Distance: 0.65 mile (round trip)
Best time of year: Year-round
Last hiked: 2015 September
Fountain Paint Pots has the unique distinction of being one of the only easily accessible walks in Yellowstone that has great examples of all four types of thermal features. These are hot springs, geysers, mud pots, and fumaroles. With the entire walk adding up to less than three-fourths of a mile, it’s another walk that shouldn’t be passed up.
From the parking area, begin walking on the boardwalk as it takes you out toward the main features. Along the way you’ll pass by dead lodgepole pine trees that succumbed to the expansion of the geyser basin, killing the trees from the roots up.
The boardwalk splits where thermophiles from Silex Spring begin to get much more colorful. As a result, most people follow the boardwalk straight ahead to check out the spring. Silex Spring is a brilliant display of a hot spring, with bright blue water and bold orange thermophiles surrounding its edges.
The trail continues ascending a small knoll to a feature from where the path’s namesake originates. A large mud pot, bubbling with gooey mud, is encircled by the boardwalk. A mud pot is essentially the same thing as a hot spring, but the key difference is that this water is much more acidic, causing the ground to be eaten away around it. Combined with some iron in the ground, it creates a colorful palette of reds, pinks, and whites.
On the other end, the trail forks off again leading to Red Spouter and Leather Pool. Red Spouter is a great example of a fumarole (aka, steam vent). Prior to 1959, the ground where it’s now found was completely undisturbed. Then the massive 7.4 Hebgen Lake Earthquake struck creating Red Spouter (among many other features in the park), and it’s been growing ever since. If it hasn’t rained recently, the vent will be screaming so loud with erupting steam that you’ll have to yell to the person next to you so that they can hear you.
The boardwalk rises back up to the top of the knoll, and below the path in front of you lies multiple geysers. Clepsydra Geyser is nearly always erupting on the other end of the boardwalk, so that’s the one that most people will notice shooting a few dozen feet into the air. Nearby are also Jet and Twig Geysers, much smaller compared to Clepsydra. Also in the area though is Fountain Geyser, the largest geyser along the Fountain Paint Pots walk. Fountain Geyser can reach heights up to 80 feet or so and roughly 40 feet wide, making it a unique spectacle among active geysers. It only erupts on average twice a day, but that can vary. Count yourself lucky if you get to see this one going off!
The trail continues back to the split in the boardwalk, passing Celestine Pool as it brings you back toward the parking area.
From the Madison Junction, follow the highway south for just over eight miles where the parking area for Fountain Paint Pots will be on your right.