We arrived at Yellowstone National Park with a list of things to see. The list was divided into two parts: animal and geological features. Bears, Bighorn Sheep, Moose, and Wolves were on our bucket list for animal sightings. We had gotten lucky and marked bears off our list after hiking Beaver Ponds Trail. Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Morning Glory Pool, waterfalls, and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone were all on geological features our list. To visit Old Faithful area, we traveled about 40 miles from Fishing Bridge RV Park.
Before I begin to break down our time in this area let me pause to give you a warning: this entire area of the park is crowded. Parking is an issue here; it often takes several passes to find a parking spot. You may even find yourself hiking in to the attraction. Or you could try and get a Meeghan to travel with; she literally jumped out of her vehicle to stand in the last available parking spot to save it for us. She stood there with her hand to forehead looking like she was talking on her cell phone while scouting for her ride and artfully avoiding the gaze of other tourist. Without this act, we would have been hiking in to see Grand Prismatic Spring at Midway Geyser Basin.
Old Faithful Geyser
Can you really visit Yellowstone National Park and not visit the most predictable geyser? Is a visit to Yellowstone National Park without seeing Old Faithful really even a visit? We arrived at Old Faithful Visitor Center at the most perfect time, right after an eruption. Parking was plentiful and easy to come by (something we would not find on our second visit to Old Faithful).
The geyser erupts roughly every 90 minutes. Immediately after we arrived, we went to the Visitor Education Center to find out when the next eruption would be. We had a long wait, so the kids enjoyed being sworn in as Junior Rangers and hitting up the Forever Yellowstone Store.
With time to spare, we elected to walk over to Old Faithful Inn. The Inn is beautiful, and majestic, and rustic. We had desired to climb up the Crow’s Nest but we were informed that it is closed to the public. However, Meeghan had done some research and knew the outside veranda was open to the public. So we soaked up some sunshine, propped our feet up, and relaxed while waiting. We even enjoyed another chilling round of ice cream. We did not have the closet view, or the highest view, but it was honestly the most perfect way to watch Old Faithful. The crowds were a minimum. We had big comfy chairs. And did I mention we had ice cream?
Warning: Beware of the ravens!
On our last day in the park, The Taylor family returned to watch Old Faithful erupt again. We had to park in the back forty as our arrival did not coincide with an eruption. On our hike in from the parking lot, we passed a motorcycle that we noticed had been ransacked. We assumed a person with bad intentions had gone through the motorcycle’s knapsacks. All the contents of the knapsacks were thrown all over the ground; gloves, hats, googles, even a ziplock baggie full of personal identification/cards. Being a former biker and generally a good person, Wayne picked it all up and put it back in his knapsack to the best of his ability.
As we approached The Visitor Center, we ran into a biker heading to the parking lot. We asked if it was his bike and he told us it was. Wayne began explaining to him what we found, how sorry we were, and, how we tried to assist. The biker thanked us and then he explained that it was likely not a persona with bad intentions. He explained he had been inside The Visitor Center for less than 5 minutes and it was likely the darned ravens. The ravens are famous for unzipping anything with a zipper. They can get into a knapsacks. They can open backpacks, coolers, or anything that might potentially have food for them. We left shaking our heads with some renewed faith in our fellow humans as well at how adaptive the ravens have become.
Geyser Hill to Morning Glory Pool
As if to prove the point that Old Faithful is not the only geyser in the park, there are around 25 geysers within a few miles of Old Faithful. You can easily visit those geysers by paved trail, bicycle trail, or boardwalk. If you would want to go a few more miles away that number almost doubles. On our second visit to this area, we arrived before Old Faithful erupted so we had to deal with crowds and then wait the next 90 minutes or so till the next eruption. I had really wanted to hike up to Observation Point but then we would have been just sitting for two hours. So, instead we opted to hike from the Old Faithful Visitor Center to Morning Glory Pool. I wish we had realized other geysers would be going off while we were there and had paid attention to their eruption times.
