The western half of Yellowstone National Park gets most of the credit for geysers, but the eastern geyser basins are just as impressive.
Indeed, there’s one basin on the Canyon-Lake-Grant side of the Park whose features rival even those of the Upper Geyser Basin: the Mud Volcano area.
There’s a bevy of hydrothermal delights in the Mud Volcano area: roaring springs, bubbling cauldrons of mud, even an acidic lake. There’s even a Dragon’s Mouth: a mini cavern in the hillside, consistently frothing and bellowing with the sounds of hydrothermal activity.
The Mud Volcano area certainly exemplifies the “weird” side of hydrothermal activity.
This one-day trip itinerary is simple, self-contained, and geyser heavy, starting in Old Faithful and heading up to Mud Volcano, before looping back to Old Faithful.
Gazing at the Dragon’s Mouth: Trek Up to Mud Volcano, Starting at Old Faithful
Suggested Starting Time: 9-10 a.m.
The drive to Mud Volcano is only an hour, give or take, if you don’t make any stops. But you shouldn’t be in any hurry to make it up to Mud Volcano right away, there’s plenty to see along the way.
There are a multitude of breakfast options in the Old Faithful area, ranging from sit-down and/or breakfast buffet (Old Faithful Dining Room and Obsidian Dining Room) to quick fare (Old Faithful Snow Lodge Geyser Grill, something prepackaged from one of the General Stores).
Hitting The Road
This is a very easy drive, so don’t hesitate to take it easy and make the most of your one-day trip.
One of the most well-known cascades in Yellowstone National Park, Kepler is well-worth stopping for as you head east. Be sure and get a picture of it (or with it) on the overlook.
Although it’s small, Isa Lake has an unusual distinction: due to the fact that it sits extremely close to the continental divide, half of Isa drains toward the Pacific, the other toward the Atlantic.
What’s even more curious: the east half drains to the Pacific while the west drains toward the Atlantic, even though the Pacific Ocean is to the west and the Atlantic Ocean is to the east.
Discovered by Captain Hiram Chittenden in 1891, while searching for a suitable route for the first road between Old Faithful and West Thumb Geyser Basin, this pass overs a quick glimpse of the Grand Tetons to the south.
Continental Divide Signs
The Continental Divide marks where and how watersheds flow out to the ocean, as evidenced by Isa Lake. You’ll cross over it twice on the Old Faithful–West Thumb road, and the signs always make for a great picture opportunity.
West Thumb Geyser Basin (optional)
You should definitely consider stopping at West Thumb, either before or after you get to Mud Volcano. West Thumb doesn’t rank high on “exciting” features like geysers or mud pots, but the tranquil scenery and vivid pools will arrest you nonetheless.
You should also make a quick detour into the West Thumb Information Center, a lovely little building.
Between West Thumb and Lake
The road between West Thumb and Lake takes you past some serene scenery, smack dab between lake vistas and walls of lodgepole pines.
Lunch: Lake Village (Optional)
If you’re feeling peckish by the time you reach Lake, there are plenty of places to eat. For something quick, consider heading to the Lake Lodge Cafeteria, Lake Hotel Deli, or the General Store. Otherwise, the Lake Yellowstone Hotel Dining Room offers more upscale, sit-down fare.
Fishing Bridge Visitor Center (optional)
If you’ve got even more time to spare, you should consider stopping into the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center before/after you visit Mud Volcano. Between its pretty architecture and unique exhibits, it’s well worth a stop.
The stretch of river near these rapids offer a wonderful opportunity to see waterfowl. In addition, if you’re willing to hang around the area a bit more, you can walk to an overlook to view the rapids, or hang out in the picnic area.
Mud Volcano Area
The titular “volcano” has been bubbling for most of the Park’s existence. Although it looks more like a giant paint pot, it did resemble a volcano before it exploded in 1872, making the crater it is today.
There are, in essence, two parts to the Mud Volcano area: what lies at the bottom of the hill and what lies at top. Most of Mud Volcano’s major features are at the bottom: Dragon’s Mouth Spring and the trio of mud features: Volcano, Cauldron, and Geyser. Up top are other fascinating oddities like Black Dragons Cauldron, Sour Lake (which could also be called “Acid Lake” for all intents and purposes) and Grizzly Fumarole.
The hill up to Sour Lake is a tad steep, but well worth the trip.
Heading Back to Old Faithful
The idea with this itinerary (roughly) is to get you back to Old Faithful in time for dinner. But of course, since the drive is so short, you can really customize your trip to get the most out of what you want to do.
Dinner: Old Faithful Area
All the breakfast options in Old Faithful are safe bets for dinner as well.
Hotel rooms and cabins are available from the Old Faithful Inn, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, and the Old Faithful Lodge.