Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Mud Volcano Area - Yellowstone National Park


The Mud Volcano area is the most popular geyser area on the east side of Yellowstone.  The features here are mud pots made from sulfuric acid that breaks down rock into sticky clay. The violently churning mud makes this area feel much more wild than other thermal areas in the park.

Location:  Mud Volcano is located on the east side of the Lower Loop of the Grand Loop Road. It is 12 miles south of Canyon Village and 6.5 miles north of fishing bridge.

Hiking Distance and Time:  The Lower portion of the boardwalk is just a couple hundred yards that you can walk in less than 10 minutes. The full boardwalk is less than a mile long and is steep in areas.  Plan for about an hour to fully explore this area.

Open Seasons: May through October

Date of Visit: Many times throughout the summer of 2017 as well as single day visits in May of 2008, July of 2010, and July of 2015.

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 18th 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 under-rated areas of the park.



The Mud Volcano Area is one of my favorite places in Yellowstone National Park. The area is full of churning thermal features that make the area feel more wild and dangerous than the rest of the park.

I've always loved visiting this area.  As proof, in this post you'll see pictures I took during my visits to the park in 2008, 2010, 2015 as well as from 2017.

The Mud Volcano area has a lower section of boardwalk and an upper section.  The lower section is easily accessible and wheelchair/stroller friendly.  The upper section requires a hike up a steep hill and some wooden stairs.  The distance is short, but the incline is steep so keep that in mind as you plan your visit.

Lower Section:
Let's start with the the area's name sake, Mud Volcano. Back when this area was discovered Mud Volcano was described as a a cone shaped feature shooting mud high in the sky. However a lot has changed.  These days Mud Volcano is just a bubbling puddle of muddy water.    It's kind of a disappointment.
But don't worry, there are more interesting features in this area.  Follow the short boardwalk to the Dragon Mouth Spring.  Or as I've always called it, "The Dragon's Lair."
 Pictures of this spring don't do it justice.  The most interesting part of this feature is the way the feature sounds.  Water sloshing around inside the rock alcove sounds like a dragon is walking about and snorting.  It doesn't take much imagination to picture a dragon emerging from this opening.  I love standing here and listening to the pounding water.
 Here's a picture of my husband and I back in 2010.  I'm six months pregnant with the twins in this picture.  In a few years they would learn to love this area as much as I do.

Upper Section:

The lower part of the Mud Volcano area is worth a stop, but if you really want to see some interesting features head up the hill to the upper area. The trail is steep and one route requires you to climb stairs so I don't recommend this hike for strollers or wheelchairs.

I have to add a little disclaimer though.  This area is very popular with bison and occasionally they move in and the trails have to be temporarily closed.  I'm sorry if that's the case during your visit.
 
All of Yellowstone is constantly changing, but the change is more obvious here.  In 1978 this area had several small earthquakes and the soil temperature increased. Many trees died from the heat.
The upper portion of the boardwalk leads to many churning cauldrons of murky water. Acid Lake is the largest.
This is Black Dragon Cauldron. This feature formed in 1948.  
 As with all popular thermal areas in the park there is a boardwalk that leads you safely from feature to feature.
My favorite feature is Churning Caldron.  I saw this for the first time on our 2008 trip to the park.  I was mesmerized by the churning water.  Every time we come back the water is still churning.
Thanks to it's location near the Hayden Valley, the Mud Volcano area is very popular with bison.  You will probably see herds as you drive.  And it's not uncommon to see the bison in the parking lot.  Try to give them lots of space and stay out of their way.
During our 2010 visit to the area we couldn't go up to the upper portion of the boardwalk because the bison were in that area.  They were also all over the parking lot.  I took this video of them walking though the parking lot.


As you can see from that video, the parking lot for the Mud Volcano Area is fairly large. Generally you can find a parking space here during most parts of the day. But as with most popular areas in the park, it can get very crowded between 10:00 and 5:00.  The good news is that since the hike here is fairly short there are usually spots opening up on a regular basis.

Recommendation: Definitely plan to stop and walk around the Mud Volcano Area.  At the very least you should visit Dragon Mouth Spring so you can hear the thumping water.  If you have more time and the ability to hike the steep hill you should plan to see the features from the Upper Section of the board walk.

Directions: Mud Volcano is located on the east side of the Lower Loop of the Grand Loop Road. It is 12 miles south of Canyon Village and 6.5 miles north of fishing bridge. The parking lot is on the western side of the road.

Places Nearby: Sulfur Cauldron is located about 100 yards up the Grand Loop Road to the north. It's worth mentioning because its the most acidic feature in the park. But visually it's just another mud hole.  If traffic is fine it is worth a look.  But if traffic/parking is bad you can skip Sulfur Cauldron and you won't have missed anything important.

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