Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Fairy Falls - Yellowstone National Park


Fairy Falls is possibly the most beautiful waterfall in Yellowstone National Park. A thin column of water shoots over the edge of a cliff and falls 197 feet before forming a small pool.  The waterfall has slowly carved itself into a recess of the cliff, and so the area surrounding the waterfall feels like a hidden oasis.  You can reach the waterfall via a relatively easy 5 mile round trip hike.

Location: The trail begins at the Fairy Falls/Fountain Freight Drive parking lot located 1.5 miles south of the Midway Geyser Basin parking area.

Hiking Distance and Time: 4.6 miles round trip (There are also some side trips which will add an additional 2 miles.) Plan for 3 to 4 hours.

Open Season: The trail opens the Friday before Memorial Day and is open through the end of September.

Date of Visit: Saturday July 22, 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 sixth 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 day hikes in the park.

In my last post I talked about how you can get a great view of the Grand Prismatic Spring from the overlook that is accessed via the Fairy Falls trail. I told you to continue hiking to Fairy Falls after you've looked at the spring.  Fairy Falls is one of the most interesting waterfalls in the park, and is worth the hike.

The trail starts out at the Fairy Falls Parking lot.  This used to be a less-used parking area, but with the opening of the spur trail to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, this parking lot sees a lot more use.  The parking lot was expanded in anticipation of the extra traffic.  Even with the expansion the parking lot fills up during peak tourist times.  So make sure you are there before 10:00 am if you want a parking spot.

The trail crosses the Firehole River via a bridge.  At first the trail is part of the Fountain Freight Road which is an old gravel road. Today it's closed to cars, but open to bicycles and pedestrians.  It's a wide, level trail that gradually slopes uphill.  The spur trail to the Grand Prismatic Spring breaks off from this part of the trail.

In case you need a reminder, this is the view you'll get if you climb that spur trail.  It's totally worth the short side trip.
Back on the main trail, you'll come to the the "official" trail head for the Fairy Falls trail about a mile from the parking lot.  This trail heads to your left into a pine forest that is regrowing after the fire of 1988.

You will hike through this forest for 1.6 miles.  The trail is still fairly wide, but it will be steeper and more rutted.  We passed several people who were pushing baby strollers up this trail.  For the most part a stroller does okay on the trail, but at the end it is much steeper, rutted, and rocky.  If you do bring a stroller plan to leave it about a tenth of a mile away from the falls.

For most of the hike you will not be able to see the waterfall. Eventually, you'll round a bend and find the falls in front of you.  What's impressive about this waterfall isn't how mighty it is, but rather how delicate it appears.  The thin ribbon of water is blown about in the wind.
Fairy Falls is 197 feet tall. You will suddenly feel very small when you stand at the bottom of the cliff and watch the water fall toward you.
Even up close the water appears delicate. It doesn't take much imagination to visualize this as a home for fairies.
There is a shallow pool at the base of the falls. Several brave people waded in the water, but it was too cold for anyone in my family to try to get in it.  My son enjoyed throwing rocks into the water. We made sure to keep him away from any of the waders. 
You may be tempted to head back after you've spent some time near Fairy Falls.  But don't.  The best part of the hike is less than a mile away.  In my next post I'll tell you all about Imperial Geyser. Here's a sneak peek.
After you've visited Imperial Geyser you can return to the parking lot via the same route you followed.  One nice thing about this trail is that it will be down hill most of the way back.

Recommendation: If you only have time for one hike, it should be the hike to Fairy Falls. Not only will you have a chance to see this enchanting waterfall, but you'll also be able to see the third largest hot spring in the world, and the geyser which I consider the best kept secret in the park.

Directions: The Fairy Falls Trail Parking lot is 1.5 miles south of the turn off for the Midway Geyser Basin on the west side of the lower loop of the Grand Loop Road. It is not well marked and does not show up on all maps yet. But the parking lot is large and visible from the road so you should find it okay.


Next Stop: Imperial Geyser.  Trust me, you don't want to skip this part of the trail.

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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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