Thursday, April 25, 2019

Midway Geyser Basin - Yellowstone National Park

Midway Geyser Basin's best known feature is the Grand Prismatic Spring. This is the third largest hot spring in the world and is famous for it's brilliant colors.  The Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the most popular features in Yellowstone National Park which makes visiting the Midway Geyser Basin a bit tricky during peak tourist times. If you plan to visit during off-peak times all of Midway Geyser Basin is worth a visit.

Location: Midway Geyser Basin is located on the southwestern side of the Lower Loop of the Grand Loop Road. It is 3.5 miles north of Biscuit Basin and 2.5 miles south of Fountain Paint Pots.

Hiking Distance and Time: The boardwalk between the various thermal features is not very long.  It shouldn't take you longer than 30 minutes to walk the whole boardwalk.

Open Season: The Midway Geyser Basin opens at the same time as this section of the Grand Loop Road.  It is generally open from Mid April until late October.

 Date of Visit: Sunday June 4, 2017 as well as May 2008.

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.

Let's make one thing clear from the very beginning of this post.  The Midway Geyser Basin is home to the Grand Prismatic Spring.  This is the third largest hot spring in the world, it's very colorful, and it's one of the most popular features in the park.

From up above it looks like this:
But from the Midway Geyser Basin boardwalk it looks like this:

At best it looks like this:

If you want to look down into Grand Prismatic Spring DO NOT go to the Midway Geyser Basin.  Instead drive 1 mile to the south to the Fairy Falls Trail Head Parking lot.  Follow the Fairy Falls Trail.  About half a mile down the trail there will be a spur trail that takes you up a hill and to an overlook where you can look down over Grand Prismatic Spring. If you are short on time I recommend skipping the Midway Geyser Basin and just heading to the overlook.   

If you are interested in visiting the Midway Geyser Basin to see the other features there feel free to do so, but first we NEED to talk about this parking lot. 

Good luck finding a parking spot in here between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm in June, July, or August. This is one of the most popular tourist centers in the park, and the parking lot does not have enough space to hold everyone. Parked cars are usually lining the Grand Loop Road for at least a mile around the Midway Geyser Basin. My husband once turned into this parking lot by accident on a busy day in July, and it took him 15 minutes to circle around and get out of the parking lot. Even if/when you do find a spot to park you will be walking the boardwalk with hoards of tourists.


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 Midway Geyser Basin)

Okay now that we've talked about that we can get on with the tour. The parking lot is located on the other side of the Fire hole river from the thermal features.  A large bridge takes you across the river.
 After you cross the bridge you will come to Excelsior Geyser. This hasn't been an explosive geyser in decades, but it still pumps out the most water of any geysers in the park. It puts out 4050 gallons a minute. Brandon thought he would be clever and pose with a water bottle next to this giant spring.
There are a couple of semi- interesting pools near Excelsior Geyser.  I honestly never found them interesting enough to photograph, but they are interesting enough to pass on the boardwalk. 

Next you will reach Grand Prismatic Spring. From the boardwalk you can't see the shape of the spring or the full scale of the colors.  What you can see are the layers and layers of algae that give the spring is beautiful colors.  The color varies with the temperature of the water. 
During our summer in Yellowstone we visited Midway Geyser Basin on a Sunday evening around 8:30 at night. This was one of the most magical visits to any feature in the park.  The hot water from the spring was creating huge clouds of mist that were blowing over the boardwalk. 
The boardwalk felt very ethereal. 

I loved watching my children disappear and reappear as we walked through  the mist. It's one of my favorite memories from that summer.
So even though you can't see directly into the Grand Prismatic Spring from the Midway Geyser Basin Boardwalk and even through have to plan your visit around traffic - A visit to Midway Geyser Basin can still be a very rewarding experience.
Recommendation: If you are visiting the park outside of peak tourist times then definitely plan to visit Grand Prismatic Spring.  Ideally you'd want to visit the spring from both the Midway Geyser Board Walk and the overlook on the Fairy Falls Trail. The overlook is the best place to go if you want to look at the spring from above.  However, the boardwalk at Midway Geyser Basin is a good alternative if you have mobility issues or you just want a more "up close and personal" view of the spring.

Directions: Midway Geyser Basin gets it's name from the fact that it is roughly between Madison Junction and Old Faithful.  The parking lot is well marked and visible from the Grand Loop Road.  If you come up to the area and you see cars parked along the side of the road then DON'T bother visiting the Midway Geyser Basin.

Places Nearby: If you are interested in following the Fairy Falls trail to the overlook you may want to consider planning a hike all the way to Fairy Falls.

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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