Yellowstone is very famous for it’s unique geothermic exhibits. In this section we’ll go over which exhibits are must-see and which ones you can gloss over. If you’re interested in reading about waterfalls, hiking, scenic drives, or animal viewing, click on the links.
Old Faithful Area: Old Faithful is the must-see exhibit in the park. No matter how long you are staying, you must see this geyser go off at least once. With that being said, there are many other things to do right at the Old Faithful site. A boardwalk extends 1.5 miles out to Morning Glory Pool, which is another icon of the park. The boardwalk is stroller friendly, but of course, you’ll be walking a total of 3 miles. Luckily, this section is broken into loops, so you can choose your level.
So looking at the map, you want to start out going around Old Faithful to the right (counterclockwise). Though wheelchairs (as shown above) would be tricky, you can take your stroller across the bridge near Anemone Geyser. The trail is board walked or paved the entire way with the hill down to the bridge being bumpy, but manageable with a stroller. The hike up to Observation Point is steep and nasty (no strollers) so we’ve only done it once, and we’ve never been out to Solitary Geyser. But the loop around to the Lion group is very easy and there is a lot of action with certain geysers (Anemone, for example goes off every 7 minutes if you sit and wait). This loop is the minimum you should do if you are in a hurry or have sleepy kids. The medium route is to follow the trail out past Liberty Pool. This looks like a long way on the map, but you are probably only in for a little under 2 miles on this route. The bonus route goes out to the end of the trail where you’ll find Riverside Geyser, which we’ve seen shooting out into the river and Morning Glory Pool, which is a true jewel. If this is your first time to Yellowstone, I’d recommend doing the whole thing. Also, for a special treat for the kiddies, check out the Young Scientist Program below.
Black Sand Basin: Black Sand Basin is pretty much across the road and a little north of Old Faithful. In fact, you can walk west from Morning Glory Pool to Daisy Geyser and into Black Sand Basin and have someone pick you up. There are some really beautiful geysers and pools here as well, including the major one called Emerald Pool. It is definitely worth the short walk– all on boardwalks to Sunset Lake and Emerald Pool (see map), but we usually skip the walk out toward Opalescent. I’d resist the urge to do every geyser and hot pot. If you do them all, by the end of a long, unshady day, you’ll be saying, “Look, more hot water,” as you trudge by.
Biscuit Basin: This area is found just north of Black Sand Basin. It’s only a half mile walk around Biscuit Basin, and some of the best geysers can be seen from the road running down into the river. Since you can’t take the time to stop at every geyser in the park, we usually look out the window at this one and move on.
Norris Geyser Basin: On any given trip to Yellowstone, we try to do 2 of the geyser areas. That means we see the Old Faithful Area and one other. The Norris area is probably 2nd best to Old Faithful. Though not as active, there are tons of colors, and the walk is a little nicer. On your first trip, plan Old Faithful and Black Sand on one day. If you still want more, or if you may not be back soon, do Norris and Biscuit Basin. The key feature of Norris Geyser Basin is Steamboat Geyser, which very, very rarely shoots 300 feet into the air! This area is also board walked the entire way, so take those strollers!
West Thumb: The cool features at West Thumb are right in Yellowstone Lake. Mountain men bragged that they’d catch fish, swing them around and boil them without every taking them off the hook, and this is believable if you’ve been to West Thumb. In this area, just take the outer loop; don’t bother cutting across the middle. There are a few beautiful pools and if you come from the south, you should stop and stretch your legs by walking this boardwalk. Then you can walk across the road and hike Duck Lake.
Artist Paint Pots: Artist Paint Pots are a short hike, but they are unique in the park. There are little muddy pots that are the consistency of paint that boil on either side of the trail. The hike is a short lollipop with some rise, and it is definitely not stroller friendly.
There are a few other pullouts with fumeroles (steam vents) and hot mud, but unless you really like the smell of sulphur and the humidity of steam, you can skip them.
Young Scientist Program: The Young Scientist Program is a type of Junior Ranger activity that can only be done at Old Faithful. Go to the Visitor’s Center and request the booklet. It costs $5/child and is worth it. There is a booklet that takes you through the scientific process, searching for the answer to a specific question (no spoilers!). It takes a couple hours around Old Faithful, and you have to hike around the small boardwalk as described above. But the cool part is the Young Scientist pack we were given. It included a timer for the geysers, colored pencils, a magnifying glass, a rock collection, and best of all, a laser temperature gun. You could aim the gun at any boiling water and get a temperature reading. The kids liked this almost as much as their Dad did!