The Best Little Hike in Yellowstone
One the best things about Yellowstone is that there truly is “something for everyone”. There are the very popular sights that you’ve seen in countless books, photos, and video clips – Old Faithful, Lower Falls, Yellowstone Lake, etc. These are all extremely easy to access, most with parking directly next to them and fully planned walkways to allow up-close-and-personal experience to these grand sights.
There are also things that require just a small effort to see – perhaps a small drive to Lamar Valley to see massive herds of bison, or a short walk from a parking lot to boardwalks that take you out over slightly less popular thermal features.
But, as with other things I’ve written about, it’s the slightly-beyond-the-norm effort that often results in some of the most interesting things and memorable excursions.
Our day hike to Fairy Falls was no exception.
Located between two colorful hot springs of its own, the parking for our trail today only has a few vehicles as we arrive. Parking and heading across the bridge on Firehole River, Kathy, Mel, and I head out on our day’s adventure!
The trail walked alongside the River, directly across from the Midway Geyser Basin – home of some of the most impressive springs and pools in all of Yellowstone (which we had seen from ground-level just a couple of days before). A sign warned us to stay on the trail, because the actual surface of the Geyser Basin has areas that are unpredictably fragile and thin, resulting in some injuries to wayward travelers in the past.
Walking along side Midway Geyser Basin and remembering what we had just seen recently, we wondered if any of the hills on our left would give a better vantage point. Just as we were discussing this, a pair of fellow hikers emerged from the trees and told us about an informal trail that would take us exactly what where we wanted to go up the hill.
So … UP WE GO!
The view of the Midway Geyser Basin itself would have been impressive enough, but it’s the stunning view of Grand Prismatic Spring that really takes our breath away! I literally can’t take my eyes off of it.
After snapping what felt like hundreds of photos (to make sure I get “the shot”), we enjoy the moment and get a few shots of us with this amazing sight in the background.
Truly a memorable moment… and I’ve since learned that the Parks Service has built a dedicated viewing platform and formal trail to reach this spot. If you’re in Yellowstone for any period of time – DO THIS… you won’t regret it!
Climbing down the hill and leaving the wonders of Grand Prismatic behind, we start the longest part of our hike. The nice part is that we weave between open meadows and covered canopies, so we’re never out in the open sun for too long. Even though the temperatures aren’t horribly hot, walking out in the open sun is always warm, so the shade every so often is greatly appreciated. The impacts of the Great Yellowstone Fire are really seen here, with bare burnt Lodgepole Pine center trunks visible everywhere. The new growth pines are trying to recover and making a great effort, but they have some time to go still.
Finally, though, we’re rewarded again with another breath-taking site – the very impressive Fairy Falls.
At just over 200 feet tall, the water, as it crests the ridge above, allows the water to fan out over the rocks below, giving a very “lacy” fantasy-like effect as it reaches the large pool at the base.
This was, of course, a perfect spot for photo-taking – and I indulge myself of course, but even better … it’s lunch time!!! We had prepared ourselves, getting sandwiches and snacks together before setting out that morning. And now, we find comfortable rocks, doff our backpacks, and enjoy one of the best lunches we’d ever had. Getting off our feet, having delicious sandwiches enhanced by both the morning’s physical effort *and* the grand scenery before us, and just sitting down made everything completely worth whatever effort we had put in.
Hailstorms and Geysers
The appeal of a short hike from Fairy Falls to Imperial Geyser is just too much to pass up. We’ve, of course, seen Old Faithful (and I highly recommend doing this – always see the touristy things, but then move on!), but getting to see one of Yellowstone’s many geysers in a more “natural” setting without throngs of tourists is exactly what falls into my desire to see “interesting things” that aren’t part of the usual tour book or experience.
Hiking away and into the open meadow between our waypoints, the effects of the Yellowstone fires are really seen and felt here. The new growth pines are closing in on the old pine heights. In about 10 years, it’ll be really close to recovery … which makes me want to come back. 🙂
As we near the area where Imperial Geyser is located, the rumbling we heard earlier has increased to a definite impending thunderstorm. Dark clouds, cold winds, and the sudden appearance of VERY LARGE DROPS OF RAIN(tm) have us seeking shelter. Going against conventional wisdom, we see a few others underneath some low cedar tree canopies, so we join them. Just in time, too … because it’s hailstorm time! Nothing major … just definitely hail. It only lasts a few minutes and the rains end and the skies clear rapidly.
Imperial Geyser was spouting only infrequently, but fortunately we were there when it did! The very noticeable spluttering and hissing increased dramatically and then an easily 20-30 foot plume of heated water and vapor shot skyward. It was definitely a special moment to be there, surrounded by only a few others who had made the trek to see this miracle of nature.
Downstream and Technology (redux)
Heading away from Imperial Falls, we follow the stream that flows downhill from this small plateau. It’s VERY distinctive in its sulfuric coloring – quite beautiful to the eyes, but not the nose. Ha! Spray Geyser is easily visible from this path as well.
Walking alongside, we’re also thinking of returning to Fairy Falls, the car, and the relaxation of a nice dinner as a reward for seeing yet another “interesting thing” that is slightly off-the-beaten-path.
Technology, again, is our friend as I mapped our route in real-time for plotting later – check it out!
It really doesn’t take much effort to see SO MUCH MORE.