The Mud Volcano Trail in Yellowstone National Park is one of many boardwalk trails in Yellowstone that wind their way through a myriad of geological features. What makes the Mud Volcano Trail unique and worth a stop is the variety of sights available on such a short walk.
From mud pots to fumaroles to the placid looking Sour Lake (that you do not want to swim in!), the high concentration of attractions makes this place something that you’ll want to make sure you visit during your trip to Yellowstone National Park!
We cover Mud Volcano and over 20 other hikes, things to do in our itinerary for Yellowstone National Park. This is a downloadable guide that covers what to pack, where to stay, what to reserve ahead of time and what to see nearby Yellowstone. There is so much to do in Yellowstone National Park that it can be overwhelming, and our guide helps take the guesswork out of planning!
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR THE MUD VOLCANO TRAIL
The Mud Volcano Trail is located in the Hayden Valley of Yellowstone and is situated on Grand Loop Road between Fishing Bridge (home of Yellowstone Lake) and Canyon Village (home of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone).
- Directions from Fishing Bridge to the Mud Volcano Trail (this route will take approximately 15 minutes)
- Directions from Canyon Village to Mud Volcano Trail (this route will take approximately 20 minutes, with traffic which tends to back up around Yellowstone Falls).
The parking area for the trail is on the western side of Grand Loop Road. The parking lot has nearly 70 spots. Seeing as though the trail takes only about 30 minutes for most visitors, parking spots will open at a rate of about 2 every minute. So, if you get to the lot and see a ton of cars parked, just be patient and a spot will open up quickly. Still, you need to realize that this is a popular spot, and crowds (including buses) should be expected.
There are restrooms available on the south end of the parking lot, but there are no restrooms on the trail. However, the wait for the restrooms may be a bigger concern than trying to get a parking spot!
HIKING THE MUD VOLCANO TRAIL
There are two options when hiking the Mud Volcano Trail. For those who are short on time or need a trail accessible to wheelchairs, the small loop that starts on the north side of the parking lot goes by both the Mud Volcano and Dragon’s Mouth Spring. Those who can climb a total elevation gain of 124 feet (with a combination of stairs and inclined pavement) should take the entire loop and not miss out on the other features that this hike offers.
Though it was raining lightly when we visited the park, we decided to walk the entire loop so we could see everything. The trailhead sign recommends heading in the clockwise direction to have a less steep climb. For some reason we chose to hike in the counterclockwise direction and it was more than doable for our family. As you’ll see later, the incline was the least of our worries on this hike!
Like so many other sights in Yellowstone, the “trail” is actually an elevated boardwalk for much of the loop.
Shortly after beginning the walk, the trail comes to Dragon’s Mouth Spring. Dragon’s Mouth Spring is a cave with gases and near boiling water that make booming sounds against the top of the cave. The cave appears to be breathing with water coming in and out of the cave like waves against a rocky coastline. Our family thought this was one of the coolest features we saw in the park and stood watching it for quite some time.
Past Dragon’s Mouth Spring, the boardwalk leads to the trail’s namesake, Mud Volcano. When first discovered in 1871, Mud Volcano was a fairly violent mud spring. As the years have passed, the activity has subsided (except for a brief time in 1979). Though surely not quite as impressive as what the initial explorers found, it is definitely worth checking out.
After passing by the Mud Volcano, the boardwalk splits. This is where those looking for a short walk will take a left to return back to the parking lot. For those wanting to continue on the full loop (which is recommended), a right turn will lead you onto the paved trail and uphill toward Sour Lake.
The trailhead signs warn of bison that frequent the area, and it was here that we passed by the first of three bison we saw on the trail. It’s important to remember that Yellowstone is full of wild animals, and bison are some of the most dangerous in the park.
After climbing a few flights of stairs, the boardwalk continues to Sour Lake, which is the furthest spot from the parking lot. Sour Lake surprised us with its beauty and stillness. Though seemingly harmless, Sour Lake is far from it. The “water” in the lake has a super low pH, making it as potent as battery acid.
Just past Sour Lake is a small offshoot of the trail that leads to Black Dragon’s Caldron. Black Dragon’s Caldron was not part of the park until 1948, when underground activity shifted some of the thermal activity from Sour Lake to form Black Dragon’s Caldron.
After meeting back up with the main trail and continuing counterclockwise, the trail passes by Churning Caldron. While the smell of sulfur permeates the atmosphere all around Yellowstone, it seemed to be strongest outside of this geothermal feature (so a few of us couldn’t stay long!). This was one of the more active features on the Mud Volcano Trail, continuously bubbling.
After the Churning Caldron, the trail passes through the “Cooking Hillside.” This lush landscape was dotted with small fumaroles and ground that was far from inviting, though it was clear that the bison knew how to navigate the area based on signs they left behind. We’ll spare the photos of the bison sign!
As the trail ends, it descends quickly to the parking lot. It was here that we had to pause due to several bison that were blocking the trail. We even saw one push a tree over right near the parking lot! After being patient and waiting, we decided to return the same way we came, doing the entire loop again in the clockwise direction.
We did see some other tourists getting way too close to the bison here-later on that day we read online that a couple (in their 70’s) on their honeymoon had to be rescued (with one of them having to be airlifted) after being thrown in the air by one of the bison on this trail.
- We can’t emphasize enough the importance to be aware of the bison while on this trail. While physical encounters are rare, they frequently end up with hikers getting injured, and sometimes with life-threatening injuries. Be careful and show respect for these amazing (and huge!) animals.
- Nearby the Mud Volcano Trail (just 0.1-mile north) is Sulphur Caldron. This very active hot spring spews gases with yellow roaring waters. It is a quick drive from Mud Volcano and with a few minutes.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Be sure to check out our extensive itinerary for Yellowstone National Park. This is a great resource to help take some of the guesswork out of your vacation planning to Yellowstone. This park is so massive that it helps to have our companion with you on your trip!
- For all the reasons why we think you should go to Yellowstone National Park, be sure to check out our blog on 10 reasons why you’ll fall in love with Yellowstone National Park.
- Our headline product are our posters. When you get back from your trip, contact us and we’ll work with you to create a vintage-style travel poster from a photo you send to us. We’ve created thousands, and we guarantee you’ll love it!