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trip report: Yellowstone National Park – Old Faithful & Upper Geyser Basin, May 2021

Old Faithful and Yellowstone National Park are synonymous with each other. The geyser is a must stop for all visitors to the park and as such has an entire village built around it including the historic Old Faithful Inn, visitor center, backcountry office, store, gas station, and a massive parking area. Part of what makes Old Faithful so prominent is how frequent and regular it erupts, every 2 hours, as its name suggest. However it is not the tallest at 106 to 185 feet (Wikipedia) and you can’t particularly get close to it due to its popularity these days. So while you are here, it is worth your time to check out one of the other 6 geysers whos eruptions are predicted by the NPS or the many geothermal features around the Upper Geyser Basin.

This is the second entry of our Wyoming trip series covering our day hike around Upper Geyser Basin and visiting Old Faithful (2). You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.


click to expand
1 planning & research
2 Yellowstone National Park – Old Faithful & Upper Geyser Basin
      2.1 getting in & driving around Yellowstone
      2.2 hike information
      2.3 video
      2.4 report
      2.5 final impressions
3 Yellowstone National Park – backpacking Hellroaring Creek & Yellowstone River, 4 days
4 Yellowstone National Park – Mammoth Hot Spring
5 Yellowstone National Park – Grand Prismatic Springs
6 Gallatin National Forest – Lava Lake
7 Bridger-Teton National Forest – backpacking Gros Ventre Wilderness, 3 days
8 Bridger-Teton National Forest – Crest Rim
9 Bridger-Teton National Forest – backpacking Cirque of the Towers, 3 days
10 Yellowstone National Park – backpacking the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, 2 days
11 Yellowstone National Park – backpacking Lamar River & Mirror Plateau, 5 days
12 Wyoming final impressions, top 5, & budget

getting in

It took us two from leaving our house on the east coast to reach Yellowstone consisting of a flight into Denver, picking up our rental car, and making the drive north into Wyoming. The travel itself was pretty uneventful and we weren’t in any particular rush on our drive. Along the way, we got brunch with my friends in Boulder and stopped at the local REI for some last minute backpacking materials we couldn’t travel with. The only issue was trying to find dinner in busy Jackson.

On our way, we stayed a night in downtown Denver at the Sheraton and decided on a last minute stay for a couple night at the Spring Hill Suite in Island Park, MT just outside of Yellowstone before our planned backpacking in the park. Being it was Memorial Day Weekend and the opening of the fishing season, I gladly used two 50k Marriott certificates to stay at the Spring Hill Suite which was pricing around USD$1000 per night.

Fly fisherman just outside of Spring Hill Suite in Island Park.

After our long drive and spending some time packing for our upcoming backpacking, we had a late start heading into Yellowstone around noon. This was partially planned as we wanted to miss traffic jam that usually takes place at the West Yellowstone entrance. Of course, having the America the Beautiful Annual Pass (NPS) will save you time and most likely money. 

We didn’t have a specific plan when we reached the park, but we started to driving toward Old Faithful since like all tourists that’s what we knew. Along the way, we stopped at the heard of very skinny bison who were looking to replenish from the winter. A reminder to stop at the pull outs when gawking at these guys and not stopping in the middle of the road. The joke was you knew who was on their first day in the park by the amount of times they stopped in the middle of the road. 

We had looked to stop at the Firehole Swim Area (1 of 2 front country swimming areas in Yellowstone, NPS) but early season high water and COVID restrictions had closed the swimming are while we were there. Instead we walked around the rushing Fire Hole River checking out the rapids.

Our other stop of interest was a grizzly in the distance. Bradley’s 300x zoom may have inspired my lens purchase halfway through my trip. Unfortunately (fortunately?) for me, this was the only grizzly I saw on my trip.

It was 1 pm by the time we arrived at Old Faithful Village and decided on our hike for the day.

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hike information

  • Old Faithful, Upper Geyser Basin, & Mystic Falls loop
  • distance: 9.91 miles
  • elevation change: 935 ft
  • time: 5:42 hours (4:09 moving)
  • location: Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA (google map directions)

Our specific hike crosses the Upper Geyser Basin connecting two areas, the Upper Geyser Basin and Biscuit Basin area. Should you look for a shorter hikes, you can hike their areas separately.

For the Upper Geyser Basin, the loop is 3.5 miles (alltrails) with the options of extending it include the Old Faithful Observation Point for a total of 4.9 miles (alltrails). We had planned to include the Old Faithful Observation point, but our timing for Old Faithful eruption didn’t line up. There are plenty of alternative options to extend or shorten your loop in the area depending on what you want to see or how far you want to walk.

For the Biscuit Basin, you can take a short stroll around the boardwalks by itself (alltrails) or the 3.5 mile Mystic Falls loop (alltrails).

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A video of our hike will premier on 6/9/2022 on our Youtube page and updated here. Subscribe and turn on notifications to see the video when it uploads.

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Our hike begin at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center where we got a listings of the geyser eruptions, which are also available online (NPS). Our phones were not able to pick up any reception here so the center was our only way to check.

From the rear of the visitor center, we turned left and continued on the wide paved walkway for 2/3 of a mile. This is officially the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) through the area. 

The first geothermal feature we came to was Castle Geyser, which eruptions every 14 hours. However can be erratic and unpredictable after a minor eruption (NPS). We were no where near its eruption time on the day.  

While here, we saw Grand Geyser erupting. Grand Geyser is the tallest predictable geyser in the world at 150-200 feet (NPS).

