Friday, April 19, 2019

Black Sand Basin - Yellowstone National Park.

Black Sand Basin is a small geothermic area located near the Upper Geyser Basin/Old Faithful Area. There are a handful of notable features in Black Sand Basin including Cliff Geyser, Emerald Pool, and Sunset Lake. A hiking trail connects Black Sand Basin to the Upper Geyser Basin.

Location: Black Sand Basin is located on the southwest side of the Lower Loop of the Grand Loop Road. This area is the closest geyser basin to the Upper Geyser Basin/Old Faithful Area.

Hiking Distance and Time: If you are able to get a parking space in the small parking lot you can walk along the boardwalk and see each thermal feature in less than 30 minutes.  However, parking is limited in this area. If you can't get a parking spot you have the option of parking at Old Faithful and then hiking to Black Sand Basin along an approximately 4 mile trail.

Open Season: Black Sand Basin is open from mid April to late October. The trail to Old Faithful opens in mid June depending on bear migrations and snow melt.

Date of Visit: Saturday, August 5, 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 one of many posts that I will write about specific features within Yellowstone National Park. Be sure to check out my other posts for more tips for your Yellowstone visit.
The Black Sand Basin gets its name from the black sand that is around some of the geysers and hot springs. It's not super noticeable, but it is there.

Black Sand Basin doesn't have any "must see" features, and the parking lot is rather small so visitor's often skip this area.  I never made it to the Black Sand Basin during my first four visits to the park.  When my family spent the summer in Yellowstone I decided that we had to stop at Black Sand at least once. It took us over two months to make it there.

When we did make it to Black Sand Basin we found an area that was a lot like the other geyser basins that are near by. We enjoyed looking at the features, but there was nothing that I felt cheated for not seeing on my earlier visits to the park.

There are a few notable features that I want to share with you.

This large blue pool was near the parking lot. I think it was Opalescent Pool.

Cliff Geyser is fun geyser that makes your visit to the Black Sand Basin special. It puts on a consistent show with lots of sputtering.
My kids had a lot of fun watching Cliff Geyser erupt.  It would spurt out water for several minutes then go silent for a few minutes.  But there was never a long wait before water would start erupting.
Emerald Pool is one of the most well known features in the Black Sand Area.  It's pretty, but if you've seen a lot of other pretty pools in the park it doesn't really stand out.  (At least that's how I felt about it. I might have had a bit of "thermal feature fatigue" by this point in the summer.)

Sunset Lake is another pretty pool that is in the Black Sand Basin.  You reach it via a short walk from the parking lot. (That's Grand Geyser near Old Faithful erupting in the back ground.)
One of the biggest problems with this area is the tiny parking lot.  Black Sand Basin has the smallest parking lot in the southwestern area if the park. This picture shows about half of the parking lot. 
The only way to guarantee that you'll get a parking spot is to get there before 10:00 am or after 5:00 pm. Neither of those times ever really worked out for my family.  We never got up early enough to make the drive from Canyon Village to Black Sands Basin before 10:00 and if we were in that area of the park in the evening we usually went to one of the other geyser basins.  

I decided that we would wouldn't try to get a parking spot within the tiny parking lot.  Instead we'd park in the large parking lot at Old Faithful and then hike over to Black Sands Basin.  This is an approximately 4 mile hike. (I say approximately because I haven't been able to track down a map that actually lists the distance. If you know the exact distance please leave a comment.)  

By this point in the summer my kids were hiking pros so I wasn't concerned about the distance.  I was more concerned about the heat.  There was very little shade between Old Faithful and Black Sands.  We packed lots of water and made sure to apply sunscreen and wear hats.  

The hike was really fun.  We started out by passing features in the Upper Geyser Basin. Even if you aren't interested in hiking all the way to Black Sands Basin I recommend planning some time to visit the many features in the Upper Geyser Basin. I'm going to show you some of the features we passed. 

I think this is Beauty Pool. In the back ground you can see steam from the many thermal features that are near Old Faithful. 
Grand Geyser is the tallest predictable geyser in the park. From the pictures I've seen it's a beautiful fountain geyser similar to Great Fountain Geyser. When we passed it we saw a sign saying it was expected to erupt within the next few hours. I have a standing rule of not waiting for geysers so we continued on our way. I was hoping we might catch the eruption on our way back from Black Sand Basin.  Instead it erupted while we were at Black Sand Basin.  We could see the column of smoke from the geyser in the distance.  Maybe one day I'll have the patience to wait and see the geyser from up close.
Giant Geyser is another geyser we passed on this hike.  Giant Geyser is a powerful geyser, but it's large eruptions are sporadic and not predictable. The geyser cone is visually interesting so this is worth a visit even though you probably wont see an eruption.
Grotto Geyser has probably the most unique geyser cone in the park.  My kids and I decided it looked like a face. There are two eye sockets and a large column for a nose.
After Grotto Geyser we could have continued to follow the main trail and passed several other features including Morning Glory Pool. We did that on an early visit that summer.  This time we took a trail that led off to the left.

We went through a large field and passed by Daisy and Comet Geysers.  Aside from a few random spurts we didn't see much activity going on in this area.
 We passed a few other hikers, but for the most part we had the trail to ourselves. It was hard to believe we were within walking distance of the busy boardwalk around Old Faithful.
I hadn't done any research on what features we could expect on this part of the trail.  So Punch Bowl Spring was a happy surprise for all of us.  The trail took us close to the feature and it was fun to look inside at the bubbling water. 
The most arduous part of the hike was when we had to cross the Grand Loop Road to reach Black Sand Basin. Most drivers were not expecting to see a family pop out onto the road. Eventually we had an opening and could cross the two lane road.

From there we were able to visit the features in the Black Sand Basin without the stress of finding a parking spot.

On our way back to the Old Faithful area my oldest daughter said to me, "That hike wasn't even long at all!"  After a whole summer of hiking and exploring a 4 mile hike didn't seem that long.

Recommendation: Black Sand Basin is worth a stop, but if you can't work it into your schedule don't worry about it.  You really aren't missing anything that you can't see elsewhere in the park.  

If you have enough time, water, and skin protection, then the hike from Old Faithful to Black Sand Basin is a great way to see interesting features while getting away from the crowds that are all over most of the Upper geyser basins.  This hike is a good option if you are looking for something to keep you busy from 10:00-5:00 when traffic gets crazy inside the park. 

Directions: On the Grand Loop Road, Black Sand Basin is less than half a mile northwest the turn off for Old Faithful.  It's so close to the turn off that it often gets over looked.

Places Nearby: Obviously Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Valley are near Black Sand Basin. If you continue traveling northwest on the Grand Loop Road you'll come to Biscuit Basin which is similar to Black Sand Basin - meaning there are interesting features, but it's not exactly a "must see."

Want more Yellowstone Vacation Ideas? Visit my list of Things you can't miss and hidden gems along the way.

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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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