Yellowstone National Park

Geyser Gazing
Gorp.com
West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park
West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park (Jeremy Woodhouse/Photodisc/Getty)

Yellowstone National Park is home to some 10,000 thermal features, over 500 hundred of which are geysers. In fact, Yellowstone contains the majority of the world's geysers. So why do most visitors to Yellowstone crowd around Old Faithful, blissfully ignorant of the hundreds of other possibilities? Beats us.

As with almost any activity, geyser jargon can get in the way of simple enjoyment. But a couple of terms help in scheduling a visit to see a particular geyser erupt. For our purposes, an interval is the period of time from the start of one eruption to the start of the next eruption. Duration is how long an eruption lasts.

Descriptions of geysers will also mention what type it is. Basically, a fountain erupts in spurts. A cone erupts in one continuous jet.

Got that? Good. Now let's take a look at some of Yellowstone's most regular and entertaining geysers.

Easy Access Geysers

These are geysers within easy reach of a parking lot. Many of these are concentrated in Yellowstone's major geyser basins: Upper, Midway, Lower, Norris, West Thumb, Shoshone, and Heart Lake.

Upper Geyser Basin
Upper Geyser Basin is the blockbuster locale for geyser gazers. A grand total of five major geysers are predicted by Park Rangers—their predictions are posted at the Old Faithful Visitor Center. All of the predicted geysers are worth seeing. Each is different. The two most dependable geysers are usually Old Faithful and Daisy. The most spectacular, and the must-see geyser, is Grand. Check the directory for eruption times.

Lower Geyser Basin
There is only one predicted geyser in the Lower Geyser Basin: Great Fountain Geyser. Great Fountain's predictions are posted at the Old Faithful Visitor Center. Great Fountain is located about eight miles north of Old Faithful on the one-way Firehole Lake Drive. It is the only predicted geyser in Yellowstone that you can drive to and watch from your car.

Norris Geyser Basin
Norris is the hottest and most dynamic geyser basin in Yellowstone. There is only one predicted geyser at Norris Geyser Basin: Echinus Geyser. Echinus Geyser's predictions are posted at the Norris Museum.

Echinus is a crowd-pleasing, fountain-type geyser. Its maximum height is about 80-125 feet. Its duration ranges from a minute to over an hour, but most eruptions last between 5 and 15 minutes. Its intervals range from 20 to 80 minutes. That's what we call a show.

West Thumb Geyser Basin
West Thumb Geyser Basin consists of a narrow strip of geysers, hot springs, and a few mud pots poking into the west shore of the Yellowstone Lake.

Lone Pine Geyser is the largest frequent geyser at West Thumb Geyser Basin. It is located a few hundred yards north of the main boardwalk portion of the basin between the road and Yellowstone Lake. Its picturesque appearance and unexpected location along the lake often leads to traffic jams during its eruptions.

Backcountry Geysers

We define a backcountry geyser as one to which you must hike. You'll find a lot less crowds at these geysers, but also less safety features. Do not approach geyser vents: There's no absolute certainty that they won't erupt.

Lone Star Geyser Basin
Lone Star Geyser Basin is the best approachable backcountry geyser area. It can be reached by various routes but the shortest and most enjoyable is by hiking or biking along the trail that follows the Firehole River. This trail is one of the few open to bicycles. The eponymous Lone Star is a very regular geyser, having major eruptions about every three hours. The eruptions are 45 feet high and last a satisfying half hour. Warning: The major eruption is usually preceded by a minor one 30 minutes before. You owe it to yourself to stick around for the whole show.

Buried Geyser lies near the base of a hill about 1/2 mile east-southeast of Lone Star Geyser. With no trail leading to it, Buried Geyser can be accessed by fording the river near Lone Star, or by crossing the river on the Shoshone Lake Trail bridge about 1/2 mile west of Lone Star, then backtracking.

There are other geyser areas worth visiting, including Shoshone Geyser Basin.


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