Saturday, April 27, 2019

Fountain Paint Pots - Yellowstone National Park

The Fountain Paint Pot area is named for the paint pots that are located within a short walk of the parking lot. These are the most accessible paint pots in Yellowstone National Park and are worth a visit. However the paint pots aren't the only thermal features in the area. You can actually see all four types of features here - a fumarole, a hot spring, a geyser, as well as the paint pots.

Location: Fountain Paint Pot is located in the Southwest Section of the Lower Loop of the Grand Loop Road. The area is 9 miles north of Old Faithful and 8 miles south of Madison Junction.

Hiking Distance and Time: Walking the whole boardwalk should take less than 30 minutes.

Open Season: Open with the Grand Loop Road in Mid April and stays open through late October.

Date of Visit: Sunday, June 4, 2017 and other times in May 2008, July 2010, and July 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 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.

Many places in Yellowstone are only as good as their parking lot.  If you can't get a spot in the parking lot, does it even matter what features you can see?

The Fountain Paint Pot area has a decent sized parking lot.  Its actually one of the biggest parking lots in the park.  But unfortunately it's not big enough for the throngs of tourists that want to stop here.

The main issue is that the Fountain Paint Pot area is the first stop with thermal features if you are travelling south from Madison Junction to Old Faithful.  If you come in through the popular West entrance you'll travel for 22 miles from the entrance to Madison Junction.  Then you travel for another 9 miles until you come to the Fountain Paint Pots area.  That means you've been in
Yellowstone for nearly an hour and you haven't seen any geysers.  Everyone gets excited as soon as they see the steam columns rising up from the features in the Fountain Paint Pot area.  And so EVERYONE tries to stop here.  The popularity creates a parking nightmare.

The best times to visit this area are early in the morning (generally anytime before 9:30) and evenings (usually after 6:00). Not only will there be less people, but the air will be cooler so the hot water will be creating spectacular amounts of mist. You will also experience fewer crowds if you are visiting in months other than June, July, and August. (These are good guidelines for all of the park - not just the Fountain Paint Pot Area.)

Once you've successfully found a parking spot you can follow the boardwalk to the thermal features. You'll pass a few hot springs and their run off channels, but the first main feature where you'll want to stop is the Fountain Paint Pot itself.

Fountain Paint Pot is a caudron of bubbling mud. Gas travels through the mud and forms bubbles that pop when the gas reaches the surface. The amount and size of the bubbles depend on the amount of water in the mud.  If you are visiting in the early summer you will have a better show than if you are visiting after a long, dry summer.

When we visited in the summer of 2015 my kids were so excited to see "the bubbling mud."  For years they'd watched our Yellowstone DVD and they'd always laughed so hard during the videos of the paint pot. Part of what made those movies so entertaining was the funny, lighthearted music that played along with bubbles popping. I didn't realize that my kids thought the music was made by the bubbles.  So our first visit was a little disappointing for the kids. The bubbles weren't quite as fun as they'd been expecting.
Even with the initial disappointment, my kids enjoyed their visit to the Fountain Paint Pot Area. Two years later when we were living in the park the Fountain Paint Pot was one of the first places we visited when we ventured to that area of the park.
The Paint Pot isn't the only interesting feature in this area though.  So make sure you plan to continue following the boardwalk.

You'll pass Red Spouter. Surface water and ground water play important roles in how this feature looks over time.  Sometimes it's just a noisy fumerole (steam vent). Other times it's a muddy fumerole. And sometimes it's a continuous spouter with water shooting out in little jets almost non-stop.
My favorite section of the Fountain Paint Pot area is down a small hill.  There are stairs here so it's not completely wheel chair or stroller accessible.  As you approach the stairs you get a good view of a sweeping plain.  There are many geysers within a short distance.  On any visit you may see an eruption from either Fountain Geyser, Morning Geyser, Twig Geyser, Jet Geyser, Spasm Geyser, Clepsydra Geyser or a combination of several geysers. 

The geysers are all interconnected and near each other so sometimes it's hard to know which geyser you are watching.  I'm fairly certain that I've seen Clepsydra Geyser erupt each time I visited this area.  Let's take a look at the photo evidence (and my changing hair styles.)

Here I am in May of 2008. This was the trip Brandon and I went on to celebrate our First Wedding anniversary.  We had no idea how much a role Yellowstone would play in our marriage. 
Two years later we came back to Yellowstone with my sister and her husband. I don't have a picture of me, but here's my sister.
My next visit to Yellowstone wasn't until 2015.  I brought my 4 kids (all born since the last visit) to the park on an impromptu "hey we don't know the next time we'll have a chance to see the park so let's visit it now" visit.  By the way, this was my favorite bob hair cut EVER.
And then 2 years later we were visiting the park and I was going through my red hair phase.
Here's a picture of the geyser on it's own. This geyser is always fun to see.
The frequency of geyser eruptions in this area is one of the reasons I love visiting the Fountain Paint Pot area.

There is another quirk about the Fountain Paint Pot area that you need to be aware of.  This is a popular stop for tour buses that come into the park. Many of the tour buses are bringing tourists from Asia. There are some cultural differences that readily become apparent.  At the risk of over generalization, I've noticed that Asians love blond children.  My kids always create quite the stir when we visit the Fountain Paint Pot. I swear that the Asian tourists take just as many pictures of my kids as they take of the thermal features.

Recommendation: Assuming you can get a parking spot, Fountain Paint Pot is a wonderful place to visit.  Of the four geyser basins in this section of Yellowstone (Black Sand, Biscuit, Midway, and Fountain) Fountain Paint Pot is my favorite place.  If you are only going to visit one, this is the one you should visit. 

Directions: If you are travelling south from Madison Junction the Fountain Paint Pot area will be the first thermal feature you see.

Places Nearby: Firehole Lake Drive is on the other side of the Grand Loop Road from Fountain Paint Pot. It is worth the drive. If you can't find a parking spot at Fountain Paint Pot there is a chance you could find one at the parking lot near Firehole Lake. From there it is possible to walk to Fountain Paint Pot.  However, there is no official boardwalk or even a trail connecting the two areas. Be prepared to walk on the side of the road along the Firehole Lake Drive and then dodge traffic as you try to cross the Grand Loop Road. 

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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