren’t too bad, but it’s not the ultimate must-see.  It’s worth a visit if you have the time, but don’t cry if you can’t fit it in.
LittleMan at Emerald Spring Norris Yellowstone 1

Tip:  we don’t love trekking the whole area because you can only be thrilled by so many geysers, but we do make a point of seeing the Emerald Spring.  It’s the most beautiful feature at Norris and is the first thing you’ll see.  Easy.

Tip 2:  take advantage of the many rangers hanging out here.  They have solid recommendations of what to see and when so that you’re not wasting time having kids sit there, baking in the hot sun.

Mud Volcanos

LittleMan at Dragons Cauldron Mud Volcano Yellowstone 2We love this area.  It’s great for three reasons.  1.) boiling mud is the weirdest thing to watch and listen to, so kids love it.  2.) the smell is atrocious and really brings you into the moment, making you very aware that you’re visiting the gateway to the depths of the earth.  The scent is brimstone and farts.  3.) the wildlife is really neat.  We’ve seen bison here every time we’ve stopped.  Also, being right next to the Yellowstone River, there are pelicans and herons flying about.  They want to check out the geysers of Yellowstone too.

Kid rating5 stars, there are silly, fun things to see; there’s wildlife; it’s not too long of an adventure that they lose interest; it smells bad.

Adult rating:  5 stars, it’s fascinating and there’s wildlife, and it’s a pretty easy walk on well-maintained paths.  Also, due to the ever changing nature of geothermal areas, you can see fresh steam vents that have appeared in the parking lot.

Tip:  get over the smell.  Really.  The sulfur is really strong in this area and at first sniff it’f pretty bad.


Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Terrace YellowstoneThis area is interesting because there is nothing else in the park or places I’ve been that look like this.  The terraces and walls provide an otherworldly landscape.  There are also elk.  Everywhere.  The walks that go through the main area are pleasant and pretty easy, but if you’re not in the mood, don’t fret it.  There’s also a short car tour you can do that allows you some neat views and close ups that you don’t have to hike to.  There really are just so many geysers in Yellowstone.

Kid rating3 stars, the elk are the only reason for the mid-grade rating.  They are so nonchalant in where they think is a great place to just hang out that it’s pure entertainment.  As for the hot springs themselves, as a kid and even now, I’m not entranced with Mammoth, and can easily bypass it in favor of more exciting adventures.

Elk Cow Yellowstone 1Adult rating4 stars, again elk are really neat and the terraces are really unusual.  The view from the top is beautiful and that raises up the adult rating.

Tip:  the visitor center here is great for checking out the history of the park and actually planning your visit if you haven’t yet.

 

We did not visit the Midway Geyser basin, but should have.  It is home to the Grand Prismatic Spring, which is amazing, huge and SOOOOO colorful.  It’s the largest hot spring in the United States and is worth the trek.  It’s a gem among the geysers of Yellowstone.

Here are some helpful links for planning your Yellowstone trip:

Yellowstone National Park site

Lodging/Camping Reservations

Visitor Center Information

If you have more tips or have a favorite route to discover the geysers of Yellowstone, share in below in the comments.

22 Comments

  • Karilyn

    thanks for the write-up. We have yellowstone on our list for next summer and i have been considering if we should just nix it knowing it will be absolute chaos with summer crowds.. but now you have shown me we can still do it! I have pinned for later too.

    December 3, 2015 at 1:31 pm
  • Katharina

    Great Blog Post! I visited Yellowsone National Park a very long time ago! I have always wanted to go back with my boyfriend. Thank you for the reminder. x Kat

    December 3, 2015 at 2:15 pm
  • Julie @ Girl on the Move

    I’ve been to Yellowstone a few times and absolutely loved it! And I couldn’t agree more with your Old Faithful adult rating 🙂 While the geyser is nice the other ones with smaller crowds are a little easier to enjoy!

    December 3, 2015 at 2:54 pm
  • Small Town Washington

    I have lots of fond memories of Yellowstone National Park. Last time we were there we hiked Yellowstone Canyon-I’d definitely recommend it.

