Yellowstone National Park
Grand Loop Drive:
Driving Time: 35 minutes
Distance: 16 miles
At Madison you will find a shaded picnic area and the Madison Information Station. This stone and log structure, built in 1929 and 1930, was one of the park's original roadside museums, but now serves as an information station and Yellowstone Association educational bookstore. Just south of Madison on the right (west) side of the road, is the turnoff for a beautiful, one-way drive along the Firehole River. Shortly after leaving the main road the route follows the Firehole, directly across from a spectacular vertical wall of volcanic rhyolite that rises from the west bank. From here the road climbs above the river, offering fine views of numerous cascades and waterfalls, including 40-foot-high Firehole Falls.
Shortly after the drive rejoins the Grand Loop, the road passes Nez Perce Creek, a name that recalls the 800 men, women, and children who in 1877 fled from pursuing Army troops up this drainage, part of an astonishing 1,300-milelong flight that began in the Wallowa Valley in Oregon.
Just south of Nez Perce Creek is Lower Geyser Basin, the first of three extraordinary basins that contain the lion's share of the world's geysers. The Lower Basin, located 8 miles south of Madison, is where you will find Fountain Paint Pot. This colorful area offers short walks to pools and geysers, as well as to Fountain Paint Pot itself, which is Yellowstone's most famous mudpot. A one-way road, known as Firehole Lake Drive, begins 1.2 miles farther south. This 2-mile-long route will carry you past magnificent Great Fountain Geyser. Though on average Great Fountain erupts to a height of 100 feet, it occasionally lets loose with"superbursts" 200 feet high.
As hardy as geological features might seem, many have fallen victim to the bad habits of some visitors, who have broken off pieces of terraces and geyser cones for souvenirs, or tossed items into thermal features. This debris is sometimes sufficient to completely plug up the plumbing; some features never recover from the abuse. Throwing any object into a thermal feature is illegal and harmful to the feature.
Nine-and-a-half miles south of Madison is the parking area for Midway Geyser Basin. Stop here for a good look at Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone's largest hot spring in diameter, measuring 370 feet across and 120 feet deep. Also noteworthy is Elcelsior Geyser, ringed by a mammoth crater 200 feet across. Though there has been little action in recent years, visitors in the 1880s reported eruptions at Excelsior of 300 feet.
Finally, in the third and final basin, the Upper Geyser Basin, you will find not only Old Faithful, but fully 20 percent of the world's known geysers! The description of this area can be found in the next section, Old Faithful to West Thumb.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication