Thursday, April 19, 2018

Artist Paint Pots - Yellowstone National Park


Many features in Yellowstone are known for putting on big shows. There's the height of Old Faithful, the size of Grand Prismatic Spring, or the volume of Lower Falls.  But one of the most memorable features in the park is a humble little hot spring that shoots up spurts of mud.  Watching mud bubbles form and then pop in unpredictable patterns is always a joy at Artist Paint Pots.

Location: Artist Paint Pots is located on the eastern side of the lower loop of the Grand Loop Road. The parking lot for Artist Paint Pots is located 4 miles south of the Norris Geyser Basin.  And 10 miles northeast of Madison Junction.

Hiking Distance and Time: The trail is 1 mile round trip. Plan for about an hour or longer depending on how long you watch the Paint Pots.

Open Season: May through October (Though the trails can be very muddy in May.)

Date of Visit: Friday August 11, 2017

In the summer of 2017 I received a job with Xanterra Parks and Resorts in Yellowstone National Park. I moved there with my husband and our four young children. We lived in a 25 foot RV and spent all our free time exploring the park. This is the 23rd of many posts that I will write about specific features within Yellowstone National Park. At first these aren't going to be in any particular order, but in a few months I'll start grouping them into lists. This one would probably fit into a list such as best boardwalk hikes in the park.

The key to enjoying your visit to the Artist Paint Pots area of Yellowstone is to manage your expectations.  Here are three very important things to know about the area that will make or break your visit.

1. You have to hike to the paint pots. The trail is one mile round trip. Most of the trail is level and wide, but at the end the trail ascends 100 feet up Paint Pot Hill. There are several small geysers and beautiful pools at the bottom of the hill, but the real paint pots are at the top. So if you want to see the paint pots be prepared for a little hike.

2. The main paint pots are white. You'd think that with a name like Artist Paint Pots you'd be looking a vivid colors swirling in mud.  But no. Just white. At best they are kind of  a blue-ish grey.  They are still interesting to watch, and there are other features with bright colors in the area, but the paint pots themselves don't invoke and artist's palette.

3. The parking lot can be very congested.  As with all the other popular areas of the park, you'll want to plan to visit the paint pots either before 10:00 am or after 5:00 pm.  Thanks to the traffic situation I didn't visit this area until almost the end of the summer.  My husband brought our kids to the paint pots a few times while I was at work, but I didn't visit the paint pots until one evening in August.

Okay, now that we've covered those three important things to know I can show you what the area looks like.

The trail starts off in a pine forest.  The trail is mostly level and very wide.
After about half a mile you reach the hill.  Here the trail makes a circle up and then back down the hill.  If you follow the trail to the left you'll see Blood Geyser.
You'll have a great view of the various geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles in the area as you climb the hill.
The view of the surrounding area is great from the top of the hill.
You'll pass several mud pots and hot springs, but the real Artist Paint Pots are at the ones with the largest boardwalk area around them.
You'll want to plan to spend some time watching mud bubbles form and then pop.  It's so fun to watch bits of mud shoot into the air.  My son called them "Paint Pops" and was mesmerized by the show.
One of the nice things about living in Yellowstone is that we didn't have to rush away from the Paint Pots to go see another feature somewhere else in the park.  We could just sit and enjoy the area for as long as we wanted.  On this particular evening we stayed near the Paint Pots for at least 45 minutes.
Pictures couldn't capture the fun of watching the mud spurt into the air, so I took a little video with my phone.  This is still on my phone and my kids still love watching it.  

After you go back down the hill you'll pass some pools with murky blue water in them.  This is a color I would choose to work with if I was an artist.  

The trail meets back up with the main trail and you travel back to the parking lot the way you came.

Recommendation: The Artist Paint Pots are worth a stop - if you are there at the right time of day and are prepared for a little hike.

Directions: The parking lot for Artist Paint Pots is located 4 miles south of the Norris Geyser Basin.  And 10 miles northeast of Madison Junction. The turn off for the short road to the parking area is on the west side of the road.


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I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?

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