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.
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 you'll find...
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?
Nope, 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
Yellowstone 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.
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.
Tip 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
This 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.
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:
If 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 rating: 4 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 rating: 3 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.
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.
We 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 rating: 5 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
This 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 rating: 3 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.
Adult rating: 4 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:
If you have more tips or have a favorite route to discover the geysers of Yellowstone, share in below in the comments.
Rob Taylor is the founder of 2TravelDads, the original LGBT Family Travel blog. Focusing on ecotourism and education, 2TravelDads inspires LGBT families (and traditional families also) to go beyond their usual getaways and use travel to learn about and be part of a bigger world. “Traveling the globe and giving the kids a broad worldview.”