Yellowstone Discovery: Old Faithful (Part I)

We are going to explore the Old Faithful area, which is the ‘heartbeat’ of Yellowstone. Named for the world’s most famous geyser, ‘Old Faithful,’ this ‘village is home to thousands of visitors and summer employees in the peak tourist seasons.

To Yellowstone tourists, Old Faithful is so much more than the geyser itself – The Old Faithful area encompasses large tracts of the Upper Geyser Basin with hundreds of thermal features – including dozens of geysers that are more powerful than Old Faithful (we’ll get to this point soon).

Old Faithful (Complex) includes:

  • Hotels – Old Faithful Inn, Snowlodge, Cabins
  • Shopping
  • Restaurants
  • Gas and services
  • The ‘mini’ park city of YNP is surrounded by the Upper Geyser Basin and famed features including Old Faithful.

*Start your tour at the Old Faithful Visitor Center* – park rangers can give you geyser predictions for Old Faithful and other area geysers like Beehive…This center has a great exhibit on how geysers work and the different types of thermal features in the park.

I spent a summer living and working at the Old Faithful Snowlodge, steps from Yellowstone’s most iconoic geyser. I fell in love with the area and consider my time spent working in the shadow of the ‘geyser’ as one of the best times in my life. Every day I’d meander around the miles of thermal boardwalks, sitting and waiting for Old Faithful and other area geysers like Beehive, Giant, Grand, Castle and Grotto to erupt.

I was a ‘geyser gazer’ spending my free time journaling while watching thermal features and keeping track of erupts.

I’ve been blessed to have seen Old Faithful erupt over fifty times and it never gets old. Each eruption is slightly unique and I still feel the flutter of my heart race as an eruption starts.

As a first time visitor to Old Faithful, I want to give you some pointers so you have a good lay of the land.

Many tourists only want to rush in, park and see Old Faithful, especially if you are on a strict timeline and want to do the entire Lower Loop in one day.

That being said – I recommend blocking off at least half a day in the Old Faithful area.

  • Old Faithful goes off roughly every ninety-minutes – so you will most likely have some downtime before the eruption.
  • Old Faithful is an amazing geyser, but it is only one of hundreds of phenomenal thermal features in the Old Faithful area
    • Old Faithful is in the Lower Geyser Basin, which includes over four miles of walkable boardwalks that interconnect.
    • Biscuit Basin and Black Sand feature gorgeous thermal springs and are accessible via a short drive from the main Old Faithful area
    • The rest of the boardwalks are worth exploring directly from Old Faithful.
  • My favorite geyser walk is Geyser Hill: located directly behind Old Faithful Geyser, this boardwalk showcases interesting thermal features and the towering Beehive Geyser (named for it’s beehive shaped cone).
  • I usually continue on the boardwalk for another mile to Morning Glory Pool, passing Grand and Castle Geyser before looping back to Old Faithful (main complex/geyser)
    • This usually takes ninety miles and is fairly flat. You must be vigilant about staying on the boardwalks – the ground below is scalding hot and dangerous
    • This is not wheelchair accessible, however a paved portion from Old Faithful Geyser to Morning Glory Pool (around 1 mile) is a good alternative for bikers and wheelchair access

You can take a virtual tour of the Old Faithful area on the NPS website.

Each thermal feature has it’s own personality and beauty. While I could never choose a favorite – I love the other worldly character of Grotto Geyser and the stately power of Castle Geyser

Why Old Faithful?

Click here for Old Faithful Facts

“Old Faithful can vary in height from 100-180 feet with an average near 130-140 feet. This has been the historical range of its recorded height. Eruptions normally last between 1.5 to 5 minutes.”

Many visitors are surprised to learn that Old Faithful is not the the park’s largest geyser nor is it the only geyser that erupts regularly – however Old Faithful’s easy to reach location and gorgeous eruptions have made it a fan favorite with tourists for years.

Old Faithful was one of the geysers documented during the Washburn Expedition and was noted for it’s powerful eruptions on a consistent basis you could set your watch too. Old Faithful’s eruptions have changed a bit over the years, especially after the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake in nearby Montana, but it remains faithful – erupting nearly always on time – nearly every ninety-minutes depending on the size of the eruption.

As I mentioned earlier – I recommend kicking off your Old Faithful experience at the Visitor Center. Rangers can help plan your trip – providing maps of Geyser Hill and the Old Faithful area as well as eruption times.

There is a great Junior Ranger program at OF as well.

I will discuss the tourist amenities in the next post – but I do recommend grabbing a bite to eat at Old Faithful. I usually eat at The Geyser Grill or the General Store (near geyser basin/Firehole River) – but you can’t beat the atmosphere at The Snowlodge or Old Faithful Inn.

Yellowstone is a place to be experienced and one place to take your time is Old Faithful. It is the busiest spot in the park and may feel overwhelming with crowds, but if you get on the trail (boardwalks) you’ll find more peace and quiet.

I like the iconic Old Faithful eruption (up close and personal sitting on the geyser benches), but you can experience the grandeur of Old Faithful from Geyser Hill or the Solidary Geyser hike.

I love watching Old Faithful just before dusk when the sun is bright but beginning to set. It is usually less crowded early or later in the day.

Giant Geyser

Next stop – we’ll be tourists – enjoying the historic Old Faithful Inn and doing some YNP shopping before continuing east towards West Thumb Geyser Basin.

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