As we walked the boardwalk to the Grotto Geyser it was interesting to see how different each geyser looks and behaves. Some hiss, some explode, some bubble. They vary in color. Now that we have been home for three months, generally I can’t differentiate one geyser from another. What does stand out in my mind is the conversations my family had as we made the walk. The Boy walked around quoting lines from movies. He and The Short Chic giggled all afternoon long.
If I have any regrets from our time here is that I never made it to Observation Point to see Old Faithful. I also regret that I never made it there at night. I have those two things on my bucket list for the next visit to Yellowstone.
Midway Geyser Basin
This area is actually part of the Lower Geyser Basin but it is completely separate from it, so it was given the name, Midway to signify it is half way between the Upper and Lower. Two of the largest geysers in the world are located in this area: Excelsior Geyser and Grand Prismatic Spring. Excelsior Geyser last significantly erupted in the 1880’s and has become more of a spring than a geyser. It pumps out over 4000 gallons of water per minute. Grand Prismatic Spring is 370 feet in diameter and pumps out 560 gallons of water per minute. Grand Prismatic is best known for it’s color. The water in the center is deep blue and fades to light blue. The edges are green with edges that go from yellow to orange and ending with red.
I had wanted to see Grand Prismatic Spring from an elevated state. I noticed a deck high above the area. I got all excited to find the road that lead to that deck. I was full of excitement until a Park Rangers told me that the entire area is closed. The area had been a social trail for years. Last year a hiker died in a fall and the officials have since closed the area. The deck I could see and that enticed me to it is construction on the new observation area that Yellowstone is building. I am just going to return to get that elevated look. I added it to the bucket list.
As I mentioned earlier, this area is crowded and in my opinion, crowded areas bring about a higher likelihood that you will encounter tourist making poor decisions. We struggled during our time at Midway Basin. We were pushed so others could crowd their way in. We watched people leave the boardwalk to retrieve wind blown hats. We watched people repeatedly get into the hot spring water. On the flip side, we also encountered several folks wearing Kansas City Royals shirts and we got several high fives along the boardwalk.
Lower Geyser Basin
This is an area we talked a lot about before we even came to Yellowstone and then we continued to talk about it during our entire trip. One of the books we read prior to coming was, Death in Yellowstone. I really wanted my children to enjoy the wilderness, be awe inspired by the oddities, but also have a respect that this place can be and is dangerous. So, as I encountered a relatable story, I shared it with them and they shared it with others. One of those stories was about the 1981 death of David Kirwan who jumped into Celestine Pool to try and save his dog.
The Todd and Masters Family visited this area during our visit, The Taylor’s skipped it as The Short Chic really struggled with the smells at other mud pool areas. This is the largest geyser basin in the area. Upper Geyser Basin is approximately 1 square mile where Lower Geyser Basin is 11 square miles. Fountain Paint Pots is a commonly visited area in this area.
The entire Grand Loop is a scenic drive but sometimes you just want to get off the main drive and find a path that makes you feel less of a tourist and more of a traveler. The Todd’s love chasing down these paths! They took two scenic drives in the geyser area: Firehole Canyon Drive to Firehole Falls and Firehole Lake Drive.
Firehole Canyon Drive is a one way 2 mile drive that passes Firehole Lake, Firehole Falls and ends at a swimming area. The swimming area was closed during our visit so we have added swimming to our bucket list activities for our next visit. Firehole Falls is a 40 foot waterfall formed around lava rock.
Anglers can fish in Firehole River and during our visit we saw numerous people fishing in this area. I am still a little surprised Wayne never stopped here to fish but I know he eyeballed it really closely.
Firehole Lake Drive off the Grand Loop is a 3 mile one way road. You will find several additional geysers and hot springs that are accessible from this drive including Firehole Lake and Great Fountain Geyser. The Masters family spent their last night in Yellowstone at Lower Basin in search of a breathtaking sunset. I wish they had taken this drive instead. I think they would have liked it better.
That pretty much sums up our visit to the Upper, Middle, and Lower Geyser Basin area at Yellowstone National Park. The crowds are challenging, tourist make poor/uninformed decisions, and the sites range from odd to breathtaking. We also know that after a long day of hiking, it is nice to take a stroll on a boardwalk or prop your feet up to enjoy the small moments that make up this life. Ice cream is optional.