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Old Faithful Observation Point

Yellowstone National Park

July 24th, 2011

2.1 miles
350 vertical feet
Total Time: 2:25

Starting elevation
7419 feet
Max elevation
7646 feet

Rating: 7/10

Directions: From West Yellowstone, drive east to enter the park. Just past the Madison Campground, turn right toward Old Faithful. Follow the road to the Old Faithful area, following the signs to exit the main road.   View Driving Map

View full map

GPX File

The first thing you'll notice when you get to the Old Faithful parking area is that it's huge. It's like a small city here. Cars, RV's, and tour buses filled the lot. We walked over to the sidewalk and made our way straight toward the Old Faithful viewing area. There are standing maps to let you navigate your way through the maze of buildings and walkways.

The viewing area is obvious, with rows of benches laid out in an arc in front of the geyser. It wasn't erupting now, and we didn't know when it would next, but we were just going to do our hike. Since it erupts so frequently, I was sure we'd see it at some point.

Lining up to view Old Faithful erupt

We walked around to the right of the viewing area (along with hundreds of other people), following the paved path slightly downhill around the right side of the geyser. We crossed a bridge over the Firehole River, then turned right off the paved path onto a dirt singletrack leading up toward Observation Point. If we had continued straight on the paved path, we would have reached the boardwalks through Upper Geyser Basin, where everyone else was going. In contrast, only a few people took the same path we did.

Firehole River

The trail climbs moderately through the forest. After a short climb we could see over the tree tops and out toward the viewing area below. Soon we reached Observation Point itself, which has a wooden fence from which you can view Old Faithful below. At this point you're about 200-250 feet above the masses below.

Upper Geyser Basin

Upper Geyser Basin

Upper Geyser Basin

More people gathered in front of Old Faithful

There were only a half dozen other people here so far. I asked one of them if they knew when the geyser was supposed to erupt next, and she said any minute now (it was about 12:30pm). We watched, but settled down and ate our lunch in the meantime. Then we waited. And waited. We saw a few false alarms, where we could see water spew out of the geyser a little bit, but still we waited.

Chipmunk waiting for Old Faithful

Chipmunk (taken by Nathan)

Raptor high overhead

Chipmunks scurried about below, and we saw a raptor up above in the bright blue sky. A few more people came while we waited, but there weren't more than a dozen other people there by the time Old Faithful finally erupted. In contrast, the viewing area below was filled by this time with hundreds of people. Old Faithful finally erupted at 1:15pm, shooting water more than a hundred feet into the air. In less than a minute, it was done.

Old Faithful finally erupts!

Peak height

Show's over

Everyone headed downhill, as did we. This is a partial loop trail, and we took the trail headed toward Solitary Geyser. This geyser is in stark contrast to Old Faithful. It sits alone, far from the masses. It's a little pool of water that bubbles and gurgles. Every few minutes, it erupts in a little 4-foot high splurge. In contrast to Old Faithful, you can stand almost right next to it.

Solitary Geyser

Solitary Geyser bubbling up

After watching Solitary Geyser erupt, we continued down the trail, soon reaching the boardwalk section through Upper Geyser Basin. From here, you can go in either direction to return. We took the right fork, which is slightly longer. If you want to make it even longer, you can take the right turn toward Grand Geyser, which leads to a whole other section of boardwalks. Instead, we kept it simple and did the quick loop around Upper Geyser Basin, viewing the several thermal features in the area (along with hundreds of other people).

Thermal feature at Upper Geyser Basin

Ear Spring

Another geyser

Soon we were back on the paved path, crossed the bridge we'd gone over a couple hours before, and were back at the Old Faithful viewing area. People were already lined up, sitting on the benches, waiting for the next eruption.

People lined up waiting for the next show

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