Overall our vacation was absolutely amazing and every single day was awesome. But, if I could go back in time, this is one day that I would change. First, we mostly used the 4-day itinerary from Dirt in My Shoes (DIMS), which if you ever go to Yellowstone and you like to do short hikes and avoid crowds, this is $20 well spent! We also used the 2-day DIMS itinerary for Grand Tetons, which was terrific too.
Anyway, DIMS recommends doing Norris Basin on Day 1 in Yellowstone and we should have followed that advice. Instead, we did the Day 2 itinerary on Day 1 and when we went to Norris Basin on Day 2, everyone was OVER geysers and we basically skipped that section of the park. But if we had done Norris first, it would have probably been very interesting and educational. We won’t know because nobody in my family wants to go back to Norris Basin.
Second, DIMS recommends visiting the Lower and Midway Geyser Basins early in the morning, rightfully so because parking is limited and they get very crowded. However, due to the rain the night before, Lower Geyser Basin was totally fogged in and we couldn’t see much. We should have taken the fog into account and started at Upper Geyser Basin and worked our way toward Lower Geyser Basin as the fog burned off. I mean seriously, this is a shameful mistake considering we’ve lived in the Bay area for 20 years! So that’s my disclaimer because sharing our day….
We were up at sunrise and on the road in less than 30 minutes, which was impressive given all the rain the night prior. Our first stop was Firehole Canyon Drive, a narrow one-way scenic route that passes Firehole Falls. It’s a fabulous way to start the day!
Lower Geyser Basin
It was so foggy, but we didn’t care because it was our first up-close look at Yellowstone geysers! Unfortunately, the camera had a hard time focusing due to the fog and the steam.
Midway Geyser Basin
Midway Geyser Basin, home of the photogenic Grand Prismatic, is a catch-22 … the parking lot is really, really small, so you need to get there early. But that rainbow of amazing colors doesn’t show unless it’s sunny and warm, so you can’t get there too early. Basically, you just need to be lucky.
We arrived at 8am on the first Friday in August and snagged the very last parking spot. But … it was a bit of a waste because it was so foggy, you literally could not see Grand Prismatic even when you were just 5 feet away.
Our plan was to hike the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, but we decided to give the fog more time to burn off and instead went to Biscuit Basin. It was good that we visited here early (before Old Faithful and the other big geysers), otherwise this might have been a bust. We enjoyed watching many of these geysers, especially Jewel, which goes fairly high and erupts every 7-10 minutes.
Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook
This is a terrific little hike to see Grand Prismatic Spring from above. But, again, timing … can’t be too early or the view is no good; can’t be too late or you’ll roast even though the hike is only 1 mile. I think we timed it pretty well. :-)
By now it was sunny and warm. We were peeling off layers and our stomachs were growling. We finally headed over to Upper Geyser Basin, home of Old Faithful, Castle Geyser, Grand Geyser, and all the other big ones. Kirk dropped W and I off at the visitor center to find out time of the next eruption (and so we could use the restroom!) while he and B parked the car. Well, just as we walked out of the restroom, Old Faithful started its show! W and I had an amazing view from inside the visitor center. We loved it! But we felt badly for Kirk and B. :-(
We didn’t feel bad for long though … by the end of the afternoon, we would see Old Faithful erupt 5 and 4 times, respectively. We never intended to spend so much time at Upper Geyser Basin, but the timing just worked out that we saw it the moment that we arrived and again just as we were leaving.
With 90 minutes until the next eruption, we had a lovely lunch in the shade of our tailgate in the parking lot (insert eye roll … Yellowstone really needs more picnic areas!). Then the boys and I decided to hike Observation Point Trail to see Old Faithful from above and far away from the crowds. We arrived in plenty of time to secure a shady spot on a log. It’s a great perspective!
After the hike we had a little miscommunication, coupled with no cell phone coverage, so it took some time and a lot of patience to rejoin with Kirk. But we did and decided to try to catch the Castle Geyser and Grand Geyser eruptions. Well, we just missed Castle … massive bummer. But we did get to see Grand, which was … grand! It erupts every 7 or so hours, goes up to 200 feet high, and last about 10 minutes … which means a lot of time to take pictures. :-)
Just after Grand Geyser finished, we were walking back to the visitor center and, low and behold, Old Faithful went again. That’s #3 for W & me; #2 for B & Kirk.
Then we decided some ice cream and souvenir shopping was in order, so we took a little break. As we were enjoying our ice cream, we had a great view of Beehive Geyser erupting!
Old Faithful #5
After a little more shopping and strolling, we arrived back at the visitor center just in time for Old Faithful yet again. Oddly, it was the first time that any of us saw it erupt from the destinated viewing area seating! haha We were pretty geysered out by then, so we had one weak-ass attempt at an Old Faithful selfie. Massive fail.
We finally left Upper Geyser Basin, quite pleased with our overall geyser viewing success. We stopped for a hike that starts at the end of the Biscuit Basin Loop, so we got to see those geysers again.
Just for fun, here is Sapphire Pool in the morning when it was still a little cool and foggy (left), vs sunny and warm in the afternoon (right). The angle is slightly different, but these look like totally different pools to me! Maybe I’m just way into geysers after 200+ geyser pictures!
More from our Grand Tetons & Yellowstone trip here.