Located at Yellowstone’s northern entrance you’ll Mammoth Hot Springs – an otherworldly wonderland of travertine castles and bubbling steaming hot springs. Mammoth is known for it’s elegant travertine terraces and sweeping views of the neighboring Absaroka and Gallatin Mountain Ranges.
“No human architect ever designed such intricate fountains as these. The water trickles over the edges from one to another, blending them together with the effect of a frozen waterfall.” – an early visitor to Yellowstone.
Mammoth indeed is God’s architectural masterpiece in travertine. The terraces are ever changing as boiling thermal water, minerals, elements and time continue to create Mammoth.
Every time I visit the terraces it is slightly different -a living monument of nature coupled with dormant features like Liberty Cap – that have have lost thermal life and are ghosts of travertine stone.
Mammoth is the largest thermal basin outside the boundaries of Yellowstone’s 30 x 45 mile caldera (learn more about the geology here).
“Mammoth Hot Springs are a surface expression of the deep magmatic forces at work in Yellowstone. Although these springs lie outside the Yellowstone Caldera boundary, scientists surmise that the heat from the hot springs comes from the same magmatic system that fuels other Yellowstone hydrothermal areas. A large fault system runs between Norris Geyser Basin and Mammoth, which may allow thermal water to flow between the two. Also, multiple basalt eruptions have occurred in this area. Thus, basalt may be a heat source for the Mammoth area.
Hydrothermal activity in Yellowstone is extensive and has been present for several thousand years. Terrace Mountain, northwest of Golden Gate, has a thick cap of travertine. The Mammoth Hot Springs extend all the way from the hillside where we see them today, across the historic Parade Ground, and down to Boiling River. The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, as well as all of Fort Yellowstone, is built upon an old terrace formation known as Hotel Terrace. There was some concern when construction began in 1891 on the fort site that the hollow ground would not support the weight of the buildings. Currently, several large sink holes (fenced off) can be seen on the historic Fort Yellowstone Parade Ground.” – from NPS.gov
Visitors to Mammoth can experience this wonderland of travertine via a 1.9 mile boardwalk trail or the accessible drive – Upper Terrace Drive.
I love the boardwalk -but bear in mind it does have a lot of steps. You can take your time and stop periodically as needed. I have a knee issue and didn’t have huge problems with the stairs, but FYI.
NPS has a great virtual tour online you can ‘walk’ through online. It details the different thermal features.
Mammoth remains a fortress of travertine lattice and bubbling springs, but each year the features are a little different.
A few of my favorite mainstays include:
Liberty Cap – dormant geyser/thermal feature that resembles a Revolutionary War tri-corn ‘cap
Canary Spring –
Remember the thermal features are boiling hot – please do not touch the water. RESPECT THE FEATURES – don’t climb or try to break off pieces of travertine. Leave it as you found it so others can enjoy the natural wonders as God creates them.
The Upper Terrace Drive is a good spot, especially if you want an accessible view of the springs.
Just south of Mammoth Hot Springs you’ll uncover a land of strange rock formations called ‘The Hoodoos’ These large rock formations are not actual hoodoos like you find in Bryce Canyon National Park -but large travertine limestone rock boulders that fell into place in a landslide.
At this juncture on your tour you have several options:
- Continue to head south on the Grand Loop Road towards Norris Geyser Basin/Canyon areas or you can continue North towards Tower Fall/Lamar Valley.
- For the purposes of this blog we’ll be continuing North. I’ll add in the hyper links to both Southern Northern Loops once I finish the vlog (for easy access)