Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Five Places to view Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful, the name is nearly synonymous with Yellowstone National Park. If you are planning a trip to Yellowstone then you know you are going to visit this iconic geyser. Geyser eruptions happen every 35 to 120 minutes. Generally you can expect an eruption every 90 minutes or so. Eruptions can be predicted based on the length of the previous eruption. All this regularity means that you can be assured that you will see an eruption from Old Faithful. The only thing you need to worry about is where you should wait for an eruption.

Location: The Old Faithful area is in the southeast corner of the Lower Loop of the Grand Loop Road.  Roads take you to a large parking area.  From the parking area walk north toward the buildings.  Old Faithful is on the other side of the buildings.  It is ringed by a large boardwalk so you can't miss it.

Hiking Distance and Time:  It's less than a quarter mile from the back of the parking lot to Old Faithful. However, be prepared to walk around the area to visit buildings and other thermal features.  The hike to Observation Point is half a mile long with an elevation gain of over 150 feet.  Time spent in this area can (and should) take several hours.

Open Season: Old Faithful is one of the first areas to open up in the Spring.  It is open from late April through November. Some of the trails around the area don't open until late spring/early summer. Old Faithful is also accessible in the winter if you are staying at the Snow Lodge.

Date of Visit: Various times during the summer of 2017, also in July 2015, July 2010, May 2008, and July 2002.

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.

Old Faithful needs no introduction. If you are planning a visit to Yellowstone National Park then you know you should include a visit to the park's signature thermal feature.

Old Faithful erupts regularly on a predicable schedule. the length of the previous eruption helps National Park staff calculate the next eruption time.  Length of the wait can be as short as 35 minutes or last as long as two hours. Generally you can expect an eruption every 90 minutes.  There are signs throughout the area that list when the next eruption is predicted. They usually give the a time with a margin of plus or minute 10 minutes.

I've visited Old Faithful and watched it erupt more times than I can count.  Old Faithful was the first thermal feature I saw in Yellowstone when I was 17.  Later I returned to the geyser with my husband in 2008 and my sister in 2010, Another sister accompanied me and my four kids to watch the geyser in 2015.  During the summer of 2017 my family went to the Old Faithful area often.

During all these visits I found several places to watch the eruption. The eruption is always fun to watch, but it can be a little boring to watch it erupt from the same place every time. So today I'm going to share five options for where to view the geyser's famous show.

Option 1:  Sit on the benches in front of the geyser

This is the most common way to view the geyser. And it's not a bad way to see the show.  There is plenty of seating so if you are early enough you can get a seat.  The drawback is that EVERYONE else does this too.  You can end up squished into an sea of eager tourists.
The good thing about this area is that it's the closest to the geyser.  You will get an up-close view of the eruption.
There isn't any shade so plan to wear sunscreen and a hat so you don't get sunburned while you wait for the geyser. Plan to be there about 30 minutes before a predicted eruption if you want to get a good seat.

Option 2: Wait for the geyser inside the Old Faithful Lodge

Honestly, I'm always a little surprised that this isn't a more crowded option.  The Old Faithful Lodge is located east of Old Faithful.  It's newer than the historic Old Faithful Inn.  The Lodge has cafeteria style dining options. There is a large lounge area between the gift shop and the cafeteria.  There are comfy chairs facing large windows that frame your view of Old Faithful.  This is a great place to escape the heat and the crowds on a busy summer day.
When Old Faithful erupts you can watch through the windows or step outside.  The lodge is a little higher than Old Faithful so you can see the eruptions very well from the front area of the lodge.
One other item of note about the lodge. It has some of the best restroom options in the park. They are located down a long hallway on the side of the lodge closest to the parking lot. (Trust me, you'll want to remember this tip.)
Option 3: Watch the geyser erupt from the second floor observation deck at the Old Faithful Inn
The historic Old Faithful Inn is located to the southwest side of the Old Faithful viewing area. The second floor has a large balcony over the entrance.  This covered balcony has chairs where you can sit and watch Old Faithful erupt. I've never viewed Old Faithful erupt from this location, so I can't tell you how crowded it gets up here, but this seems like a really great place to wait for an eruption.  The balcony is elevated so you get a good view of the area and its also covered so you are out of the sun or rain.

Option 4: Follow the asphalt trail across the Firehole River to Geyser Hill

This is my preferred place to view Old Faithful erupt.  I don't really have the patience to sit around waiting for an eruption.  I've done it several times, but I prefer to be walking around while waiting for an eruption. There are several interesting features located on Geyser Hill that are more fun to look at than a dormant geyser cone.

Option 5: Hike up to Observation Point

If you have the stamina for following some switch backs up a hillside then you should definitely set aside some time to hike up a hill near Old Faithful to Observation Point. The trail is a little more than half a mile one way and climbs 150 feet. You'll get a unique view of the geyser from up here. Check with the park rangers first to find out when the next eruption is predicted.  Give yourself about 30 minutes to an hour to reach the observation point.
My favorite thing about the view from Observation Point is seeing all the people crowded into the viewing area on the boardwalk.  I love knowing that I'm not squished in with all those people. 

That's the list of 5 places to view Old Faithful erupt.  But I want to give you one last piece of advise.  If you can arrange your schedule to visit Old Faithful in the morning or the evening you will be rewarded with a more intimate experience.

My family often went to the Old Faithful area for the LDS church service held at the Old Faithful Lodge at 7:00 pm on Sunday nights.  The service usually lasted less than an hour.  We loved walking around the boardwalk after the service.  There were hardly any other people around.  The cool air made all the thermal features look amazing.  This is definitely my preferred time to visit Old Faithful.
I would also love to visit the area in the early morning.  So far I haven't been able to afford a stay at any of the lodging or get up early enough to do this.  But I know I'll be in for a real treat when I do.

Recommendation: Even though Old Faithful is a popular destination you can have an enjoyable time watching the geyser erupt. With a little bit of preparation you can find a place to view the geyser that suites your needs.

Directions: Old Faithful has many signs directing you to the area. Once you leave the Grand Loop Road the road will take you to a large parking area.  From the parking area walk north toward the buildings.  The Lodge is located to the east of Old Faithful (right hand side if you are looking at the geyser).  The Inn is located on to the west (left hand side.)  The trails to Geyser Hill and Observation Point are on the other side of Old Faithful.  Follow the board walk around the right side of Old Faithful to those areas.

Places Nearby: Don't leave the area after viewing Old Faithful.  There is more to this place than just one geyser.  Make sure you stop inside the Historic Old Faithful Inn.  And be sure to see the other thermal features located along the boardwalks. Old Faithful is located in what is known as the Upper Geyser area.  There are many unique thermal features that are worth checking out while you are here.

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

1 comment:

  1. Haha. I just read and commented on your other old faithful post about evening viewing and then I read this one with your bonus tip. Definitely an awesome way to experience it!


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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