Since there’s no TV to plop the kids down in front of and no Internet hookups, Mom and Dad are unsure of how they’re going to keep their kids from being bored to death on their Yellowstone trip. How will they keep their kids entertained when most of the exciting geysers are unpredictable? And how will they keep their kids entertained if there’s a +/- 2-hour wait for a geyser?
Fear not, Mom and Dad, for there are many things to see and do in Yellowstone National Park that will be perfectly fascinating to the younger set. Geysers and other thermal features are only a part of it, but they’re a real treat since Yellowstone National Park is home to roughly 60 percent of the world’s geysers. What makes Yellowstone National Park great is that it’s rare to find a geyser or thermal feature not doing anything. So don’t waste time waiting for Steamboat Geyser or some other famous geyser, slowly boring your children to death. Instead, go out and see the Park and some of its many highlights. These ten geysers and thermal features are all musts — or ones that cannot be avoided, even if you try.
1. Old Faithful, Upper Geyser Basin: This one is a given. Whether you’re fresh-faced tourists or grizzled regulars of Yellowstone National Park, you have to see Old Faithful at least once. Get there with a few minutes to spare, since there’s a +/- 10-minute gap between the predicted eruption times. As a bonus, it’s just a short walk from Old Faithful Inn or Old Faithful Lodge, with plenty of seating. There’s no better souvenir than a picture of the whole family with Old Faithful raging behind them, tossing up water and steam towards the sky.
2. Castle Geyser, Upper Geyser Basin: Castle Geyser does erupt, but the window of eruption is usually three hours or so. Even without children, would you wait three hours for Castle Geyser to erupt if you’re not a geyser gazer? Even if you don’t see it erupt, Castle Geyser is impressive because a) it looks really cool (like a castle!); and b) there’s usually some level of activity going on, like a nearby spring spurting water, some low-level water bursts and plenty of steam. Plus, there are plenty of benches, including a row in the shade.
3. Fountain Paint Pots, Lower Geyser Basin: This one is a good one for distracting kids. After all, who wouldn’t be amazed by what appears to be boiling earth? Sadly, they don’t exist because it got so hot the ground melted and started bubbling. Instead, the Paint Pots are a mixture of water and clay rising and popping because of escaping gas. But who cares? Just let yourself and your children be mesmerized by the Paint Pots.
4. Morning Glory, Upper Geyser Basin: Morning Glory is a hot spring that earned its namesake. From a center of brilliant blue, Morning Glory’s color expands out to light blue, then blue/green, then a rim of yellow, light orange, and burnt red at the edge. Morning Glory’s colors are caused by bacteria living in the high-temperature water, but the bacteria thriving in high-temperature water is slowly being killed off. Years of vandalism and other factors have cooled the temperature of Morning Glory, allowing the red and yellow bacteria to invade. There may come a day Morning Glory is no longer able to support blue and green bacteria, so see it while you can.
5. Sawmill Geyser, Upper Geyser Basin: Sawmill is a tiny, resilient geyser almost always going off near Grand Geyser. Sometimes it’s just spurting little bursts of water. Other times it’s gushing, pushing water high into the air, imitating a spinning sawblade. Take some time to watch Sawmill, though there’s no sign of it stopping anytime soon.
6. Firehole Lake Drive, near Lower Geyser Basin and Fountain Paint Pots: This is a nice short drive for the kids, as you don’t even have to get out of your car to see everything. Among the highlights include Pink Cone Geyser, White Dome Geyser and Firehole Lake, which is a giant hot spring. If you’re lucking enoough to see a geyser going off, great; if not, it’s still worth the trip.
7. Excelsior Geyser, Midway Geyser Basin: To be clear, Excelsior Geyser is not a geyser. It’s a huge pool of water in a crater mostly obscured by huge clouds of steam. But what’s most impressive is the amount of runoff Excelsior discharges into the nearby Firehole River — 4,000 gallons per minute!. The waterfall combined with the multi-colored rocks is an impressive site.
8. Grotto Geyser, Upper Geyser Basin: Grotto Geyser, like Castle Geyser, used to look more impressive before erosion and vandalism wore it down to its present state. Grotto may not erupt regularly, but it’s still something nice to look as you’re making your way around the Upper Geyser Basin.
Mammoth Hot Springs from Yellowstone Insider on Vimeo.9. Mammoth Hot Springs, Mammoth: The Mammoth Hot Spring terraces don’t bubble or spurt water. In fact, they hardly do anything. But thousands of years of calcium carbonate buildup has created these unusual terraces of red, pink and gray, which can be admired from the road as well as from a boardwalk snaking its way though the terraces.
Roaring Mountain from Yellowstone Insider on Vimeo.10. Roaring Mountain, North of Norris Geyser Basin: This is a large mountain of steaming fumaroles that can easily be observed from the road; it’s hard to miss. Though not as impressive as they used to be, Roaring Mountain is sure to fascinate and excite ten-year-olds who are coming to the park for the first time (or even the fifth time).
Sean Reichard remembers being pretty grumpy during his first visit to Yellowstone National Park about the huge amount of walking his parents made him do.