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Sunday 19 July 2020

Yellowstone National Park: Old Faithful & Upper Geyser Basin

When you think of Yellowstone National Park, what's the first thing that pops into your mind?

Was it Old Faithful? It was, wasn't it?

For many of us, this iconic geyser and Yellowstone are synonymous. With its regular eruptions approximately every 90 minutes or so, Old Faithful has been one of the most popular sights in Yellowstone since the area was established as the country's first National Park back in 1872.

Old Faithful erupting in front of Old Faithful Inn

As spectacular as Old Faithful is, it's not the only magical sight in the Upper Geyser Basin area of Yellowstone where it can be found. In fact, Upper Geyser Basin alone is home to hundreds of geysers and hot springs. The area is set up with boardwalks from which visitors can safely explore, and no matter which way you look you're sure to spot a geothermal wonder of some sort. Steaming geysers, deep and still turquoise pools, bubbling crater-like pits, steam rising from the ground, mud and rocks in vivid colors... there's so much more to see here than just Old Faithful.

Boardwalks lead visitors past geysers and hot springs, and over the Firehole River
Blue Star Spring
Belgian Pool
Crested Pool

So, let's take a look at what you can expect to see in Upper Geyser Basin...

First up, there's Old Faithful. It's the first thing you'll see when you arrive at the parking lot. It's easy to spot as it tends to have the biggest crowds.  If you're not sure where to look, just look for all the people! Now, even though Old Faithful erupts fairly regularly (on average every 90 minutes), the amount of time between eruptions can vary anywhere between 40 minutes and 2 hours. This can make it a little tricky to know how long to hang around waiting. We found that while the visitor information centers were closed in the park, there were still rangers on hand who can advise when Old Faithful last erupted to give you a bit of a better idea on the wait time. When we arrived there was quite a lot of steam coming out of Old Faithful so we were sure that an eruption was imminent and snagged ourselves a good spot for viewing. Turns out that steam comes out non-stop! Ha! We waited in this spot for about 20 minutes before deciding to take a walk on the boardwalk that leads around the geyser. No matter where we were along this path we'd have a decent view when the geyser erupted.

Old Faithful letting off steam
The kids waiting for Old Faithful to erupt

We made it to pretty much he direct opposite side of where we had first been standing when Old Faithful did its thing. Because it was a pretty grey day the shooting water and steam kind of blended in with the sky, so it wasn't quite as impressive as I'd imagined, but it was still quite the sight to see. I can only imagine how stunning it must look against a clear blue sky.

Old Faithful erupting
Old Faithful erupting
Mathilde with Old Faithful
Lindsey and I with Old Faithful

After watching Old Faithful erupt we made our way along the various boardwalks and trails to check out what else the area has to offer. The hot springs in various shades of blue and green were my absolute favorite. Ranging in color from the palest aquamarine, through vivid turquoises to storm colored dark grey blues, no two hot springs are alike. Some still and inviting, while others bubble away like a rapidly boiling pot of water on the stove, ready for the pasta to be thrown in! One thing they all have in common is the steam. No matter how cool some of the pools may have looked, they all had steam coming off them. A reminder that things are not always as they seem.

Blue Star Spring
Belgian Pool

Crested Pool
Shield Spring
Chinese Spring
Chinese Spring
Churn Geyser
Spasmodic Geyser
Spasmodic Geyser
South Scalloped Spring

There are plenty other geysers to be seen in the Upper Geyser Basin too. Old Faithful was the only large geyser eruption that we saw but we did see quite a few smaller geysers erupting and there was plenty of steam to be seen pouring out of those that didn't erupt while we were there. Most of these geysers do erupt at some point, some more predictably than others. We saw plenty of steam pouring out of Castle Geyser and Grand Gesyer (the tallest predictable geyser in the world). It would have been great to have seen either one erupt, but we were not in luck. The sheer amount of steam coming out was pretty impressive in its own right.

Castle Geyser
Castle Geysers estimated eruption time for the day
Grand Geyser
Grand Geyser
Grand Geyser
With so many geysers and hot springs in the area there's an awful lot of steam to be seen. I love seeing it all from a distance. Doesn't it look amazing seeing the steam pouring out of the ground at various points? It really gives you an appreciation for just how many geysers there are in the area.

Ava walks along the boardwalk with many geysers in the distance
The younger kids making their way along the boardwalk among the geysers 
Firehole River with geysers pouring steam out along the edges
Geysers in the distance and colorful mud in the foregroun

Getting up close and personal with all that steam was pretty fun too - from a safe distance on the boardwalks, of course. At times the steam made it quite hard to see, and given that it was a rainy day and therefore rather humid, there was much more steam than you can expect to see on a sunny day. Some of the steam was pretty stinky, but you expect that when you go to see geysers and hot springs, right? Our face masks came in handy for more than just covid!

Lindsey among the steam

The younger kids disappearing into the steam

The geothermal wonders of Yellowstone weren't the only thing to catch our attention at Upper Geyser Basin. There was plenty of interesting flora and fauna to see too. The whole area was covered in pops of color thanks to wildflowers growing in the mineral rich soil. We also saw plenty of birds, deer, elk and even a bison grazing among trees close to the path.

Colorful wildflowers with Churn Geyser in the background
The kids were pretty excited to see wildlife roaming around

Upper Geyser Basin is a must see in Yellowstone National Park. It's an easily accessible area with flat boardwalks making it perfect for families with small children, and those with mobility concerns. The trails vary in length making it easy to see as much or as little as you'd like. Sometimes you've got to make those decisions based on how far little legs are willing to walk - and how far adults are willing to carry the owner of those little legs! In our case, we didn't get to see the entire area due to tired kids, but that just gives us a good reason to make another trip back to Yellowstone in the future!

Mathilde looks pretty pleased that she convinced Kim to carry her!

When we visited in late-June the visitor center, Old Faithful Inn and the facilities located inside these buildings were closed due to Covid. Park rangers were on hand to provide visitors with information, however the junior ranger program was not running. Privately run gift stores and restaurants in the area were open to visitors as were the bathroom blocks. It's a good idea to check first before visiting the park and plan accordingly in case of closures.

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