Upper Geyser Basin is probably the best known and most frequented geyser basin in Yellowstone National Park. It is located a few kilometres south of the beautiful Grand Prismatic, in the southwest part of the park. What makes it famous is the star it hosts: the famous Old Faithful Geyser, whose visitors massively flock to see its impressive regular eruptions.
Upper Geyser Basin is home to a large concentration of geysers among the approximately 500 geysers present in the park, all more fascinating than the others, which are divided between two small basins to the north: Biscuit Basin and Black Sand Basin, and the large Old Faithful area dominated by Geyser Hill, another small group of active geysers. The Upper Geyser Basin complex is nearly 3.8 km long, which is an impressive area of this active zone.
To enjoy it, we recommend you spend at least half a day, or even a complete day if you want to discover every nook and cranny of Upper Geyser Basin by taking your time.
Access to Upper Geyser Basin
It is impossible to miss the junction that leads to Old Faithful! From the main road, the fork is worthy of a motorway exit! You will have enough signs to show you the place, all with a direct access ramp leading to hotels, car parks, shops and the Visitor Center.
You will have understood, you are here in the commercial heart of Yellowstone Park. The car parks are huge and you will find all the necessary conveniences to make a little restocking.
The size of the car parks will let you imagine the number of visitors, especially during July and August. But don't worry, only the area around the Visitor Center and Old Faithful Geyser is crowded. As soon as you walk a little, the crowd disperses, and the further you go, the more it dissipates. Biscuit Basin and Black Sand Basin each have direct access from the main road north of Old Faithful, with a small car park.
The area around Old Faithful is very large. This is rich in small geysers and hot springs that can be discovered from wooden pontoons. Allow a good half day to enjoy the whole area and have time to browse all the points of interest at your own pace.
The different areas of interest
As some areas are very rich in geothermal phenomena, we have specifically dedicated an article to them.
- Old Faithful Geyser is the famous geyser who gave his name to the village area. It is located immediately at the Visitor Center and car parks.
- Geyser Hill, located a few minutes walk behind Old Faithful Geyser, is a small hill where many geothermal phenomena are easily visible and accessible by a nice little loop on pontoons.
- Observation point and Solitary Geyser are both located in the heights above Old Faithful Geyser. To reach them you will have to walk a little away from the crowd while gaining a little altitude.
- The heart of Upper Geyser Basin is from Geyser Hill to Grotto Geyser. The area is accessible via wooden pontoons that run along and across the Firehole River, revealing a myriad of geysers and other colourful hot springs.
- The path between Grotto Geyser and Biscuit Basin allows you to walk away from the crowd and discover other small natural phenomena.
- The path between Grotto Geyser and Black Sand Basin, which also allows you to venture into the calm and admire other strange formations.
- The two small pools of Biscuit Basin and Black Sand Basin each have interesting geothermal phenomena as well as pools with beautiful colors. They can be reached either directly by road or by walking from Grotto Geyser.
Old Faitful Geyser: the unmissable and famous geyser
Old Faithful is Yellowstone's most famous geyser. He even gave his name to the nearby "village".
Old Faithful is an attraction in itself because its impressive eruptions are frequent and announced at the Visitor Educational Center located in the immediate vicinity. It takes about 44 to 125 minutes between each eruption, with an average duration of 90 seconds to 5 minutes. So when you come to the area, you will have the opportunity to see the geyser pour several times between 14000 and 32000 liters of boiling water, all propelled between 30 and 55 meters high.
Unfortunately the star of Yellowstone attracts the crowd and you will find that you will not be the only ones to want to see it erupt.
To allow everyone to wait for the next eruption, several rows of benches were installed around the geyser whose base is located high up on a small mound. As a result, the area looks more like an amphitheatre than a natural area. However, if you are clever and follow our advice, you can take full advantage of the phenomenon.
Our tips for admiring and photographing Old Faithful
If you don't see many people around the geyser when you arrive, stop by the Visitor Educational Center first to see the approximate time slot for the next eruption. So you don't waste too much time waiting in front of the geyser. Another tip is to download the official and free mobile application "Yellowstone Geysers" from the NPS which will indicate you the prediction times of the next eruptions of the "big" predictive geysers of which Old Faithful is a part.
When the time of the eruption approaches, join the zone but do not necessarily place yourself at the level of the banks. Just because there are people in one place doesn't mean it's the best angle. Instead, position yourself so that you can best see the water jet. To do this, determine the direction of the wind and position yourself so that the wind is three-quarter back so that it releases the steam behind the jet, but that it does not make you a screen behind the geyser either. If the wind is strong, prefer a position where it will be sideways, as the spray may be reduced and at an angle. Also remember to include the sun exposure parameter in your equation.
If you have a uniform light grey sky the day you come, it is very likely that you unfortunately do not distinguish the water jet well. This will also be the case if there is no wind, as the steam will envelop the jet.
Now that you're well positioned, all we have to do is wait. If you wish to immortalize the moment, stand as close as possible to the edge to prevent a malicious tourist from standing between you and the geyser, right in front of your objective set up 15 minutes ago (it's real life!)
