Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Firehole Canyon Drive - Yellowstone National Park

The Firehole River runs near the Grand Loop Road from Old Faithful to Madison Junction.  Most of the time it is a lazy river with low banks.  However, when the river passes through the Firehole Canyon it changes completely. Steep banks of stone rise up on either side.  Swimming holes form, and in one place the water tumbles down as a 40 foot high water fall. Firehole Canyon Drive is a one way road that follows the old stage coach route through the canyon to give you excellent views of the river.

Location: Firehole Canyon Drive branches off from the Grand Loop Road less than a mile south of Madison Junction.  The exit to the one way road is about 6 miles north of Fountain Paint Pot.

Hiking Distance and Time:  There are no hikes branching off from Firehole Canyon Drive. The whole drive should take approximately 10 minutes.

Open Season: The road opens in the late spring.  The popular swimming area is usually opens the last week of July and is open through August. However, some years it may not open at all due to high water levels.  Check the park's current conditions page or talk to a Park Ranger to see if the river is open.

Date of Visit: Saturday, July 29, 2017 and another visit in July 2010.

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.

Firehole Canyon drive is a nice little side trip from the Grand Loop Road.  It follows an old stage coach route along the Firehole River. The road is 2 miles long and one way the whole way.

The most known feature along Firehole Canyon Drive is Firehole Falls. These falls are pretty enough for a quick stop.  One thing to keep in mind through is that the parking area near the falls is very small. It is located on the other side of the road from the falls so be careful crossing the road to look at the falls.  Honestly this place always gave me anxiety when we stopped here with my kids. Between the small parking lot, the road, and the lack of good guard rails I didn't like bringing my kids here.  I don't really recommend this as a  must see place - especially if you are travelling with small children.
The other well known part of the Firehole Canyon is the Firehole Swimming area.  This is a popular place in the park and since we didn't have many opportunities to go swimming while we lived in Yellowstone we made sure to come here.
 The water was cold like you would expect from swimming in a high mountain river. It certainly doesn't come anywhere close to being "fire."
Swimming in the Firehole river is fun. This would be a good place to go when the rest of the park is getting too full of tourists.  However, you'll want to stake out a parking spot early in the day.  We arrived around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon and we barely found a parking spot. My husband ended up dropping me and the kids off near the staircase down to the water.  He ended up parking far down the road and walking back to the water. 

Here are a few other things to keep in mind if you are planning to swim in the Firehole River.

 1. There is no life guard on duty so you are swimming at your own risk.  Water wings and life jackets are allowed in the water and are recommended.  Inflatable swimming toys are not allowed. 

2. The beach is rocky.  You'll want to plan to bring some flip flops while you are at the waters edge.

3. The bathrooms are far away from the water. There are two vault toilets that you can use to change into swimming suits. They are located on the opposite side of the road from the river. I didn't want to worry about walking to the bathrooms or waiting for a turn to use them so my family changed in the bathrooms at the Old Faithful Lodge and then drove to the Firehole River. 

Recommendation: Firehole Canyon drive is a good little side trip if you are interested in the waterfalls or the swimming hole. Otherwise you can skip this drive.

If you want the bragging rights of having swum in the Firehole River, then definitely add that to your itinerary. Make sure you plan your trip during a time when the river will be open.

Directions: Firehole Canyon Drive branches off from the Grand Loop Road less than a mile south of Madison Junction.  The exit to the one way road is about 6 miles north of Fountain Paint Pot. The swimming hole is about a mile and a half down the road.

Places Nearby: Madison Junction is 1 mile up the Grand Loop Road. The Madison Campground is located off the road. If you have a campsite at Madison Campground in late July or August you should plan to add swimming in the Firehole River to your trip.  You can't walk from Madison to the swimming area, but you could drive and get a good spot early in the morning or in the late afternoon after the crowds of tourists have left for the day.

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


  1. Why can’t you walk from the campground to the swimming area

    1. Thank you for your question. In theory you could walk along the side of The Grand Loop road from Madison Campground to the Firehole River. However, the side of the road isn't pedestrian friendly. There isn't a sidewalk or even a trail. The distance is over 2 miles. You'll want to plan to drive to the Firehole River from the Madison Campground.


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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