Closest entrance and distances: 16 miles from Old Faithful to Madison Junction, then 14 miles to West Yellowstone (west) entrance
Interested in seeing a few geysers? Boy, have you come to the right place. The Old Faithful area contains the world’s largest concentration of these geothermal spouters, including, of course, the world’s most famous example. It’s Yellowstone at its best—don’t miss it.
The area is also exceedingly popular, and offers the widest variety of services in the park. Choose from three different lodging options—Old Faithful Lodge, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, and the magnificent Old Faithful Inn—and dining option from casual cafeterias and ice cream stands to the swanky Snow Lodge’s Obsidian Dining Room. There’s also a general store, gas station, clinic, backcountry office, and post office.
One must-do stop: the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center (tel. 307/344-2751). It will walk you through the mechanics of all the hydrothermal features waiting outside, and giant picture windows let you see Old Faithful in all its glory, too. If you can stand to wait, head here first for a primer on Yellowstone’s grand plumbing system before exploring the basins; rangers post the next predicted eruption times for several major geysers, so you’ll know exactly how much time you have to browse. Haynes Photo Shop is also worth a stop if you’re a photography fan: Check out historic photos and cameras, learn about early photo expeditions, or just stop for a moment to charge your phone at the charging stations.
And now for the main event. Several distinct basins sit in close proximity here: Upper Geyser Basin, Black Sand Basin, and Biscuit Basin. Upper Geyser Basin is the star, containing the most interesting features, but all are worth a look. Old Faithful Geyser ★★★, around which all the area’s buildings cluster, is a fine place to start. It’s not the park’s largest or most frequent eruptor, but it has remained about as predictable as it was when the 1870 Washburn Expedition named it. Eruptions occur about every 90 minutes, spewing 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of boiling water up to 184 feet. No matter how many times you’ve seen Old Faithful on postcards or videos, there’s nothing like the thrill of seeing the real thing.
Views of Old Faithful are excellent from the boardwalk and the second-floor deck of Old Faithful Inn, but an even better vantage point is atop Observation Point ★★. The 1.6-mile (round-trip) trail departs from the boardwalk on the way to Geyser Hill, just past the Firehole River Bridge, and climbs 160 feet to an eagle-eye view over the entire basin. Continuing a bit farther along the trail loops you past frequent eruptor Solitary Geyser for the 2.2-mile trip back to the boardwalk.
Begin your geyser gazing with the 1.3-mile boardwalk loop around Geyser Hill. You’ll likely catch Anemone Geyser in action; the 6-footer goes off every 7 to 10 minutes. Beehive Geyser is much less predictable but more impressive, shooting a towering column of water up to 200 feet. The four-geyser Lion Group comes next. The largest member, Lion Geyser, announces an impending eruption with steam plumes and a guttural roar. Farther down the path, you’ll have to be lucky to glimpse Giantess Geyser: This powerhouse shoots water 200 feet high and shakes the ground with its steam blasts. If it is active (which happens every 2–6 months), eruptions happen as frequently as every 30 minutes.
Plenty more features await along the boardwalk northwest of Geyser Hill. One star, Castle Geyser ★★, erupts from a fortresslike sinter cone formed over thousands of years. It’s one of six geysers that rangers predict, so check at the visitor center or the hotels for the next show time (about every 14 hr.). Grand Geyser ★★, another predicted spouter, lets loose powerful water pulses up to 200 feet high.
Closer to the Firehole River, Beauty Pool and adjacent Chromatic Pool display brilliant rings of blue, green, yellow, and orange created by thermophile microorganisms. Rangers also predict Riverside Geyser’s ★★ eruptions: Every 6 hours or so, the waterfront feature blows water and steam in an arch over the Firehole. The paved trail ends at Morning Glory Pool, a once-vibrant blue hot spring now gone yellow and brown thanks to thoughtless visitors tossing trash and rocks into its underground portal over the years.
Continuing to Biscuit Basin (a 5.2-mile round-trip from the visitor center) takes you to a smaller collection of geysers and hot springs headlined by deep-blue Sapphire Pool. The final basin in this area, Black Sand Basin, lies about a mile northwest of Old Faithful and does indeed contain black sand (a derivative of obsidian) as well as brightly colored hot springs and Cliff Geyser.
Top 5 Places to Watch Old Faithful Erupt
- From above, at Observation Point
- From Old Faithful Inn’s second-floor porch
- Front and center on the boardwalk
- Through the picture windows in the Old Faithful Lodge lobby
- Framed in the viewing window at Old Faithful Visitor Education Center