Favorite Geysers

Do you come to Yellowstone for the first time? Many first time visitors are overwhelmed by the vast amount of thermal features. So, for a given duration of your stay, which of the more than 300 active geysers are most worthwhile to visit?

Well, except for the "Big Five" there is no plain answer. It depends on what experience you are looking for. Is it the thrill of sudden, tall geyser eruptions at almost no waiting time? Or the contemplative gazing at a geyser in expectation of a rare eruption event? Or the wonder of gorgeous, sometimes bizarre sinter formations? Or the ecstasy of vibrant color contrasts arising from communities of thermophile organisms? Would you like to combine all this with strolls on paved trails through a wonderland of nature, or do you prefer hikes into the wild, pristine backcountry? If you rely on recommendations of hiking websites, you will most likely end up in the tourist crowd and only see what everybody else sees. It’s better to make your own choice.

The Big Five

The "Big Five" are the embodiment of Yellowstone’s geysers par excellence. Their tall jets and frequent, at least daily activity have made them famous all over the world. For the "Big Five" you will find eruption predictions on a regular basis at the visitor center, on the internet, or as app, even though the prediction for Great Fountain may not always be available due to a lack of observation data. Based on the predicted eruption times you may schedule your visit accordingly. But don’t expect to see them all playing within only one day, even if the predicted times occasionally may imply so. Predictions can not be absolutely precise, and the unpunctuality you have to take into account varies from geyser to geyser (see "How do geysers work?"). Each of the "Big Five" is easy to reach from parking lots within half an hour or less walking on paved trails, but close to the predicted eruption times they are also very crowded from 9 to 5 o'clock during the main season.

Insider Favorites

The list holds large and spectacular geysers, regularly active, but except for Riverside Geyser they are usually not predicted by the visitor center because dependencies are too complex or information is missing for other reason. Without insider knowledge you may face frustratingly long waiting times. However, it’s a promising sign if you see in front of the feature some geysers gazers (look for observers with walkie-talkies and writing pads), who often do know a little bit more than the ranger on duty at the park’s visitor center.

Fun Geysers

They aren‘t the big shots but the clowns and entertainers among Yellowstone’s geysers. Featuring small to medium sized eruptions, these geysers don’t need any prediction because they are very frequently active. Moreover, all of them are easy to reach and to be observed from quite a close distance.

Ones of their kind

Not necessarily geysers, these unique features are unparalleled around the world. Their mystic appearance will give you the impression of walking on a planet of a different solar system. Most are easy and safe to reach, but the last two are backcountry features and require an experienced guide.


If the earth unleashes the force of these geysers, it feels like Armageddon is near! Each of their extremely rare eruptions makes the newspapers. Lucky you if you are around just at this very moment because it’s a kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience, like hitting the lottery jackpot.

Backcountry Jewels

These geysers are not round the corner, they require backcountry hiking, and some dangers are included to reach them. An experienced guide is indispensable to first time visitors, as well as bear spray. You will be rewarded with a look at Yellowstone’s geysers and geyser basins as they were at the time of the first explorers. Each of the listed geysers is featuring something exceptional, from unusual activity patterns to spectacularly shaped eruptions to exquisite geyserite formations. However, before starting your hike you should definitely check back with the Backcountry Office whether the targeted area is open to the public.

Along the trail to your selected destination you may detect many further geysers, which may be not much inferior. Not to forget the countless hot springs and pools with no geyser activity. Often they are displaying a breathtaking play of colors. In particular the complementary contrast between the deep blue color of pure water and the yellow to orange rims, formed by thermophilic organisms, is outstanding. In this respect, Grand Prismatic Spring for sure is the most impressive example.

Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone
Grand Prismatic Spring, Midway Geyser Basin

Many longtime Yellowstone insiders have their personal favorites among the geysers, towards which they have established a special relationship. It’s not uncommon for them to pick a lesser known geyser and aiming to learn as much as possible about it on the base of frequent observations. Of course, geysers are no souled beings. But sometimes it is hard to disregard this impression. Geysers come into existence, undergo several stages of life, show individual behavior and temper, and die eventually. Some already after a few hours, others after millennia. They may die from decrepitude, but also from violent self-destruction or from human impact. And it’s a bitter irony that geysers and hot springs sometimes claim human lives in return.

Death Traps

For sure they are nobody's favorites for what happened, but depending on your attitude you may be inclined to visit those hot springs, which took human lives in the past. This is a kind of gruesome tour and far from being everyone's cup of tea. On the other hand, it enhances our awareness of how dangerous hot springs can be if recommended precautions are disregarded.

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