Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Trail offers unique view of Old Faithful

Old Faithful geyser erupts once every 65 to 90 minutes.
Topo map for Observation Point Trail.

Iconic site
at Yellowstone
visible from
hilltop vista

No one who visits Yellowstone can really say they’ve been to the national park unless they’ve seen Old Faithful.

The world’s most famous geyser that is virtually synonymous with the words “national park” erupts every 90 minutes or so, with water spewing more than 110 feet high. Most people see the geyser from the Old Faithful Boardwalk, so it’s a crowded path.

Instead, watch it from the Observation Point Trail. There are some steep spots, but crowds are smaller, and you’ll see it from a unique vantage point. The hike park.

To reach the trailhead, from the intersection of U.S. Hwys. 89/191 and U.S. Hwy. 20, on the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, head west on Grand Land Road. Exit onto Old Faithful Road, park at any of the lots, and head over to the visitor center. After taking in the displays and an education film about the geyser, as well as checking the eruption prediction schedule, pick up the trail heading north from the center toward Old Faithful.

Upper Geyser Basin
Once on the plastic-lumber boardwalk closest to the geyser, go right/east. This takes you around one side of Old Faithful.

Geysers occur when groundwater reaches rocks warmed by magma far below the top soil. The heated water than makes its way back to the surface through porous and fractured rock until shooting out of the ground. Old Faithful’s eruption can soar up to 185 feet and can last for anywhere from 90 seconds to 5 minute. The water is almost boiling at 199 degrees F.

Old Faithful is hardly anything but its namesake when observed from the long vantage of time. Historically, times between eruptions have varied from 45 to 120 minutes; currently, it runs between 65 to 95 minutes. And though the most famous of the park’s geyser, it is hardly the largest one. That honor goes to Steamboat Geyser in the Norris Geyser Basin.

Once on the east side of the boardwalk and past the Old Faithful Lodge (0.2 miles from the visitor center), turn onto the trail heading north and toward Firehole River. A wooden footbridge crosses the river that runs smack through the middle of the world’s most active geyser basin.

Though only two miles square, the Upper Geyser Basin contains nearly a quarter of all active geysers in the world. The other major geysers here include Castle, Daisy, Grand and Riverside. Among the most active in the basin is Solitary Geyser, a former hot spring that shoots 15 feet into the air every 4-8 minutes.

Observation Point
At the first trail junction following the footbridge, go right/east onto Observation Point Trail. The path switchbacks up a hill overlooking the geyser basin and loops at its top.

The point offers an impressive panorama of the Upper Geyser Basin. You'll see multiple geysers and other geothermal features nestled between evergreens.

Look to the southwest across the river for the crowd gathered in a circle and wait for Old Faithful to present its show. After the geyser erupts, retrace your steps to the parking lot.

Observation Point Trail is usually open only May through October, as snow at the high elevations closes the path.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.