Mount your camera on a tripod for best results and try to estimate the maximum jet height so you don't choose the wrong lens or frame. Use a rather small focal length (15 - 30). If the geyser is in good condition, it can climb to 55 meters from the top. Its maximum altitude doesn't last very long, so be sure to set a good frame from the start to take better shots.
Geyser Hill and Observation Point
After passing Old Faithful Geyser, the trail continues across the peaceful Firehole River to the small Geyser Hill. This sector being particularly rich in geysers, we have dedicated an article to it: The small Geyser Hill loop
Just after crossing the Firehole River, you will notice a fork with a path to the right. This is the beginning of the trail to Observation Point and Solitary Geyser which also has its dedicated article. The Observation Point Trail will take you to a viewpoint overlooking the central part of the Old Faithful Area, another way to appreciate the magnitude of geological activity. The return will take you through Solitary Geyser, which bears its name particularly well, before returning to the pontoons. The short walk is not very long, allow 45 minutes to complete the 2.3 km loop.
In the heart of Upper Geyser Basin: from Geyser Hill to Grotto Geyser
From Geyser Hill, the pontoons continue for 1.5 km until reaching Grotto Geyser, which marks the end of the main Upper Geyser Basin area (at least the one on the pontoons). The circuit passes in the immediate vicinity of a good number of geysers and warm pools with bright colors, from ochre, to blue through yellow and green.
We begin by discovering Liberty Pool, a small hot spring rather banal (by seeing incredible colors, less colorful pools seem to us completely normal).
Then the pontoons pass near Sawmill Geyser, a geyser that was very active with eruptions of 30 to 50 minutes every 1 to 3 hours, except that it has strangely stopped since January 29, 2017. We had the chance to see it erupting during our stay in September 2013.
Spasmodic Geyser - Eruptions every 1h to 3h
Just next to it is Spasmodic Geyser, whose hole has a rather original shape, similar to small white cushions. Spasmodic Geyser erupts every 1 to 3 hours with a jet that can reach just over 4 meters.
Grand Geyser - Eruptions every 6h to 15h
The next phenomenon is Grand Geyser. The pontoons deviate a little from the geyser which is impressive because its base is large and its jet is high. Its eruptions take place every 6h to 15h, with an average around 7h to 8h between each eruption. These are rather long, between 8 and 12 minutes, and will give you time to run to the geyser if you see the eruption in the distance. When the geyser wakes up, it projects water between 45 and 61 meters!
You can try to attend one of the Grand Geyser eruptions whose forecasts are indicated at the Visitor Educational Center or in the mobile application "Yellowstone Geysers". As for Old Faithful, some benches were installed in front of the geyser, but the places are not numerous.
Located on the same hydrothermal system, its neighbours Vent Geyser and Turban Geyser usually erupt at the same time as Grand Geyser, and continue to spit water after for a hour.
Beauty Pool et Chromatic Pool
After a walk and passing some other colorful pools, we arrive at the amazing Beauty Pool followed by Chromatic Pool. These two hot springs have the particularity of having very beautiful coloured nuances due to the presence of thermophilic bacteria. Indeed, it is these bacteria that are attracted by different and warm water temperatures, and which dye the floor in various colors. But strangely, their colors were much less pretty in 2017, looking much duller than when we discovered them in 2013.
A small panel near Beauty Pool will explain in detail the phenomenon and the different colors according to temperatures. You will learn that brown and orange bacteria are in warm water, and when the temperature rises, the bacteria turn green. When the water is blue, there are no bacteria left because they can no longer survive at too high a temperature.
The pontoons continued north and crossed the Firehole River again. Hot springs and geysers are gradually becoming scarcer.
Giant Geyser - Eruptions a few times a year
Soon we reach the impressive Giant Geyser. You will be lucky to see it because its eruptions are very unpredictable and spectacular. A sign will show you the date of the previous eruption. In recent years they have become increasingly rare. Only two in 2017. Sometimes frequent, sometimes calm, the mechanism of the eruptions of this geyser is not known.
What is certain is that these eruptions are impressive and last more than an hour during which the water can be ejected up to 76 meters high!
Grotto Geyser - Eruptions every 8h
The pontoons end at Grotto Geyser which is part of a small group of geysers of the same name. Its base is formed by pretty white concretions 2.4 meters high. In the past beautiful arches had been carved but they collapsed, which gives it today this so particular shape.
Grotto geyser between every 8 hours or so in eruption. Its eruptions can be brief, or last between 1 hour and several hours! On the other hand, although its base is impressive, its jet only reaches 3 meters in height.
After Grotto geyser, several options are available to us. Either continue towards Biscuit Basin, or continue towards Black Sand Basin, or return towards Old Faithful using the cycle path which runs along the Firehole river on the other side and which allows to pass in front of a last impressive geyser: Castle Geyser, located not far from the car park, and well visible thanks to its impressive cone.
