West Thumb is 17 miles south of the Old Faithful and only 2 miles away from Grant Village; it is frequently passed by as visitors go to and from Lake, Old Faithful, and the Grand Tetons. Despite a visit this season during a busy weekend, we basically had West Thumb to ourselves.
The geyser basin does not have any big names like Echinus or Steamboat, but what it lacks in notoriety it makes up in atmosphere. Situated next to Yellowstone Lake and lacking any flashy geysers, West Thumb exudes an air of tranquility not found anywhere else in the park. It was a pleasure to stroll around the basin on the wooden walkways, surveying the landscape and admiring the plaintive hot springs and pools. (The actual boardwalk is only a half-mile gently sloping walk, perfect for those daunted by the sometimes challenging staircases and heights of Norris.) The two big pools are Abyss Pool and Black Pool, and each is something to marvel at. Abyss Pool, though it is only 53 feet deep, looks like an endless pit from any angle, while Black Pool is actually a pleasant blue color – it changed color in 1991 when the temperature in the pool rose and the pool actually erupted for a short spell. (The year 1991 was an important one in West Thumb: the plumbing shifted, and in addition to Black Pool there were significant changes in Abyss Pool as well.) There are a couple of geysers, but they do not erupt often. There is Occasional Geyser, but its max eruption distance is 12 feet. There is also Twin Geyser, which can reach a height of 120 feet, but it has no set erupt pattern.
The best part about West Thumb is the fact that it sits on the lake. Walking on the walkway between the basin and the wide blue water is one of the most picturesque scenes in the park. The basin even branches out into the lake. One geyser, Fishing Cone, bulges out of the lake like a mini volcano, even though it does not erupt. Traditionally, Fishing Cone has been a tourist selling point, pushing the practice of catching a fish in the lake and then cooking it in the geyser cone. You can’t do that today, and it probably was a fairly nasty practice back in the day: we’re guessing more fish fell apart than were actually consumed. Then there is Lakeshore Geyser, which erupts to a max of 30 feet but is usually submerged in the lake until August.
West Thumb is small enough to walk around and see everything in about 30 minutes, and close enough to Old Faithful or Lake where it is not much of a hassle to go out and see it. West Thumb is a great place to go for parkgoers of any age and much less crowded than other thermal places in the park.
At top: Blue Funnel Pool. Below: A few of the Painted Pools.