Top Ten Hydrothermal Features in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is the ultimate game of the ground is lava. Stay on the boardwalk if you don’t want to burn your feet because the ground is literally boiling! Yellowstone is incredibly rich in hydrothermal activity. This is owed to the fact that beneath the park is one of the world’s largest super-volcanoes. The latest eruption occurred over 600,000 years ago forming the Yellowstone Caldera, this boundary houses the majority of the world’s hydrothermal activity. There are only 4 other places in the world with comparable hydrothermal activity, these are in Chile, Russia, Iceland, and New Zealand. What you see in Yellowstone is special, which is one of the reasons it was preserved as the world’s first National Park in 1872. There is a huge variety of hydrothermal activity, ranging from hot springs, geysers, mud pots, and fumaroles. While there are thousands of these such features, we’re listing our top ten favorites below.

1. Punch Bowl Spring

This spring was one of the most unique ones we saw. It is located in the Upper Geyser Basin however it is a little off the beaten path. There is a trail connecting to the Black Sand Basin towards the north side of the Upper Geyser Basin, take this to find Punch Bowl Spring. The spring literally looks like a punch bowl of brilliant blue water. The water gushes over the sides spilling a trail of orange and brown. The colors come from thermophiles, which are heat loving bacteria. These bacteria act like a living thermometer, the yellow and colorless thermophiles live in the hottest water while green, brown, and orange thermophiles live in relatively cooler waters. Nature is pretty neat! In a crowded area of the park, we were the only ones admiring this unique spot. Definitely recommend the walk to this spring!

Punch Bowl Springs
The beautiful Punch Bowl Springs
Thermophiles at Punch Bowl Springs
Thermophiles living in the runoff

2. Firehole Spring

This spring is absolutely gorgeous and located along one of the less frequented drives in the park. Heading north towards Madison campground from Old Faithful area is the Firehole Lake Drive, the spring is about halfway along the drive. This spring is brilliant blue with bright orange, yellow, and brown thermophiles living around the edge. It was far less crowded than the other areas and one of the most beautiful springs we saw. Highly recommend this drive!

Firehole Spring
The colorful Firehole Spring

3. Sapphire Pool

This geyser is located in Biscuit Basin which is one of the most volatile areas. The area is named for the biscuit shaped rocks around Sapphire Pool. These rock biscuits were a result of an earthquake in 1959 which caused the Sapphire Pool to erupt forcefully. The pool is brilliant blue like a sapphire, while the runoff is rich with yellow thermophiles. Maybe the University of Michigan maize and blue colors have something to do with this spring being one of Ashley’s favorites.

Sapphire Pool at Yellowstone National Park
The brilliant blue of Sapphire Pool
Yellow thermophiles in the runoff of Sapphire Pool at Yellowstone National Park
Sparkling yellow thermophiles in the runoff

4. Grand Prismatic Spring

This spring is probably the most well known hydrothermal feature in Yellowstone besides Old Faithful. While it is undoubtedly beautiful, the boardwalk is also VERY crowded, this brought it down a few notches on our list. You will want to get here early (parking is limited between 10 am-6 pm) to get a parking spot however it is a balancing act with the sun to see the brilliant colors of the spring. There is a trail that leads above the springs for an overlook that is much less crowded. Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone. It has hues of blue, green, yellow, and orange. The colors come from thermophiles, which are heat loving bacteria. These bacteria act like a living thermometer, the yellow and colorless thermophiles live in the hottest water while green, brown, and orange thermophiles live in relatively cooler waters.

Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone National Park
Grand Prismatic Spring
Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone National Park
Selfies on the Boardwalk

5. Old Faithful

What kind of favorites of Yellowstone list could leave Old Faithful off? Though it is not the tallest geyser, it is the most reliable, hence the name. If you download the Yellowstone National Park app, you can view live geyser predictions which generally predict Old Faithful within 10 minutes. On average it erupts every 90 minutes lasting for 2-5 minutes. It can reach a height of 180 feet tall. We were able to see it erupt twice as we walked around the Upper Geyser Basin.

Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park
Old Faithful in Action

6. Porcelain Springs

Located in the Norris Geyser Basin, which is the hottest in Yellowstone, is Porcelain Springs. This area has some of the most beautiful pastel colors in the park. There are milky blue pools which are colored by silica, as well as pastel orange and light green thermophiles. There is an incredibly impressive fumarole in this area as well which creates a rainbow when it’s forceful enough! We thoroughly enjoyed our walk around this section.

Porcelain Springs at Yellowstone National Park
Porcelain Springs
Fumarole in the Porcelain Basin at Yellowstone National Park
Fumarole in the Porcelain Basin Creating a Rainbow

7. Excelsior Geyser Crater

Located in the Midway Geyser Basin near Grand Prismatic Spring, this geyser crater is impressive in size at 200 x 300 feet. The water is crystal blue and flows at 4,000 gallons per minute. The runoff flows into the Firehole River offering a home for bright orange thermophiles.

Excelsior Geyser Crater at Yellowstone National Park
Brilliant Blue of the Excelsior Geyser Crater
Gushing runoff from the Excelsior Geyser Crater at Yellowstone National Park
Gushing runoff from the Excelsior Geyser Crater

8. Heart Spring

Named for its resemblance to a human heart, this spring is deep and bright blue. Being medical geeks, Eric and I found this one pretty cool! This spot is located in the Upper Geyser Basin near Old Faithful.

Heart Gesyer at Yellowstone National Park
Heart Geyser

9. Grotto Geyser

This one was Eric’s favorite. Though we did not see it fully erupt, it was spewing violently the entire time we were there. It has a super unique shape that comes from the geyser erupting over dead tree stumps. The geyser generally erupts every 8 hours and can reach a height of 10 meters.

Grotto Geyser at Yellowstone National Park
Grotto Geyser

10. Canary Spring

Located in Mammoth Hot Springs, this is one of the most identifiable spots in the northern area of the park. This area is definitely worth the drive. The terraces are formed by calcium carbonate carried from water rising through limestone causing constant change as new layers are deposited. There are multiple other springs in this area that are always forming and going dormant.

Canary Spring at Yellowstone National Park
Canary Spring

As you can see, Yellowstone National Park is full hydrothermal features. While there are thousands of active spots in the park, this list is a pretty good overview of some of the most exciting spots! If you’ve enjoyed this post, leave us a comment below and be sure to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss a future post!


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