Castle Geyser - Eruptions every 9h to 11h
Castle Geyser is a predictive geyser that usually erupts twice a day, with an average window of 9 to 11 hours. Its jet is propelled up to 24 meters high and its eruption lasts between 15 and 20 minutes. So you'll have time to get closer to the geyser if you see it in the distance. This is followed by a whistling phase, which continues for 30 to 40 minutes after the eruption.
Forecasts of the next eruptions are indicated at the Visitor Educational Center or accessible in the mobile application "Yellowstone Geysers".
The path between Grotto Geyser and Biscuit Basin
From Grotto Geyser, it is possible to reach Biscuit Basin after a pleasant walk of 2 km, 30 minutes. The path is flat, without difficulty and it will allow you to find yourself alone with nature, all while passing close to beautiful hot springs and geysers. We were able to observe several elk and a solitary coyote here in October 2017.
About 150 metres after passing Grotto Geyser, the trail offers a secondary route approaching the Firehole River. If you borrow it, you'll get closer to the amazing Riverside Geyser.
Riverside Geyser - Eruptions every 5h to 7h
Riverside Geyser is located on the Firehole River. Its location is rather photogenic because it is located really close to the water. It erupts every 5 to 7 hours, producing a 23-meter jet for nearly 20 minutes. The geyser is quite predictable as it begins to shake about 1h30 to 2h before its next eruption. Forecasts of the next eruptions are indicated at the Visitor Educational Center or accessible in the mobile application "Yellowstone Geysers".
Fan et Mortar Geyser - Irregular eruptions
Continuing north, the trail crosses the road of pretty hot springs and another small group of active geysers. It is Fan and Mortar Geyser who are more like mouths from which escape a powerful jet of steam. Mortar Geyser has only one vent while Fan Geyser has 7 different aligned vents. The eruptions occur at irregular intervals ranging from a few days to several months and last on average 45 minutes. When the eruption occurs, the vents start up one after the other, successively spitting out their steam jet.
Morning Glory Pool
A little further on is a very nice hot spring, Morning Glory Pool. The pretty pool is remarkable for its bright colors: yellow and orange in the periphery and a powerful blue in the center. Unfortunately man intervenes once again in history by causing damage in the source following garbage dumps. Despite the park's efforts to remove the debris, it has finally altered the source and its colours.
From Morning Glory Pool, the trail continues for 1.5 km before reaching the Biscuit Basin car park, passing by small hot pools such as Mirror and Gem Pools or Artemisia Geyser.
The path between Grotto Geyser and Black Sand Basin
Another alternative is to join Black Sand Basin, whose trail starts near Grotto Geyser. In total, the 1.4 km walk will take you no more than 30 minutes and will allow you to discover other beautiful geysers as well as an unknown and fascinating hot spring!
Daisy Geyser - Eruptions every 2h to 4h
We start with Daisy Geyser, who is one of the geysers whose eruptions are regular and scheduled at the Visitor Educational Center or accessible in the mobile application "Yellowstone Geysers". Daisy Geyser usually erupts every 2h00 (sometimes up to 4h00). Its eruption is quite particular because it forms an oblique jet of 23 meters high during approximately 3 to 4 minutes.
Comet Geyser - Permanent eruption
On the other side of Daisy Geyser is Comet Geyser, a small, permanently erupting geyser that expels water up to 1m80. As for its neighbour, Splendid Geyser, it causes eruptions 60 meters high which are unfortunately rather random and rare.
Punch Bowl Spring
The trail now takes us away from the Old Faithful area. The calm returns quickly and soon you will probably be alone. You can't miss Punch Bowl Spring, a strange hot spring that looks like the ground has formed a kind of pot where the water is boiling.
Black Sand Pool - Boiling every 3 to 5 minutes
There is one last fascinating curiosity to discover: Black Sand Pool. We discovered it by chance in 2013 and absolutely wanted to relive the experience in 2017.
Located halfway between Daisy Geyser and Black Sand Basin, Black Sand Pool is at first glance a banal little dark blue hot spring. But stand against the wooden banister and wait a few minutes without moving too much. Without warning, you will feel a kind of small detonation shaking the ground under your feet, as if an underground explosion had occurred. A few seconds later, you will see fine bubbles on the surface of the blue pool. These are gas bubbles released by the explosion after accumulation under the basin. Impressive! Small underground explosions occur at fairly short and regular intervals, about every 3 to 5 minutes, sometimes less.
From Black Sand Pool, you only have one kilometer left before reaching the Black Sand Basin car park. The path is almost flat, without difficulty.
Our tips for enjoying a visit to Upper Geyser Basin
deally come early in the morning or at sunset. At these times, the crowd is less and the grazing light will sublimate your photos. If you sleep in Old Faithful, don't hesitate to take a little night out on the pontoons. In the moonlight, the sensations are quite different! Only the ear is attracted by the whistling and snoring of the earth, an incredible experience!
If you have little time to explore the area, focus on Old Faithful, Geyser Hills and loop the pontoons to Grotto Geyser before returning to Old Faithful. Then take your car directly to Biscuit Basin and Black Sand Basin.