Here is also where we saw our pool, Crest Pool. It was started to boil while were here. Such boils could lead the heated waters (199°-202°F) to erupt up to 7 feet in the air, though that didn’t happen while we were here.

We decided to continue three quarters of a mile on the paved path toward Daisy Geyser, which was scheduled to erupt next. Daisy Geyser erupts to a heights of 75 feet pretty regularly at a sideways angle (Wikipedia).

While here on a later visit with Meg, we saw a Coyote across the way run by.

The Continental Divide Trail continues on the other side of the geyser, but we returned to the paved path and in a few steps we were at Grotto Geyser in the process of erupting. Its not much of an eruption but it can go up to 50 minutes.

There are a few more features in this area in Riverside Geyser, Spa Geyser, Marathon Pool, and Bottomless Pit in the area. Riverside is the major attraction here and the cone geyser erupts in a narrow jet of water around 6.5 hours (NPS). We were no where in time to see it, but there was a bathroom here we used. 

Afterwards, we crossed the Firehole River and a few pools before coming to the spectacular Morning Glory. It was named in the 1880s for its likeness to the flower, however the color no longer matches because of the amount of trash, coins, and rocks that has been thrown into the pool. This lowered the temperature of the water to around 159.3°F and pH of 7.6. The temperature also determine the microscopic organisms that provide the colors seen here. Colorless and yellow thermophiles grow in the hottest waters while orange, brown, and green grow in cooler waters (NPS). 

The paved walkway ends here and most of the crowd will turn around here. We continued on the Artemisia Trail passing a few more pools including my favorite, Atomizer Geyser. Definitely looks like something out of a scifi movie.

In roughly a mile, we came to a junction that we turned left at to head to the Biscuit Basin trailhead. Careful with the road crossing here as the Grand Loop, which we drove in on, is a busy road.

The boardwalk here crosses over the Firehole River once again and took us next to several blue pools.

The most impressive is the Sapphire Pool. It use to erupt, but a 1959 earthquake changed the pumping at the pool (NPS). 

At the far side of the boardwalk, I look the trail for Mystic Falls and in a third of a mile I came to a junction. I decided to turn right here for the loop option and heading to the overlook on the Fairy Creek and Little Firehole trail. For the next half mile, I would switchback up the mountain at a 16.7% grade. 

It would flatten out for the last few steps to the overview overlooking the entire basin.

The trails continues for a relatively flat half mile through some new pines before I came to the junction to turn off the Fairy Creek and Little Firehole Trail onto the Mystic Falls trail.

For the next half mile, the trail descends through some switchbacks at a -17.2% grade before arriving at the main Mystic Falls view. Along the way I ran into an aggressive Ruffed Grouse that flew with its claws out at me after I passed it on the trail and was on a lower switchback. I think it was probably protecting its nest and I was glad I had my tripod to stop its charge.

Before getting down the the main viewpoint of Mystic Falls, there was a social trail that took me to the top of the falls. From here, the thermal features draining into the Little Firehole River is visible.

At the end of the switchbacks was the main view of the falls.

It was another 0.5 miles back following the Little Firehole river to the next junction.

I stay straight here to head back toward Biscuit Basin. This junction is for Summit Lake trail and the continuation northbound of the CDT.

Just before the boardwalks at Biscuit Basin, there is a junction where the CDT southbound branches off to the right and would connect to where we had left it earlier in the day at Daisy Geyser. Always like a loop, I took this way back. In the half mile of the trail to the Grand Loop Road, I came out of the forest to a few bison chilling a bit closer to the trail than I’d like.

Not wanting to have a similar experience with them that I had with the grouse, I made a lot of noise and walk slowly by. They didn’t care. The trail took me across the Little Firehole River

and then across the road to the continuation of the gravel trail through the forest and open meadows for a mile. 

There was not much to see and no one on this trail, so of course I’d find a couple bison rolling around in the middle of it. I think they were trying to shed their winter coats. Making a wide birth, I pass them slowly and cruised back toward Daisy Geyser. 

Once we were back, we walked toward Grotto Geyser again and took the right onto the boardwalk to head back toward Old Faithful. The boardwalk took us across the Firehole River, but what stood out at this point of the day was the reflections in the cascading layers flowing down into the river.

We passed more pools, including Beauty Pool, but it was the distant sun and clouds casting their reflections in the pool that was beautiful now.

We passed Grand Geyser as it slumbered, but I enjoyed the terrace like layering of its outflow. 

The sun set as we continued along the boardwalk and the many pools and geysers all became blurred together in the golden light.

They were all mirrors from the brilliant sky, whether orange

or pink.

We crossed the Firehole River one last time on our hike before arriving at Old Faithful.

We had to wait around for a little bit longer, but our twilight show was a fitting end to our day.

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final impressions


The rating below are based on an unevenly distributed scale of 1-5. For full description of the ratings and the categories, see the explanation here.

views/experience: 4. Despite the crowds, the symbolic Old Faithful was worth the visit. Perhaps not for Old Faithful itself, but all the geothermal features including vivid bacteria made pools and other geysers. It was easy to linger a while and get lost staring a the colors or the power of the geysers as they blast. The latter of which will take some waiting time. While waiting, I saw a coyote run by so keep eyes peeled. We also saw plenty of bison along the trail. A good way to avoid the biggest crowds is to go early or late as in our case.

difficulty: 1. There isn’t much elevation gain and plenty of the walk was on boardwalks.

technical: 1. The trail is well signed and mostly flat.

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