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Fairy Falls and Goose Lake Loop

A dead tree rising from the calm waters of Goose Lake. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

The loop from Fairy Falls to Goose Lake is an easy 8.6 mile hike in Yellowstone National Park that also includes a quick 0.8 mile spur to Imperial Geyser. The hike shows off diverse terrain as it wraps around parts of both the Midway Geyser Basin and the Lower Geyser Basin. At just under 9 miles, this hike includes a 200 foot waterfall, Grand Prismatic Spring, expansive grassy meadows, dense forests, a serene glacial lake, and backcountry geysers and hot springs.

Though I’ve listed the hike as easy, novice and more casual hikers may find this a bit more difficult. Likewise, though there is technically water along trail, it’s best to avoid it due to the varying minerals that may be present. If you do wind up needing water, Goose Lake will be your safest bet. If you’re looking for shorter versions of this hike, consider stopping at either Fairy Falls or Imperial Geyser.

Fairy Falls and Goose Lake Loop Trail Description

Beginning at the Fairy Falls Parking Lot, head up the Fairy Falls Trail. This wide trail, which also allows bicycles, is an easy gravel trail that immediately crosses the Firehole River as you enter the main area of the Midway Geyser Basin.

The Midway Geyser Basin breaking up the forest with Grand Prismatic Spring expanding into the open expanses. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Midway Geyser Basin

The easy and popular trail brings you past multiple hot springs before catching your first glimpse of Grand Prismatic Spring, one of Yellowstone National Park’s most iconic features. At 0.6 miles in, you have the option to take the Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail. This gives you a stunning aerial view of the colorful hot spring, and though it adds a bit of elevation change, won’t affect the overall mileage much at all. If you’ve never been to the area, it’s highly recommended you take the quick detour. From the overlook, you can continue down where you’ll reconnect with the main Fairy Falls Trail 0.25 miles ahead.

In either case, the views of the hot spring are mesmerizing, as water pours from its depths in all directions. As Grand Prismatic Spring begins to fall behind you, you reach the trailhead to fork off for Fairy Falls at 1 mile in. Head left where the trail cuts into the young forest recovering from the 1988 fires.

Fairy Falls

The next 1.25 miles or so of the Fairy Falls Trail are fairly consistent in a wonderfully peaceful way. With only a footbridge crossing a small creek about a third of the way through, the hike to Fairy Falls is calming, relaxing, and a wonderfully intimate look into a forest recovering from the destructive 1988 fires, where roughly one-third of the entire park was burned.

As you near the falls, the terrain begins to open up more. Thanks to a more recent fire, views to the right begin to open up. It’s shortly thereafter that you’ll hear the rush of Fairy Falls pouring over the cliffs on the left. As you round a small bend, you’ll see the magnificent waterfall pouring over 200 feet into a small pool below. You reach Fairy Falls at 2.5 miles in. Enjoy the scenery, and when ready, continue up the trail.

Fairy Falls pouring over a cliff and onto the ground among a sparse forest. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Imperial Geyser

Beyond Fairy Falls, you’ll wander through a damp meadow before reaching another forest. Through this forest, you’ll cross another small creek before reaching a fork in the trail. Head left to continue to Imperial Geyser along the Fairy Creek Trail.

After the junction, you’ll pass through a large meadow, where Fairy Falls is still visible in the distance to the left. At the other end of the meadow, just after entering the next forest grove, you’ll reach an unsigned junction. Head right to begin heading up Imperial Creek, branching off from the Fairy Creek Trail.

This piping hot creek is lined with bright orange thermophiles, a testament to its extreme temperature. It’s highly recommended that you don’t test it. Shortly after reaching the creek, you can also see Spray Geyser on the opposite side splashing just up the hill. As you continue heading up Imperial Creek, you’ll ultimately round a bend and see Imperial Geyser, likely erupting beyond the trees. You’ll reach the colorful geyser at 3.25 miles in.

Imperial Geyser erupting beyond Imperial Creek as it flows through a forest. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Imperial Geyser is a stunning geyser erupting from the opposite end of a large blue pool. Nearby, a small mud pot also bubbles. Enjoy the scenery as long as you’d like and when ready, head back down the trail, or loop back around to the Fairy Creek Trail to head back to the prior trail junction.

Once back at the junction with the Fairy Falls and Fairy Creek Trails, head left to begin back down the unexplored part of the Fairy Falls Trail.

Imperial Meadows

As you pass through the thin forest, the trail will soon open up into the expansive Imperial Meadows. The views of the surrounding terrain are wide and inspiring as the trail weaves through the lush grasses of the meadows. Soon you’ll pass over Fairy Creek, downstream from the falls, still visible off to the right.

After passing through a thin forest, the trail will bend northward. To the left, you have a great view of the Twin Buttes. At the base of the Twin Buttes sits Imperial Geyser. Continuing up the trail, you’ll wind along the edge of a forest, where you’ll begin to pass through thermal areas on the fringes of the Lower Geyser Basin.

Fairy Creek flowing through a large grassy meadow along the Fairy Creek Trail. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Broken up by the immense wild landscape of the Imperial Meadows, you’ll reach another thermal area with gorgeous hot springs and small geysers. It should go without saying that you should use common sense around these features, as their often unpredictable nature and surroundings could cause severe burns.

After heading back into the young forest, you’ll reconnect with the larger Fairy Falls Trail at 6 miles in. Head right to begin back toward the trailhead.

Goose Lake

Through the forest regrowth from the 1988 fires, the forest begins to break up. Just through the trees Goose Lake comes into view. This incredibly serene setting features numerous waterfowl, and the landscape makes you feel dozens of miles away from any civilization.

The trail continues to wrap around the lake, offering even more wonderful views. Beyond Goose Lake, the Firehole River comes into view on the left, cutting through a large meadow below the surrounding forest. Through the trees upriver, the trailhead for the Midway Geyser Basin boardwalk can be made out far in the distance. As you continue down the trail, the Midway Geyser Basin comes back into view, where you’ll soon reach the trailhead for the Fairy Falls Trail once again, closing out the loop. From here, it’s an easy 1 mile hike back out to the main trailhead.

Firehole River Below Fountain Flat Drive Trail
The Firehole River winding through a large meadow below the Fountain Flat Drive Trail. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Getting There

From Old Faithful, drive north on the main South Loop Road. At 4.4 miles, turn left into the Fairy Falls Parking Lot.

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Mike@FreeRoamingPhotography.com