Located in the protected western end of Yellowstone Lake, the West Thumb Geyser Basin is the largest geothermal area located on the lake. As you likely know, Yellowstone National Park is full of amazing places to visit, and all of them are different. While not nearly as popular as areas like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone or Old Faithful, the West Thumb Geyser Basin has unbelievable color and a variety of features that are packed into a relatively small space.
The wheelchair accessible boardwalk trail is only about 1-mile in total and will only take about 30 minutes to tour. While you may be tempted to pass by this spot in favor of rushing to other areas of the park, we highly recommend stopping for at least a little while to see this amazing spot!
The West Thumb Geyser Basin is one of many parts of the park to visit. All are included in our downloadable guide on Yellowstone National Park. We cover what to pack, rank the best hikes, help get you a head start on lodging and let you know what else to see while you are visiting the area. Plus, since our guide is a .pdf, it will be available to reference, even when mobile phone service is unavailable (which is most of the park!).
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR THE WEST THUMB GEYSER BASIN
Map of the West Thumb Geyser Basin parking area, courtesy of the National Park Service
Parking for the West Thumb Geyser Basin is accessed via Highway 20, less than 0.2 miles east of the junction with Highway 191 / 20. Highway 20 runs along the northern shore of Yellowstone Lake before combining with Highway 191, which continues to the Old Faithful. If you happen to be entering the park from Grand Teton National Park (which is what we did), the intersection is the first major one you come to when entering the park.
This part of the park is closed when snow is present, which is most of the summer and well into the start of spring.
- Directions from Old Faithful to the West Thumb Geyser Basin (this will take about 30 minutes without traffic).
- Directions from Grand Teton National Park to the West Thumb Geyser Basin (this will take nearly an hour, provided there isn’t much of a wait at the park entrance).
- Directions from Fishing Bridge / Lake to the West Thumb Geyser Basin (this will take right around 30 minutes)
The parking lot is large-it can hold about 140 cars and about a dozen busses or recreational vehicles. Though not nearly as large as the Old Faithful parking area, it has enough room so that the turnover rate of cars in the lot is pretty high. Since the trail takes most people only around 30 minutes, spots should open up at a rate of about 2 to 3 per minute. That being said, the parking lot is large for a reason-unless you get here first thing in the morning (like we did), you can expect to have plenty of company with you as you make your way around the boardwalk.
There are restrooms at the parking area, which do get busy throughout the day. There are no restrooms on the trail.
WEST THUMB GEYSER BASIN: TRAIL SURFACE AND ACCESSIBILITY
- Trail surface. The trail is mostly a boardwalk with a small amount of packed dirt on the way to the boardwalk. It is ideal for families and adults of all ages!
- Accessibility. The trail is wheelchair accessible with plenty of handrails for all hiking skill levels.
PREPARATION FOR HIKING WEST THUMB GEYSER BASIN
The hike is very short, and if you really need anything then you can easily head back to the parking lot to grab anything you need. We still recommend bringing along the following:
- Water. The hike is fully exposed, so it’s a good idea to bring water along with you. You don’t need to carry much, but we do recommend bringing some just in case.
- Sun Protection. If the sun is out, we highly recommend wearing a hat and sunblock no matter what time of year you go.
HIKING ON THE WEST THUMB GEYSER TRAIL
Map of the West Thumb Geyser Basin trail, courtesy of the National Park Service
The trail starts on the east side of the parking lot. Though it starts by traversing across ground, the trail quickly migrates to traveling on a raised boardwalk for the rest of the hike.
The walkway leads to a junction, and you have to choose to go right or left. We turned right and headed counter-clockwise around the boardwalk. While our blog will cover the area in this direction, there really is no reason to head either way in particular (other than to go whichever way is least crowded).
The West Thumb Geyser Basin is full of geothermal features, and we’ll do our best to highlight what you can expect on this trail:
- The Thumb Paint Pots are the first feature you’ll see as you enter the trail. These active mud pots produce mud cones during certain times of year, but mostly you’ll find just bubbling and foaming. The colors present in these pots are very colorful-if this is the first area of the park that you are visiting, you’ll undoubtedly be surprised at the variety of colors.
- On the southern end of the loop, you’ll come across the Seismograph Pool and Blue Bell Pool.
- The trail quickly comes up to the shore of Yellowstone Lake. Yellowstone Lake is large, spanning over an area of 20 miles long and 15 miles wide (at the widest points). The lake is quite deep too, getting to a depth of nearly 400 feet. It is filled with a variety of fish, including native cutthroat trout.
