Drawing crowds to Yellowstone National Park for over a century-and-a-half, the historically reliable Old Faithful is the park’s most iconic and popular attraction. Though, in our opinion, Old Faithful isn’t the most spectacular thing going on in the Yellowstone Upper Geyser Basin.
Did you know Old Faithful is not the only geyser in the Upper Geyser Basin? Nope, it’s not the tallest, nor is it the only predictable geyser. Though, it is spectacular and worth seeing.
In addition to geysers, the Upper Geyser Basin is brimming with colorful hot springs, and bubbling mudpots. Though many Yellowstone tourists only plan enough time to see Old Faithful, we recommend dedicating at least half-a-day to explore the magical world of the Upper Geyser Basin.
Before heading into the Upper Geyser Basin, pop into the visitor center and check on the predicted eruption times for Old Faithful and any other geysers set to erupt while you are in the area. In addition to Old Faithful, the park makes regular predictions on five other geysers.
Once Old Faithful explodes, the 130-140 feet spray can last for 1.5 to 5 minutes on average.
You’ll find most visitors waiting for Old Faithful in a semi-circle of bleachers behind the visitor center, but there are several other spots to watch from.
- Follow the boardwalk to the backside of the geyser to get photos with the Old Faithful Inn in the background.
- Take a hike to the Old Faithful Viewing Area for a view above the crowds. Just remember to bring bear spray.
- Grab a seat, and an ice cream, on the Old Faithful Inn second-floor balcony.
- On a hot day, you can even wait and watch for Old Faithful from the floor to ceiling windows in the air-conditioned visitor center.
Be Awestruck by the Old Faithful Inn
Next door to the Old Faithful Visitor and Education Center, the Old Faithful Inn towers over the parking lot. From the outside, this historic log cabin is impressive, but the inside is even more incredible.
Built in 1904, this national historic landmark is the largest log structure in the world. Made from local logs and stone, the lobby features a towering stone fireplace and a hand-crafted clock.
For a deeper historic look at the Old Faithful Inn, check at the lobby desk for the free tour times. Usually, they leave from the fireplace at 9:30am, 11:30am, 2pm, and 3:30pm.
If you get front row seats, the second-floor balcony gives one of the best views over Old Faithful when it erupts. Grab a Huckleberry ice cream from the lobby deli to enjoy while you wait.
Watch Out for Geysers in Upper Geyser Basin
Around two dozen geysers, and at least a dozen springs, are easily viewable from the boardwalks around the Upper Geyser Basin.
Five of the geysers run on predictable time schedules, like Old Faithful, with a bit of tolerance. Others go off randomly, but some, surprisingly regularly. While walking around the Upper Geyser Basin, we saw three unpredicted eruptions from Sawmill, Grotto, and Beehive Geysers.
Looking more like a water fountain than a geyser, Sawmill Geyser splashed about for 15 minutes, causing the kids around us to burst into laughing squeals.
Grotto Geyser & South Grotto Fountain
As one of the more unique geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin, Grotto Geyser was our personal favorite. Starting the show, the nearby South Grotto Fountain burst from the ground in a steady stream of hot water.
Billowing smoke from its ashtray shaped mound, water hissed and sputtered as Grotto Geyser came to life. As the geyser continued to let off steam, the air filled with a strong sulfur smell.
The geyser was still going strong when we left after watching for 15 minutes.
As we sat on the balcony of the Old Faithful Inn waiting for Old Faithful’s 3pm show, we could hear screaming from across the parking lot. As we looked over, Beehive Geyser was busy drenching onlookers as they moved through the geyser’s mist to safety.
A Word of Caution
Throughout the park, signs warn of strictly sticking to the boardwalks and trails. They really mean it!
The ground is hot and treacherous. Sadly, on the day we visited West Thumb Basin, rangers found the remains of a missing person in one of the hot springs. If that doesn’t convince you to stay on the path, we don’t know what will.
Be Captivated by the Colors of the Hot Springs
Not everything in the Upper Geyser Basin is trying to splash you. Calm, colorful pools dot the Upper Geyser Basin, and they are stunning. Unfortunately, they are also scolding hot, and you can’t swim in them.
You can walk all the way from Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin to Biscuit Basin, but it’s a long way. With its emerald pool, we found Morning Glory Spring was not only our favorite spring, but also a great turnaround point. Biscuit Basin has its own parking area.
Other favorite pools in the Upper Geyser Basin include Heart Spring, Beauty Pool, and Chromatic Pool.
Where to Stay for the Upper Geyser Basin
Distances across Yellowstone are vast, so staying in the park is your best option, if you can. Hotels in the park book up quickly, often months in advance. We also felt the hotels were expensive, but again, you can’t beat the location.
For Old Faithful,
- Old Faithful Inn sits within the Upper Geyser Basin complex and you can’t get any closer. However, it’s often one of the first hotels in Yellowstone to fill up. You may get lucky and find a cancellation about a month out.
- Another fantastic choice for exploring the Geyser Country is West Yellowstone. We stayed at Yellowstone Park Hotel on our fourth night. The rooms were clean, comfortable, and the location was excellent for being outside the park.
- In the park, we stayed at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel for our first three nights. We loved the location, but it did take us about an hour to get over to the Geyser Basins.
Books on Yellowstone National Park
- Guidebook: We picked up the Lonely Planet Travel Guide for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Since we visited both parks on this trip, we felt it was good value.
- Photography & Guide Book: Whether you’re into photography or not, the book Photographing Yellowstone National Park: Where to Find Perfect Shots and How to Take Them (The Photographer’s Guide) makes a great guidebook if you want to be at the right place, at the right time.
- Hike Finder: With detailed descriptions, Best Easy Day Hikes Yellowstone National Park makes picking the best hike for you easy.
More on Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
Browse through our posts on Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, or check out a few of our favorite posts.