June 29th – July 13th, 2023
We spent two weeks at the KOA in West Yellowstone and visited the park nine times. The park is huge. You could spend a lifetime there (and some employees do) exploring the 2.2 million acres of mountains and valleys, rivers and lakes, prairies, canyons, trails, geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, travertine terraces and mud pots.
The most unique part for us midwesterners was visiting the 10,000+ thermal features in the park. Several guides and rangers told us that Yellowstone is home to nearly half the world’s geysers and that is because the majority of the park is nestled quietly on top of a huge caldera. And guess what, a caldera is an inactive (for now) volcano.
When could Yellowstone have a major eruption? Most of the research I found says it is possible within the next 100,000 years. So we are probably safe to enjoy the tiny little releases of pressure we can see regularly from the 500+ geysers at the park. The most predictable is Old Faithful. We did see it erupt a couple of times and it’s interesting, if a little underwhelming after envisioning it for years.
If you visit Old Faithful, be sure to take the attached trail to see many more, smaller, but cool thermal features. You can enjoy them from a well maintained path, including boardwalks that give you wonderful peeks into the steamy center of the earth all from a safe distance.
Another fun hike is the Norris Geyser Basin. This area features Steamboat Geyser. Steamboat’s major eruptions can be the largest in the park at over 300 feet high. Signs around the parking area remind you that National Park Service is not responsible if your car gets geysered – and it could! The challenge with Steamboat is that its eruptions are not nearly as neatly timed as Old Faithful’s. It has gone years without erupting, but has then erupted 48 times in 2020 alone…makes sense. That year deserved a few earthly temper tantrums. We saw it spitting and fussing a bit, but we did not see an eruption.
We saw many steaming hot streams and some very stupid tourists getting far too close (with their kids) to the near boiling water. We heard more than one story about bodies having to be recovered from scalding water because a tourist thought “it couldn’t be THAT hot.”
My very favorite thermal feature is the mud pots. We saw some that looked like a grayish boiling hot chocolate (more water than mud) and some that bubbled and spit like a witches cauldron filled with boiling mud. To see my favorite one go to the Artists paint pot hike. It’s just a mile round trip and you can see a sampling of most of the types of thermal features.
The thermal features sport some gorgeous colors!
Watch for some posts on the other beautiful parts of Yellowstone!
Thermal feature tip: Go early or late. The cooler the temperatures, the more steamy they look and at sunset – just WOW!