Closest entrances and distances: 28 miles from West Yellowstone (west) entrance; 26 miles from Gardiner (north) entrance.
Even if you’ve visited Yellowstone’s oldest, hottest, and most acidic basin before, you haven’t really seen it: The volatile Norris Geyser Basin ★★ changes constantly as old features go dormant, new geysers force their way from the earth, mineral-laden hot springs plug up old tunnels, and earthquakes scramble up the underground “pipes.” Here, heat-loving microorganisms called thermophiles form intricate mats of yellow, green, red, and black among the superhot features; most of the hot springs and fumaroles (steam vents) have temperatures above the boiling point (199°F/93°C at this elevation). In fact, the park’s hottest geothermal temperature ever recorded, a bit more than 1,000 feet underground here, was a blistering 459°F (237°C).
Norris encompasses two loop trails. The shorter one, a .8-mile figure eight through Porcelain Basin, starts with a grand overlook across the baked-white landscape of steaming pools and vents. Highlights include the 20- to 30-foot-high Constant Geyser (despite the name, it’s not always erupting); pulsing Whirligig Geyser; and the hot spring Congress Pool, which might be a hissing dry vent or a boiling puddle.
Back Basin Loop contains many more features on its 1.5-mile loop trail. The most exciting one is undoubtedly Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest at 400 feet. Major eruptions used to be erratic and rare, but the behemoth spouted 32 times in 2018 and kept up the pace in the first half of 2019—so you could get lucky! Echinus Geyser is the biggest known acidic geyser, with a pH approaching vinegar’s. Lately Echinus’s shows have been few and far between. Other geysers, springs, and fumaroles fill out the basin.
A Deadly Misstep
The signs warning against stepping off the boardwalk are no joke—in thermal areas, the ground might be just a thin crust over a boiling spring, and it’s far too easy to blunder into an unsafe zone. In 2016, a man died after intentionally venturing off the boardwalk and then (accidentally) falling into a hot spring.
When you’re through pounding the boardwalks, stop by the stone-and-log Norris Geyser Basin Museum (tel. 307/344-2812) for exhibits on Yellowstone’s thermal features. The building dates back to 1929–30 and also houses a bookstore. A couple of free ranger programs and hikes take off from here daily in season; check the park newspaper for details. The Museum of the National Park Ranger (tel. 307/344-7353) is worth a stop to see historical photos and information on the evolution of the ranger job.
Both museums open in mid- to late May, weather permitting, and are open until at least late September; hours vary by season, but you can expect the museums to be open from 9am to 4 or 5pm during the busiest times (Memorial Day to Labor Day, but weather is a factor).
The Norris Campground, which is just slightly north of Norris Junction, is a very popular campground. Its best attribute just might be that it lets you walk to the geyser basin and skip the parking problems of high summer.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.