Yellowstone National Park is flush with incredible thermal features, many of them easily accessible thanks to a series of boardwalk hikes scattered throughout the park. If you’re limited on time, you’ll likely want to pick a few and reluctantly skip others. This guide will help you navigate which to hike and which to skip.
The Upper Geyser Basin
Home to Old Faithful, the Upper Geyser Basin is easily the most visited of the geyser basins. Yet the majority of people simply watch the iconic eruption and then move on. Whether you arrive early or want to explore more after eruption, head down the trail across the Firehole River to get an extra sampling of what the area has to offer. Lucky visitors will even get to see Beehive Geyser erupt, and many more will see Lion Geyser erupt as well. If you get thirsty for more, there are plenty of connecting trails that head deeper into the geyser basin as well, guiding you through the densest collection of geysers in the world.
Midway Geyser Basin
The Midway Geyser Basin is best known for its iconic hot spring, Grand Prismatic Spring, the third largest hot spring in the world and nearly as sought out as Old Faithful. The 0.5 mile boardwalk hike brings visitors to its northern perimeter, passing the enormous Excelsior Geyser Crater along the way. Two other colorful hot springs lie nearby, allowing for a nice diversity over the course of the walk.
Norris Geyser Basin
The hottest geyser basin in the park also contains one of the most astonishing features, the tallest geyser in the world in Steamboat Geyser. While eruptions can vary from a few days to 50 years, it’s always worth checking out to possibly be one of the lucky few to witness the eruption. Plus with over 4 miles of trail, the basin leaves plenty to be explored and discovered.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs is the only boardwalk in this list not found on the lower loop of the main road. Instead found on the northwestern corner of the upper loop, this dynamic feature is fueled by a large fissure in the Earth’s crust, rather than the caldera like the others. With an unusually high concentration of travertine found in the water, the features can change drastically from year to year. The full boardwalk features over 2 miles of trail, leaving plenty of its beautiful pools and runoffs to be explored.
If You’ve Got the Time
Mud Volcano by technical standards is the shortest boardwalk on this list, but an adjoining trail extends the walk to just over a mile, bringing visitors past extensive and wildly large mud pots. If you’re itching for more, Sulphur Cauldron just across the street also provides some more stunning mud pots.
Situated on the shores of picturesque Yellowstone Lake, the West Thumb Geyser Basin offers scenery that no other geyser basin can match. There’s over 2 miles of boardwalk trail that brings you past sparkling hot springs and remarkable lakeshore geysers.
Lower Geyser Basin
One of the greatest aspects of the Lower Geyser Basin is that it contains beautiful and prime examples of each of the four different types of thermal features. Those fortunate enough to witness an eruption of Fountain Geyser will experience a very different type of eruption than Old Faithful, as water is sprayed dozens of feet in all directions.
Black Sand Basin
At less than 0.5 miles, this easy boardwalk contains beautifully large hot springs that shouldn’t be missed. With such close proximity to Old Faithful, it often goes overlooked, leaving the walk relatively quiet.