Monday, May 6, 2019

Firehole Lake Drive - Yellowstone National Park


Firehole Lake Drive is a three mile, one way road that branches off from the Grand Loop Road less than a mile south of the Fountain Paint Pot parking lot. There are a number of geysers and springs along the drive. The most notable is the stunning Great Fountain Geyser. Firehole Lake is near the end of the drive. There are places to pull over and park all along the drive, and there is a small parking lot near Firehole Lake. This area is always worth a visit, but Firehole Lake Drive is an especially good option when the more popular geyser areas are full of tourists.

Location: Firehole Lake Drive is located on the Western side of the Grand Loop Road.  The entrance to the road is about a mile south of Fountain Paint Pot.

Hiking Distance and Time:  There really aren't any hikes in this area. You can get out and walk for a few minutes on a boardwalk at Firehole Lake. The main thing you need to take into consideration is how long you are willing to wait for a geyser to erupt. Great Fountain Geyser erupts approximately every 12 hours. If you arrive within a couple hours of a predicted eruption it might be worth your time to hang around and watch the show.

Open Season: Due to bear migrations Firehole Lake Drive is usually closed until Memorial day weekend.

Date of Visit: Thursday, June 29, 2017 and another visit at the end of July in 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.

I talk a lot about parking lots in my posts about Yellowstone.  That's because if you are visiting the park during peak tourist times you will encounter way more cars than you will encounter any other feature in the park. I want to give you some tips on how to encounter a few less cars and a few more features.

The Firehole Lake Drive is a good place to go when the other areas of the park start to fill up with too many cars.  You'll still see cars on the Firehole Lake Drive, but you will see less of them than you would if you were jockeying for a parking spot at nearby places like the Fountain Paint Pots or Midway Geyser Basin.

Firehole Lake Drive branches off from the Grand Loop Road 1 mile south of the Fountain Paint Pot Parking lot and 1 mile north of Midway Geyser Basin.  It is a one way road so you'll follow the road to the exit which is right across the Grand Loop Road from the Fountain Paint Pot area.

The first time I drove down the Firehole Lake Drive was when my family visited Yellowstone in July of 2015. We entered the park early enough to get a parking spot at Fountain Paint Pots, but by the time we were done walking the boardwalk I could tell that the park was filling up with tourists.  Rather than fight for parking spots at Midway Geyser Basin I decided to see what was along the Firehole Lake Drive.  That was a good decision because the area was much less crowded than the Grand Loop Road.

The road passes a number of small geysers and pools, but I'll be honest, I never took pictures of them. You can park your car along the side of the road and get out to get a good look at the features.  I never did that because I was always travelling with kids who made getting in and out of the car a chore.

On that visit in 2015 we drove by Great Fountain Geyser and didn't see anything other than a large pool of water. I knew this was a famous geyser, but I couldn't remember why, and I knew my kids wouldn't be interested in waiting around to see the show.
Two years later, when we lived in the park, I read about why Great Fountain Geyser is so special. Great Fountain Geyser erupts every 9 to 15 hours and it's eruption times can be predicted based on the length of the last eruption. So that means you can have a pretty good idea of when it's going to go off. The staff at the Old Faithful Visitor Center can help you find out when the last eruption was and the window when you can expect another eruption. There are also apps that track eruptions for some of the most predictable geysers in the park.

In addition to being predictable, this geyser is delightful to watch. It's a fountain geyser which means it shoots up water at intervals rather than one long continuous stream like a cone geysers. Watching cone geysers erupt is fun, but honestly the show gets kind of old after a few minutes. With fountain geysers you never know how high the next burst of water will go.

I've written about this geyser in this post. So I won't rehash the details of our visit here.  Instead I'll just say that this geyser is a delight to watch erupt. If  you can time your visit to coincide with a predicted eruption then you are in for a real treat.
Down the road from Great Fountain Geyser is White Dome Geyser. It is not predictable, but it is frequent.  You may be treated to a show from this geyser while you wait for Great Fountain Geyser.
If you are waiting for Great Fountain Geyser to erupt it might be worth your time to go for a walk up and down the Firehole Lake Drive.  There isn't a boardwalk or sidewalk so you'll have to watch out for cars, but it could be a productive use of your time if you get sick of waiting near the geyser.

During the 2015 drive down Firehole Lake Drive we stopped at the parking lot near Firehole Lake.  I was so surprised to see a nearly empty parking lot after 10:00 am in the middle of Yellowstone in July.  We got out of the car and walked along a small boardwalk to see the lake. 
The "lake" is really several hot springs, pools, and geyser run off all close together.  The water on the north/east side of the parking lot is the official "Firehole Lake."  It's small, but pretty.  The water in the south/west side if the parking lot is Hot Lake which is really more of a runoff pool from the other features.  
It's really interesting to see how everything flows together and connects. This is Black Warrior Lake.
On another visit during the 2017 summer we came back and walked around the boardwalk again.  My son was fascinated by the frequent little spurts from Young Hopeful Geyser. 
I always enjoy the little side track trip down Firehole Lake Drive. Even though it starts and ends in a very popular area of the park it actually feels like something of a secret.

Recommendation:  If you want to see thermal features without walking on a boardwalk, this is the place to go. This is an especially great place to visit when the rest of the park seems a little too full of tourists.

Directions: I remember that I wanted to visit this area when I visited the park as a teenage. I also remember that we missed the turn off and so we didn't get a chance to drive down the road. So make sure you are keeping an eye out for the sign that indicates the turn off for Firehole Lake Drive.  It is 1 mile south of Fountain Paint Pot and 1 mile north of Midway Geyser Basin.  The turn off goes to the east.


Places Nearby: Firehole Lake Drive is on the other side of the Grand Loop Road from Fountain Paint Pot. 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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