Perhaps one of the highlights of the whole park, the West Thumb Geyser Basin trail is a geothermal area you won’t want to miss. Located near Grant Village and just east of the West Thumb Junction, this short trail offers thermal pools, small geysers, mud pots, and a beautiful walking trail all with a beautiful, panoramic view of Yellowstone Lake in the background. Because of its unique location, this thermal area is one of the park’s most scenic and more heavily trafficked areas.
- Mileage: 1.0 miles.
- Elevation gain: 59 ft.
- Highest Point: 7792 ft.
- Best time to visit: Late May through mid-October
- Total hiking time: 20-30 minutes.
- Kid-friendly: Yes.
- Dog-friendly: No.
- Gear I brought: Camera, raincoat, good walking shoes/boots, hat.
The hike takes place on boardwalks and is suitable for all ages and ability levels. You can walk this route either clockwise or counter-clockwise – there is no right or wrong way to do this! There are many thermal areas, including springs, pools, small geysers, mud pots, and paint pots. Bring a camera to capture the beauty of this area!
Need to Know
Thermal areas are fragile.
Never, for any reason, step off of the boardwalk and onto the fragile thermal area.
You could fall through the thin crust above the pools and suffer serious burns or death. These areas have boardwalks on them for a reason. Stay on them and enjoy the pools from a distance!
West Thumb Geyser Basin is located just off the main road of the south entrance, to the east. It’s perhaps the first major stop in the park for all visitors coming through the south entrance, so at times, it can be crowded. Remember to give people space as they navigate the boardwalks!
The best times to visit this area are in the early morning or late evening. Mercedes and I visited during two different times, which I’ll highlight more on below!
As someone who has visited multiple thermal areas in the park, this is one of the coolest. In fact, if you could only visit one thermal area in all of Yellowstone, I would recommend this basin without question! The mixture of thick forest, beautiful vistas of Yellowstone Lake, and the barren pools make this one of the most unique features in the entire park. Its beauty is unparalleled in my opinion!
There’s not really a “perfect” time to visit this feature unless you’re camping in the nearby Grant Village campground, or are an early riser or night owl. If you’re either of the last two options, visiting early in the day or after dinner are your past chances to beat the crowds. During the day, you’ll likely find it more crowded with cars but you should be able to find a parking spot with relative ease.
Since we were staying in the nearby Grant Village campground, we were very close to this geyser basin. We knew there was impending rain in the forecast, so we made sure to eat fast and get our showers while we could! We ended up nailing it just right – we missed the rain, broke down our dinner setup, and then headed to the showers right as the intense rain began. Once we were finished, we got a second shower as each of us ran through the rain, and we sat there contemplating what to do. I suggested we drive around for a little bit and maybe see if the rain would lift! We drove out of the campground and onto the main road and decided to check out the geyser basin. It was one of the best decisions we made all trip, and one of our fondest memories together!
As we drove into the parking lot, a herd of elk (perhaps 8-12 total) was blocking the road and grazing in the field. The rain had just slowed to a slight trickle and I was able to get out and capture a few photos of them. They were so close, and I was amazed at how content they were with us being there! We stayed by the car the whole time, with the door within arms reach until they moved a little further off the road. I captured some fantastic photos of them, and the waning light made the scene so beautiful. We were the only ones there for a short while, which made it feel like it was our own private showing!
Oh, and when I say I got some fantastic photos, I mean I got some fantastic photos of butts. It’s truly remarkable how many animal butts I’ve gotten. One of these years, I’ll make a calendar of just animal butts. I’ll call it the “Jack-of-all-trade butt Master-of-Butts” calendar and become a butt-ionaire.
Coming back for a second time in the daylight was a treat! The light was fading on us when we went during the storm and ensuing night, so seeing the colors of the pools in full daylight was certainly special. We didn’t realize how bright and beautiful some of them were due to the dark light conditions. I’d honestly highly recommend seeing one of the geyser basins in both day and night time conditions to see the dramatic difference. It was honestly so breathtaking!
Take A Walk!
No matter when you do this waslk. you’ll be greeted with some of the best thermal walks in the entire park. The backdrop of Yellowstone Lake makes for such an incredible viewing experience, and, you get to walk right on the water for part of it! Make the stop here – you’ll be glad you did!
If you’re hanging around in the area, make sure you head to Duck Lake – it’s in the same parking lot! If you’re driving east, head to LeHardys Rapids or take a scenic cruiser on Yellowstone Lake! And, if you’re headed west, take a walk around Biscuit Basin or Black Sands Basin, and be sure to hike to Mystic Falls. It’s one of the best waterfalls in the whole park!
See you on the next one!
Next blog: Perhaps a new location. You ready?