Distance: 1.1 miles
Best time of year: Spring, Summer, Fall
Last hiked: 2015 September
Artist Paint Pots is an appropriately named collection of mud pots that have some incredibly unique coloring and actually do resemble pots of paint. It’s one of the fantastic displays of mudpots in the park, where the water is so acidic it gradually eats away the ground around it.
The trail begins from the parking area and weaves in and out of a young lodgepole pine forest on its way to the geyser basin. The trail is easy to follow and well-maintained. You soon reach the thermal area where boardwalks begin to break up the natural trail in some areas to make passing near the features safer. The trail also makes a loop here, and most people will find that taking the route to the left is a little less steep than going to the right.
Heading left, you first cross some runoff from Blood Geyser and a few other thermal features, better visible as the trail starts to rise slightly. Blood Geyser gets its name from the iron oxide found within the water. This results in the rocks becoming stained with the red color. Eruptions can get as high as six feet, so keep an eye on it.
The trail begins to climb a bit and ultimately brings you to a fantastic lookout over some of the thermal features below you. Dome Mountain rises out of the otherwise flat lands in the distance. Interspersed below the greenery of the trees are various shades of oranges, reds, and purples mixing in with the white sinter and mud around them.
The trail continues up a few more steps where you find on the other side of the overlook a rather large bubbling mudpot. This is the namesake for the trail you’re on, Artist Paint Pots. As mentioned the water contains enough sulfuric acid to gradually erode away the rhyolite around it, creating a milky ooze of steaming mud, constantly burping and occasionally sending splashes to the boardwalk. The name becomes fairly evident as you can see the paint-like mud bubble up to the surface.
The trail begins to wind downward here along a staircase that will bring you to some more colorful mudpots. Shortly after, the trail connects back up with where you forked off to the left. Head out the same way you came in to get back to your car.
From the Madison Junction, head north along the main highway for 9.5 miles. A sign marking Artist Paint Pots will point to a road branching off to the right. Follow that to the parking area and find the trail at the other end of the parking lot.