- After walking along Yellowstone Lake for about 300 feet, the trail comes to Fishing Cone. Fishing Cone is a small hot spring that used to be a geyser that erupted. Fishing Cone was given its name based on early visitors who used to catch fish while standing on or near the cone. They would then submerge the fish while still on the hook in the hot waters of the cone. The fish would cook quickly. This practice was no longer allowed after 1911.
Fishing Cone, courtesy of Acroterion
- Before the trail departs the shore of Yellowstone Lake, the trail comes to Big Cone Geyser. Though still technically a geyser, Big Cone rarely erupts. When it does the eruptions are not overly spectacular, as water will only go a few feet in the air.
- On the northern end of the boardwalk loop is the Black Pool, which is nearby the similarly colored Abyss Pool. Both pools have a beautiful deep blue color, with Abyss Pool being slightly lighter in color. Of course, for the Black Pool, this coloration is quite different than its given name. Due to the growth of a certain type of bacteria, Black Pool was actually black. However, the pool started to heat up in 1991 (due to a naturally occurring redirection of under-surface thermal activity), killing the bacteria. The result is the blue that exists today.
- When heading across the boardwalk that bisects the West Thumb Geyser basin, visitors come across a number of features, including Blue Fennel Spring, Ephedra Spring and Perforated Pool.
The entire trail, assuming you head around both loops, is about 1 mile long and has an elevation gain of about 28 feet in total (with all the slight ups and downs of the trail).
WEST THUM GEYSER BASIN: TOP LIKES AND DISLIKES
- Incredible Colors. It really is hard to find a geothermal area in Yellowstone with more diversity in color in such a small and accessible area.
- Geothermal Features…Everywhere! Not only is the color very diverse, the number of different features on this trail is simply awesome.
- Lakeside Hiking. It’s not frequent that you get to go on a boardwalk hike that has geothermal features and overlooks a lake-we loved this part of the hike!
Crowds. If you happen to go here at the wrong time of day (or when busses show up). This hike can be crowded. However, since it’s in the southern part of the park, if you go at the right time of day, it may not be busy at all. If you get lucky, it is truly a spectacular experience.
THINGS TO DO NEAR THE WEST THUMB GEYSER BASIN
As you likely know, there is a ton to see and do in Yellowstone National Park, and trying to figure out how to spend your precious time is challenging. However, there are a few great options nearby the West Thumb Geyser Basin that really deserve a quick look:
- Leaving right from the West Thumb Geyser Basin parking lot, the Duck Lake Trail heads north from the parking lot. After crossing Grand Loop Road, the 0.9-mile (round-trip) trail climbs over a small hill (about 70 feet in elevation) before descending to Duck Lake. The trail is wooded with young pines, and from the top of the hill you can see quite a nice view. Duck Lake is small, but the hike is not crowded at all and offers some nice solitude away from crowds.
- Heading from the parking lot to the southwest is the Yellowstone Lake Overlook Trail. This trail crosses the entrance road that comes in from Grand Teton National Park. After crossing the road, the trail starts a loop (you can go right or left and end up back at the same place). The trail climbs 100 feet to the top of a hill and provides a great overlook of the West Thumb Geyser Basin and Yellowstone Lake. The entire trail is 1.7 miles (round-trip). Since the hike is exposed for most of the way, it can get hot if you are hiking this in the summertime.
- Just to the south is Grant Village. Here there is camping, lodging and a couple small walks that are worth checking out. You can also check out the Grant Village Visitor Center and get food at the Grant Village Dining Room.
RELATED INFORMATION ON YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
- If you are interested in accessible travel in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, then make sure you check out this blog on Wheelchair Accessible Travel in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks from Wheelchairtraveling.com.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK AND THE SURROUNDING AREA FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Ahead of your visit, be sure to get a copy of our Yellowstone National Park itinerary to help you out with your travel planning.
- We have an ever-growing list of blogs on Yellowstone National Park, including Reasons to Love Yellowstone National Park, Hiking Uncle Tom’s Trail, Hiking the Mud Volcano Trail and the Best Hikes in Yellowstone National Park.
- Just to the south is a park that is not to miss. To learn about what to do in Grand Teton National Park, check out our blogs on Grand Teton National Park. We have several to help guide you through your visit!
- We have a ton of National Park posters that are worth checking out, including our West Thumb Geyser Basin poster from Yellowstone National Park. We have dozens to choose from.
- We can also turn a photo that you send us into a custom, vintage-style travel poster. We’ve created thousands of these and would love to work with you on your special vacation memory!