Geyser basins, steaming rivers, mudpots, and more await sightseers visiting the Old Faithful Area. Boasting the park’s largest number of concentrated geysers, the area spews thousands of gallons of water from the surface every day in memorable displays of the Earth’s dynamic power.
Craig Pass and Isa Lake
Located on the Grand Loop Road seven miles south of Old Faithful, Craig Pass rests at 8,262 feet on the Continental Divide. The pass cradles the geologically unique phenomenon of Isa Lake. Unlike most of Yellowstone’s water features, Isa Lake contains both Atlantic and Pacific Ocean drainages. Flowing into the Firehole drainage, the lake’s west side eventually dumps into the Atlantic. The eastern side, however, drains into the Snake River and flows to the Pacific Ocean. The lake’s unusual feature is related to the Earth’s powerful gyroscopic forces.
The beautiful thirty-five mile long Firehole River originates at Madison Lake on the Continental Divide’s north side. Twisting its way through the Upper and Midway Geyser Basins, the river is world-renowned for brown, rainbow, and brook trout as well as the characteristic steam responsible for its unusual name. Noticing the steam rising in the distance and unable to identify its source, early trappers mistakenly interpreted the steam as smoke mounting from an unknown fire in a valley below them. Since the trappers referred to mountain valleys as “holes,” the region became known as “Firehole.” The regional term was then applied to the river upon its discovery.
Stair-stepping down the Firehole River, Kepler Cascades drops 150 feet in a spectacular outpouring that is easily reached. The waterfall is situated just 2.5 miles south of the Old Faithful Geyser, and a pullout offers an overlook of one of the area’s most easily accessed cataracts.
Lone Star Geyser Basin
Lone Star Geyser Basin is farther removed from Old Faithful’s major attractions and requires visitors to take an easy five-mile roundtrip hike. The trail begins near Kepler Cascades just 2.5 miles south of the Old Faithful Geyser and carries visitors past small hot springs and scenic meadows on its journey to Lone Star Geyser. Resting in a twelve-foot cone, the geyser spews thirty to fifty foot columns of steaming water every three hours. Most eruptions last thirty minutes, and a logbook located near Lone Star records the geyser’s latest witnessed eruption times and event descriptions.
Lower Geyser Basin
Lower Geyser Basin is understandably famous for its large area of hydrothermal activity. A boardwalk trail and the three-mile Firehole Lake Drive provide incredible views of the area’s thermal features, including the renowned Great Fountain. The geyser is known for its 100 to 200 foot eruptions that send tiny droplets of water racing down the surrounding terraces. Although Great Fountain regularly erupts twice per day, the timing of its displays can be unpredictable. Park staff attempt to predict the next eruption time, but viewers should take into account that the predictions can be off by up to two hours.
Midway Geyser Basin
Situated along the Firehole River, Midway Geyser Basin may be one of the smallest basins in the Old Faithful Area, but it is home to two of the park’s most historically impressive features. Excelsior Geyser, which now releases over 4,000 gallons of hot water every minute into the Firehole River, was once regarded as Yellowstone’s most impressive geyser. Between 1882 and 1888, the geyser erupted every 20 to 120 minutes and blasted towers of water more than 300 feet skywards. Today, a 200 by 300 foot gaping crater marks the geyser’s once impressive outlet. Researchers believe the geyser’s sheer force and pressure destroyed its own underground water piping system, causing the geyser to now remain dormant.
Another noteworthy site in Midway Geyser Basin is the Grand Prismatic Spring. Featuring an abundance of beautiful water, Grand Prismatic is Yellowstone’s largest hot spring and the world’s third largest spring. The spring measures 121 feet deep with a diameter spanning 370 feet.
Shoshone Geyser Basin
Although it requires a seventeen-mile roundtrip hike to visit, the backcountry Shoshone Geyser Basin is often noted as one of Yellowstone’s best thermal sites. Visitors cross the Continental Divide at Grants Pass and view Shoshone Lake along the way. Upon reaching the basin area, visitors are encouraged to use extreme caution. No boardwalks exist, and the remote thermal area is fragile.
To visit Shoshone Geyser Basin, depart from the DeLacy Creek Trailhead located nine miles south of Old Faithful.
Upper Geyser Basin
Boasting up to 300 geysers bunched together in just one square mile, the Upper Geyser Basin houses the largest number of Yellowstone’s thermal features. In addition, the basin is home to nearly sixty percent of the world’s geysers and includes some of Yellowstone’s favorite visitor destinations. Old Faithful, Castle, Riverside, Grand, and Daisy Geysers are subject to regular predictions while smaller geysers and several hot springs round out the basin’s amazing sites. Numerous walking trails and overlooks provide visitors with close-up views of the basin’s thermal wonders.