When people think of Yellowstone, they think of Old Faithful. The two go hand-in-hand and it’s impossible to think of one without the other. What most people don’t realize, however, is that there’s much more to see in the vicinity than just Old Faithful.
Old Faithful is part of the Upper Geyser Basin, a massive complex of thermal features that stretches all the way out to Biscuit Basin a couple of miles away. There are some geysers that are even bigger than Old Faithful, and a number of colorful and amazing hot springs unlike anywhere else in the park. The geyser basin is also divided up into sections, so if you don’t have much time, you can make a short walk around some of the interesting features, whereas if you have more time, you can experience the entire area and see all kinds of unique sights.
Note: When hiking in this area in spring, fall, or winter, it is common to see bison. Always give them the right of way. They are much bigger, faster, and stronger than you, and you will not win in a fight with them. Consider getting within 25 yards of them a challenge.
Upper Geyser Basin and Biscuit Basin Trail Description
To begin your hike, start from Old Faithful and begin walking along a walkway toward some of the steam. There’s no right or wrong direction to follow, just head toward what looks interesting, but always stick to the boardwalks and walkways. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to describe the walk that I did, including any options to make it a shorter or longer journey.
Upper Geyser Basin
Begin hiking from the Old Faithful Visitor Center to the west between Old Faithful Geyser and the Old Faithful Inn. As the path winds down toward the parking area, another path will lead off to the right. Follow that to be brought past Chinese Spring and the Firehole River where the path will continue around Old Faithful, merging with another trail where you can fork off to the left. This will bring you across the Firehole River and to a loop circling a large concentration of hot springs and geysers.
If you’re short on time, this is an excellent loop to make with the highlights being the Lion Geyser Group and Beehive Geyser, the latter reaching heights of roughly 200 feet! Check with the Visitor Center for predictions. Eruptions are typically only once a day, but sometimes difficult to predict. A short spur trail off of the loop will lead to Solitary Geyser, well worth the detour. Every 5-7 minutes, it will make a quick burst of an eruption reaching about 4-5 feet high and often much wider.
Another spur trail will continue farther into the Upper Geyser Basin. This will bring you past more colorful springs and another spectacle of the Upper Geyser Basin, Grand Geyser. It can also reach up to 200 feet, but like Beehive Geyser, can have a larger window for its eruption, typically adding up to about two hours on either side of the predicted time. The path will continue past Chromatic and Beauty Pools before crossing back over the Firehole River, and past Giant Geyser before joining the larger, main path extending from Old Faithful. A small detour beyond will take you by Riverside Geyser, and just beyond that is the famous Morning Glory Pool.
Morning Glory Pool was named after the bright blue-violet flower, but unfortunately, the hot spring has none of those colors anymore. Early visitors threw a large amount of rocks, coins, and pretty much anything else they could find into the pool. Over time, this has lowered the heat in the pool, allowing the thermophiles along the edges to gradually creep more toward the center. The above photo is from 2015. Compare that with this photo from 1966 on Wikipedia. It’s a tragically unfortunate change that will have lasting effects in the park for years to come. This is exactly why it’s now illegal to throw anything at all into any spring or thermal feature.
Many people turn around at Morning Glory Pool and begin to head back to Old Faithful. If you have more time on your hands, it’s a nice walk to continue on to Biscuit Basin past Artemisia Spring, among several others.
After following the trail through a lodgepole pine forest and past some large hot springs and geysers, the main road becomes visible beyond Artemisia Spring. The spring has actually grown in recent years so much so that the trail was just recently rerouted to avoid some of the runoff. The trail still leads straight to the road, where right on the other side is the parking area for Biscuit Basin.
Biscuit Basin gets its name not from the bison pies that are frequently seen there, but from biscuit-like geyserite formations that used to line Sapphire Pool. A large earthquake in 1959 caused the pool to erupt, destroying the unique formations. As with any of the geyser basins, it’s certainly worth the visit and even has an extra trail for those itching to see more of Yellowstone’s waterfalls.
A couple of the main spectacles are Sapphire Pool and Jewel Geyser, though there are several other geysers and hot springs that capture individuals’ attention. Jewel Geyser erupts fairly frequently, reaching heights of up to 30 feet. Most people will see it erupt at some point along the walk around the half-mile or so boardwalk.
At the back of the Biscuit Basin boardwalk is a trail that leads into some of Yellowstone’s backcountry. One of the trails leads to Mystic Falls, only a one mile hike out from the boardwalk, and a pretty easy hike at that too. The trail leaves the boardwalk where a sign informs people about the trail. If you weren’t carrying bear spray, turn around. Bear spray is always recommended for any hike in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Beyond the sign, the trail begins winding through the young lodgepole pine forest, burned from the 1988 Fires. A short distance into the trail will bring you to a fork, branching off to Summit Lake much deeper in the Yellowstone backcountry and beyond. To reach Mystic Falls, continue straight. Soon the trail joins the Little Firehole River, which ultimately brings you to Mystic Falls, a spectacular waterfall pouring 70 feet over a large cliff that is decorated with thermal features surrounding the falls. This creates a rather "mystic" look as the mist from the falls interacts with the steam from the thermal features.
Spend as much time as you’d like, then either head back the same way you came, or take the overlook loop which will add an extra mile and a great overlook to your return trip.
Returning Through the Upper Geyser Basin
Before reaching the boardwalk back at the Biscuit Basin, another trail past the Summit Lake Trail will spur off to the right. This is a separate loop trail that will bring you back to the Upper Geyser Basin via Daisy Geyser and a couple of other thermal features. The other option is to head back the same way you came. Both will bring you past Grotto Geyser and Castle Geyser, two of the more uniquely shaped geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin.
From the Old Faithful Visitor Center, start walking.