Want to see Yellowstone National Park’s most photographed thermal feature from an overlook that offers spectacular aerial views?
Skip (some of) the crowds on the Midway Geyser Basin boardwalks and take a hike up to the overlook point to get a different perspective of the colourful Grand Prismatic Spring.
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The Grand Prismatic Spring trail is an easy hike up to an overlook that offers astounding aerial views of the largest hot spring in the United States (third largest in the world). A newly constructed trail has replaced the numerous ‘social’ trails that picked their way over fallen trees up the rocky hill, and now offers hikers a safe and gradual climb up ‘Picture Hill’ to a constructed overlook.
The overlook offers a great photographic opportunity to get a postcard shot of the iconic spring, identifiable by its vivid rainbow colours that are a result of the microbial mats that live around the edge of it. Other Midway Geyser basin thermal features such as Excelsior Geyser, Turquoise Pool, Opal Pool and a large geyser crater can also be seen from here.
The distance of this hike can be tailored according to how energetic you feel. For a shorter trail of 5.5km return, park 1.5km south of the Midway Geyser Basin. Begin your hike by crossing over the Firehole River using the old bridge and then follow the wide, flat, dirt road to the Fairy Falls trailhead. This section of the trail is open to both cyclists and hikers, but cyclists will need to leave their bike at the trailhead before going any further. From here follow the trail to the left and a gradual incline through new lodgepole forest growth will get you to the overlook.
If you are feeling up for an 11.5km return hike, then park at the end of the Fountain Flat drive and take Freight Road to the Fairy Falls trailhead. Freight Road is a flat dirt road that passes through a scenic valley where bison are found year round. It will also take you past Ojo Caliente Spring, past one of the backcountry campsites as well as Goose Lake, and then along the Firehole River for a bit before you get to the Fairy Falls trailhead. Once at the trailhead make your way up the hill to the overlook. This longer route is an easy 11.5km return.
This trail runs through a bear management area. Be on the lookout for bears and keep a safe distance should you see any. Make sure you know the safety rules for hiking through bear country in Yellowstone National Park.
The Grand Prismatic Spring Trail is found in the Old Faithful area of Yellowstone National Park. To get there from Old Faithful travel north along the Grand Loop Road to the Fairy Falls parking lot just south of the Midway Geyser Basin.
To access the long route start point on Freight Road take Grand Loop Road south from Madison for 9.3km until you reach Fountain Flat Drive. Turn right into Fountain Flat Drive and continue to the Freight Road trailhead.
This trail is fairly straightforward. Maps and route guides are available from the Visitor Centres and look out for the Fairy Falls trailhead routes to get you safely to the Grand Prismatic Spring overlook.
For an overview of Yellowstone National Park, Lonely Planet's Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks provides excellent advice on every aspect of the Park from accommodation, hiking, maps, when to go, where to stay, and is highly recommended.
The short route should take you 1 – 2 hours, whilst the long route will take about 3 hours to hike. It is an exposed trail so make sure you are protected from the elements – try to avoid the midday heat, take sun cream and wear protective clothing.
From the parking area, cross the Firehole River bridge and follow the trail for 1.8km to the Fairy Falls trailhead.
At the trailhead take a left and hike 0.95km up the gradual incline to the overlook.
Return on same itinerary.
From the parking area, take a leisurely 4.8km stroll on Freight Road to the Fairy Falls trailhead.
From the trailhead hike 0.95km up the gradual incline to the overlook.
Return on same itinerary.
In this short video by Billings Gazette a Park Ranger gives a bit of information as to why a new trail and overlook was constructed, and you also get a glimpse of some of the amazing views from the overlook.
This trail is best in summer-time when visibility over the basin is good. In cooler weather, more steam is produced and this can reduce visibility around the Spring. The trail is closed during winter into early spring.
This is an easy and flat trail with a gradual incline up to the overlook. A good overall level of fitness is always recommended.