Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Upper Geyser Basin - Yellowstone National Park

The Upper Geyser basin is the official name of the geyser area surrounding Old Faithful.  A large network of interconnected boardwalk and asphalt trails takes visitors up close to a number of impressive thermal features. Even if you don't want to explore the trails there are a variety of things to do in the area.  You can eat at one of the many dinning options. You can visit the displays or watch an educational movie in the Visitor Center.  You can also take in the historic architecture of the Old Faithful Inn. Make sure you plan to explore this area in addition to viewing an eruption from Old Faithful.

Location: The Upper Geyser Basin is in the southeast corner of the Lower Loop of the Grand Loop Road. Roads take you to a large parking area near Old Faithful. The trails extend from the Old Faithful Viewing area.

Hiking Distance and Time: There are numerous ways to lengthen or shorten the distance you travel in the Upper Geyser Basin.  Generally plan for about 3.5 miles round trip, but that distance might change depending on the route you take.   Plan for a solid 4 to 5 hours in the Upper Geyser Basin.

Open Season: The area immediately around Old Faithful opens in late April and remains open until early November.  The trails leading to Geyser hill are generally open that same amount of time, but may close occasionally.  The trails leading deep into the Upper Geyser Basin open around Memorial Day.

Date of Visit: Many times during the summer of 2017.

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.

If you ask a random visitor to Yellowstone National Park if they know where the Upper Geyser Basin is located, you will probably get a blank stare or a stammering answer.  If you ask that same person if they have visited Old Faithful you will probably get an enthusiastic Yes.  What they don't realize is that Old Faithful is located in the Upper Geyser Basin.

There is more to the Upper Geyser Basin than just Old Faithful.  The area has at least 5 miles of walkways connecting dozens of interesting geysers, hot springs, and fumeroles, There are also many interesting buildings around Old Faithful.

In many of the posts I've written I've talked about how important it is to avoid the popular areas of the park during peak tourist times.  The area around Old Faithful is very popular, but it's the one place that it's okay to visit during peak times.  Obviously you'll have a better visit if you can avoid the crowds, but it's won't ruin your visit if you happen to be there along with hundreds of other people.

The Old Faithful area is built to handle large gatherings of people.  The viewing area surrounding the Old Faithful geyser cone is huge, the boardwalks are wide, and the buildings have restrooms with plenty of flushing toilets.  It's also important to note that the parking lot for Old Faithful is massive.  You are almost always guaranteed to find a parking spot at Old Faithful.  This means that Old Faithful is a great place to visit- even on busy days.

You're going to see Old Faithful erupt.  That's a given.  But stick around and explore the area after (or even before) an eruption.  There is so much more to do in the area.
I'm going to highlight several things to see and do in the area.  This is just a sampling.  There are many other interesting features waiting for you to discover.

1. Buildings
There are a number of buildings that surround Old Faithful. These are great places to buy food and souvenirs, take a break from the elements, or just to use the restroom.

Old Faithful Lodge
The Old Faithful Lodge is located to the east of Old Faithful.  It is on you right hand side if you are facing the geyser.  There is a gift shop and a cafeteria located inside the lodge.
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.
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.)
There is an employees only area behind the lodge.  Part of it is a large gym.  On Sunday evenings in the summer the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) holds Sacrament Meeting Services here. These services are one of the reasons my family came to the Old Faithful area so often during our summer in Yellowstone.
 Visitor Center
The Old Faithful Visitor Center was completed in August of 2010.  It has interpretive displays about the area and how geysers work.  My family always liked to stop and watch an educational movie after hiking around the area. 

The Old Faithful Inn is almost as impressive as Old Faithful itself. It was built in 1904 and has set the standard for what National Park Architecture should look like.
Make sure you take the time to go inside the Inn and look at the impressive features in the lobby. I really can't stress this enough.  You want to take the time to go inside.
When I visited the park as a teenager I didn't realize the Inn and the Lodge were different buildings.  My siblings and I had used the restrooms in the Lodge while waiting for Old Faithful to erupt.  Later my dad asked us if we'd been inside the Inn.  I told him, "yeah we saw that already." Little did I know what I'd missed.  It wasn't until I came back to the park 6 years later with my husband that I saw the Inn.
The Inn also dining options, a gift shop, and restrooms as well as accommodations.   Rooms in the Inn are pricey and require reservations almost years in advance. 

