The Fairy Falls hike starting near the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park features a rushing waterfall and two incredible geysers – a great reward for a fairly easy hike. Here’s what you need to know about the Fairy Falls hike and other popular Yellowstone National Park treks.
What Is the Fairy Falls Hike Like?
You’ll get a lot of bang for your hiking buck along the Fairy Falls hike, which takes you to geysers, overlooks and the 220-foot falls themselves.
The hike can be either a 5.4-mile or 6.7-mile roundtrip, depending on which trailhead you choose. Park at the end of Fountain Flat Drive or park 1 mile south of Midway Geyser Basin at the Fairy Falls parking lot.
Walk 1.6 miles through lodgepole pine forest to the falls. Along the Fairy Falls Trail, you’ll notice wildfire damage dating back to 1988. Notice the wildflowers and grasses that are bringing the area back to life. As you start the hike, you’ll cross over the Firehole River on an old steel truss bridge. From here, follow an old gravel road known as the Fountain Freight Road, which was constructed in 1885 to service a hotel in the area.
At 0.6 mile, you’ll reach the Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail, taking you up about 130 feet to a viewing platform. From here, you’ll have excellent views of Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone’s largest hot spring, and the Midway Geyser Basin.
Take time to marvel at the Grand Prismatic, the largest hot spring in the United States and third-largest in the world at 370 feet in diameter and roughly 121 feet deep. Its spectacular and vivid colors are the result of the trillions of microbes found in the water, and the sunlight scattering through the mineral particles.
Continue down the other side of the overlook trail and on to the far side of Fairy Falls Trail. The falls are 1.8 miles from here. Fairy Creek tumbles off the cliff and while the falls are smaller than those on the Yellowstone River, they’re still quite impressive. Stand beneath the spray to cool off and forage for raspberries.
Continue on for 0.2 mile to reach the junction with the Imperial Falls Trail. Turn left and it’s a half-mile to Spray Geyser. Approach the Spray Geyser or continue on the spur trail along the runoff from Imperial to reach the geyser of the same name. Imperial Geyser is particularly beautiful for its vibrant blue water and yellowish spears.
From here, you could go even farther to Goose Lake. First, though, take a moment to admire Imperial Geyser with its nearly constant jets of water spewing into the air. The water in the center of the pool is well above boiling. The water cools as it leaves the center and flows away to feed Fairy Creek – as it cools, it turns orange with algae.
Turn left to continue toward Goose Lake. Pass through open grassland and marshy meadows alongside Fairy Creek. The trail will veer northward, passing a spur trail to a campsite, then continue through more open grassland, lodgepole pines and some hot springs. Keep on the lookout for bison, elk, moose, turkeys, deer and, possible, bears.
Keep right on the connector trail that leads to Fountain Flats Road, which is a footpath and bike path. Follow it until you see the spur trail to another campsite. Upon arrival on the north banks of Goose Lake, continue south along the west shoreline. Leave the lake at 6.6 miles and approach the Firehole River, then hike back to the Fairy Falls Trail Junction west of Grand Prismatic Spring.
Where Else Can I Hike to See Springs in Yellowstone National Park?
While you’re in the Fairy Falls trail area, there are plenty of incredible hydrothermal features to appreciate, accessible via their own hikes. Between the Upper Geyser Basin and Midway Geyser Basin, you’ll find Old Faithful, Castle Geyser, Crested Pool, Sapphire Pool, Excelsior Geyser Crater and more.
Sentinel Meadows and Queen’s Laundry
This 6.3-mile out-and-back hike follows the Firehole River, then takes off into the park meadows. You’ll see the remains of old bathhouse at Queen’s Laundry, preserved by minerals from the hot springs. It’s a National Historic Site.
This moderately strenuous, 2.4-mile roundtrip hike starts at the back of the Biscuit Basin boardwalk north of Old Faithful Junction. Hike through mixed-conifer forest to the 70-foot Mystic Falls – the Little Firehole River drops from the Madison Plateau here. If you’d like to go farther, you can view the Upper Geyser Basin, for a total of 1.5 additional miles.
Geyser Hill Loop Trail
This easy loop trail allows views of several geysers, including the Anemone with short 5- to 10-minute intervals or the Beehive with unpredictable eruptions reaching as high as 150 feet. You’ll find the start of the trail at the boardwalk in front of Old Faithful Visitor Center.
While you’re here, there are several other combo loops or one-way walks that feature the Castle, Grand, Riverside and Daisy geysers, as well as the Morning Glory Pool.
Observation Point Loop Trail
Start from the Firehole River footbridge behind the Old Faithful Geyser and take the trail up about 200 feet in elevation to an overlook toward the Upper Geyser Basin.
Midway Geyser Basin Trail
Follow this 0.5-mile boardwalk loop, 6 miles north of Old Faithful, to the Excelsior Geyser and Grand Prismatic Spring.
Tips: Many of the hot springs hikes and more popular attractions can get extremely busy during the middle of the day in the summer. Aim to arrive early in the morning or in the late afternoon/early evening to avoid the crowds and high heat. You’ll experience some of the most optimal light for photography at these times, as well.
Generally speaking, the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and the Lamar Valley is spring, when the weather is pleasant and before the summer crowds arrive. Consider winter, too, if you don’t mind the cold weather. The geyser steam mixing with the cold air can be breathtaking.