    December 3, 2015 at 5:58 pm
  • Lisa

    This is a great post. I love the pictures and your writing style. Never seen a Elk before.

    December 4, 2015 at 12:13 am
  • Bethaney - Flashpacker Family

    Thanks for the tips! Yellowstone is one of the main National Parks we missed on our 18 month trip around the US. We’re already making plans to come back and do it despite the fact that we’re not even home yet. 😉

    January 27, 2016 at 8:43 pm
  • Jessica

    I’m so jealous! I really want to see some geysers with my kids one day.

    February 14, 2016 at 8:18 pm
  • Vyjay

    Yellowstone is my favorite in US. I have very fond memories of my visit and reading your lovely post, reminded me of those grizzly bear, Elks, Bison etc.

    February 15, 2016 at 5:21 am
  • Ami

    This park is just amazing. I love the morning glory pool. It is just so unusual and beautiful. Waiting for the other parts 🙂

    February 15, 2016 at 7:46 am
  • Stéphanie Langlet

    I don’t dream to visit United States, except two places : Grand Canyon and… Yellowstone ! Your photos are awesome. I assume I have to pin your article on my boards for my next life 😀

    February 15, 2016 at 12:03 pm
  • Allison (funfamily.vacations)

    This is something we really want to do with our kids! I’ll be pinning for later reference.

    February 15, 2016 at 3:59 pm
  • Tarah Vongbouthdy

    Great tips! Yellowstone is so magical!

    February 15, 2016 at 4:36 pm
  • Renne Simpson

    All your photos are beautiful! But I have to agree with you – of all these, I’d say West Thumb Geyser Basin is my favorite!

    February 15, 2016 at 7:10 pm
  • Ajay Sood

    It would be such a shame if one was to visit a place for a striking natural phenomenon and it failed to show up. Thanks to you, I now know ‘how to geyser’!

    February 16, 2016 at 5:32 am
  • Julie

    Excellent post. I will keep this handy as we road trip through Montana this summer. “The scent is brimstone and farts.” Reminds me of our trip to Iceland – pee yew!

    March 13, 2016 at 1:25 pm
  • Katrina

    Great post. We will be visiting Yellowstone for the second time this summer and are looking forward to the geysers! Since we missed them the first time due to roads being closed in the winter (April) I really appreciate a parent’s/family point of view in travel posts. It sure helps the rest of us make our plans. Thanks for writing this up. What a lovely family you have.

    April 20, 2016 at 9:21 pm
    • Rob Taylor

      You’ll have an incredible time. And I’d love to hear and then share your tips for doing geysers with a family. I feel like there are many approaches to it and every family travels so differently, so I’m curious to hear how you tackle them!

      April 21, 2016 at 5:51 am
  • Tara Ryan, LCSW

    Great post! I recently went to Yellowstone and highly recommended to my sisters with kiddos. I’ll pass along this article to them. I am wondering if you skipped grand prismatic spring because of the kids? I found it to be overly crowded and worried about people getting bumped off the path. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

    June 14, 2016 at 9:21 pm
    • Rob Taylor

      Thank you for reading and sharing! We actually skipped Grand Prismatic because it was so crowded on the day we were going by. It is really amazing and worth the time, but yes, so crowded there. I think you’re better vested going to West Thumb, which is exceptionally different, but really amazing with fewer people.

      Regarding concerns for being bumped off a pathway into a Yellowstone geyser, I’ve never seen that happen. People are pretty good about being cautious, but there are often oblivious tourists, for sure, that you must be wary of.

      June 15, 2016 at 7:33 am
  • Charles McCool

    I love how you made geyser a verb. They are so cool.

    July 15, 2016 at 5:14 am
  • Jamie Italiane

    I love geysers! Great article with a lot of information!

    July 15, 2016 at 5:24 pm
  • Geography Tees

    I’m so grateful to have worked a summer in Yellowstone. The geysers are a big reason why.

    July 21, 2016 at 1:59 pm

Leave a Reply