Hamilton Store
This historic General Store has been at this location since 1897.  Oddly enough, I don't think I've ever been in this store. I'll have to make sure to go inside next time I visit Old Faithful.

Geyser Hill

Geyser Hill is the section of the Upper Geyser Basin that is closest to Old Faithful.  It is located behind the geyser.  You follow an asphalt trail down a small hill, across a bridge over the Firehole River, and then up another small hill to reach a boardwalk that takes you close to many features.
 You will most likely see a lot of hot springs, but occasionally you will see small geyser eruptions.
Every so often you can see a big geyser erupt on Geyser Hill.  I took this picture of Beehive Geyser erupting from across the river outside of the Old Faithful Inn. But years earlier my dad and little sister happened to be sitting right by this geyser when it erupted. 

If you are visiting when the air is cool you will see steam emanating from the thermal features.  That will give you a good show even if nothing is erupting during your visit. 

3. Castle Geyser
You can reach Castle Geyser from a trail that leads off Geyser Hill or you can walk down a wide asphalt bike trail that extends to the west of the Old Faithful Inn. Castle Geyser's distinctive cone is always worth a visit.
Eruptions happen about every 12 hours so check with National Park staff to find out when the next one is predicted.
4. Trail to Morning Glory Pool
In all my visits to Yellowstone I never went deeper into the Upper Geyser Basin than Castle Geyser.  In fact, I just kind of assumed there was nothing to see after Castle Geyser.  One day in June of 2017 I found out how wrong I'd been. 

There is a whole other world of geysers beyond Castle Geyser. Sometimes the trail is closed due to Bears in the area, but if the trail is open make sure you take advantage of it. 

I think this is Beauty Pool. In the back ground you can see steam from the many thermal features that are near Old Faithful.

Grand Geyser is the tallest predictable geyser in the park. From the pictures I've seen it's a beautiful fountain geyser similar to Great Fountain Geyser. When we passed it we saw a sign saying it was expected to erupt within the next few hours. I have a standing rule of not waiting for geysers so we continued on our way. Maybe one day I'll have the patience to wait and see the geyser from up close.
Giant Geyser is another geyser we passed on this hike. Giant Geyser is a powerful geyser, but it's large eruptions are sporadic and not predictable. The geyser cone is visually interesting so this is worth a visit even though you probably wont see an eruption.
Grotto Geyser has probably the most unique geyser cone in the park. My kids and I decided it looked like a face. There are two eye sockets and a large column for a nose.
Morning Glory Pool is at the end of the main trail.  Though you do have the option to continue on toward Biscuit Geyser Basin.  This pool is gorgeous and makes the long walk worth it.  I always like it when hikes give me a reward like this at the end. 

Like I said, this is just a sampling of what you can see in the Upper Geyser Basin.  I really hope you take the time to discover the area's treasures for yourself.

Need another reason to stick around and explore after watching Old Faithful erupt?  Well this is what the parking lot looks like immediately following an eruption.  Everyone jumps in their cars and tries to hurry to the next thing on their list. They all end up in a big traffic jam.  Save yourself the headache and plan to enjoy the area.

Recommendation: Make sure you leave room in your Yellowstone Iternerary to explore the Upper Geyser Basin.  There are so many wonderful things to see here.  The last thing you want to do is hurry away from one of the best areas in the park.

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 trail to Geyser Hill is on the other side of Old Faithful. Follow the board walk around the right side of Old Faithful to that area.  The trail to Morning Glory Pool and the other features deep in the Upper Valley is located to the west (left) of Old Faithful.  Its a wide asphalt trail so you can't miss it.

Places Nearby: If you have the time and are in the mood for a long hike you can walk to Black Sand Basin from the Old Faithful Area.  The trail to Black Sand Basin branches off from the Upper Geyser trail around Grotto Geyser.

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

1 comment:

  1. One of my favorite old faithful memories was watching it erupt right around sunset. It wasn't a super sunset evening, but the pinkish purple sky was lovely, it was a lot cooler, and there was hardly anyone else around. I'd definitely recommend that to anyone.


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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