More than 10,000 hydrothermal features are active in Yellowstone. Exploring the park’s geyser basins is an adventure, for beneath this enchanting landscape lies a sleeping giant—a supervolcano—that powers the captivating spectacle.

Yellowstone National Park, a geothermal wonderland, boasts the highest concentration of geothermal features on Earth. The land here smokes, bubbles, and hisses, thanks to the immense volcanic activity beneath its surface. Each of the major geyser basins offers a unique glimpse into the volcanic activity that shapes this iconic park.

1. Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs, located in the northern part of the park, is a captivating display of terraces formed by the interaction of hot water and limestone. These terraces resemble cascading white steps, creating an otherworldly landscape. The hot springs deposit approximately two tons of travertine limestone (calcium carbonate) daily, constantly shaping and reshaping the formations.

Wander along the boardwalks that wind through this surreal landscape, where colorful thermophiles thrive in the warm waters. Don’t miss the iconic Minerva Terrace and Palette Spring, which offer some of the most striking views in the area.

Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park (Photo by Wirestock)

2. Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin, the hottest geyser basin in Yellowstone, is a geothermal wonderland. A research drill hole at Norris found a scorching temperature of 459°F (237°C). Within this basin, you’ll encounter steam vents, geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots.

Norris is the home of Steamboat Geyser, the tallest geyser in the world, and the Porcelain Springs, with their vibrant colors. Explore the boardwalks and witness the dynamic geothermal activity in this fascinating basin.

Learn more about Norris Geyser Basin from We’re in the Rockies

Yellowstone National Park: How to Visit and What to See by 21st Century Pioneer


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3. Mud Volcano

Head east to Mud Volcano, where you’ll encounter a landscape that resembles a scene from another planet. Explore the area’s bubbling mud pots, which emit a pungent odor due to the presence of hydrogen sulfide gas. Marvel at features like Dragon’s Mouth Spring, where water surges from a cavernous opening, creating an eerie roaring sound reminiscent of a mythical creature.

Grant Bulltail of the Native Memory Project tells the Crow origin story of Dragon’s Mouth in “The Bull that Sucks in People”


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4. West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser Basin is unique because it lies along the shores of Yellowstone Lake. Imagine geysers and hot springs juxtaposed against the serene blue waters of the lake. The Abyss Pool, with its deep blue hue, is a standout feature. Stroll along the boardwalks that meander around hot springs, geysers, and colorful pools, all set against the backdrop of the vast lake. Keep an eye out for Fishing Cone, a geyser that once served as a makeshift cooking pot for early visitors.


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5. Upper Geyser Basin

No visit to Yellowstone would be complete without experiencing the iconic Upper Geyser Basin, home to the world-famous Old Faithful geyser. Arrive early to secure a prime viewing spot for Old Faithful’s predictable eruptions, which occur approximately every 90 minutes. While waiting, explore the surrounding area, which features numerous other geysers and hot springs, including Castle Geyser, Grand Geyser, and Morning Glory Pool. Be sure to check the predicted eruption times for other geysers to maximize your chances of witnessing these natural wonders in action.

Tips on How to Visit Old Faithful from We’re in the Rockies

Tourists gather to watch as Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park erupts forcing out boiling water and steam from the bedrock below. (Photo by iStock)

6. Midway Geyser Basin

Midway Geyser Basin is home to some of the park’s most visually stunning thermal features. The Grand Prismatic Spring, a massive pool with vivid colors, is the largest hot spring in the U.S. The spring’s rainbow hues result from microbial activity in the water. The boardwalk leads you to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook which offers panoramic views of the spring’s vibrant palette and surrounding landscape. And don’t miss the Excelsior Geyser Crater and Turquoise Pool, both of which add to the area’s surreal beauty.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park (Photo by Beate Dalbec)

7. Lower Geyser Basin

Conclude your journey at the Lower Geyser Basin, where the geothermal features are as diverse as they are abundant. Covering approximately 11 square miles, the Lower Geyser Basin is the largest geyser basin in Yellowstone. Its thermal features are spread out in widely spaced groups. While it lacks the density of the Upper Geyser Basin, it compensates with its vastness.

Explore the Fountain Paint Pot area, a collection of bubbling mud pots and colorful hot springs named for their resemblance to paint being stirred. Wander among the geysers of the Fountain Group, including Clepsydra Geyser and Fountain Geyser, which boast impressive eruptions against the backdrop of Yellowstone’s wilderness.


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Yellowstone’s geyser basins offer a glimpse into the Earth’s fiery heart, where water and heat collide to create these mesmerizing natural phenomena. As you explore these basins, remember that beneath your feet lies a supervolcano, a sleeping giant that powers this geothermal spectacle. Enjoy the magic, but tread lightly on this fragile and dynamic landscape.

Tips for Exploring Yellowstone’s Geyser Basins:

  1. Safety First: Always stay on designated trails and boardwalks to avoid the fragile thermal features and potential hazards.
  2. Timing Is Key: Plan your visit to the major geysers for optimal viewing times, and consult the park’s eruption predictions for an enhanced experience.
  3. Pack Essentials: Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, sturdy footwear, and layers to accommodate Yellowstone’s ever-changing weather.
  4. Respect Wildlife: Yellowstone is home to diverse wildlife; maintain a safe distance and never feed or approach animals.
  5. Embrace the Journey: Take your time to soak in the sights, sounds, and smells of Yellowstone’s geyser basins, and savor the wonder of nature’s marvels.

In the photo at the top, steam rises near the Firehole River from geothermal pools and geysers in Yellowstone National Park. (Photo by Cheryl Ramalho)