Have you ever seen Yellowstone National Park in the winter? It's a unique adventure, offering must-see — steaming hot springs, bubbling mud pots, and erupting geysers in a striking contrast against the snowy landscapes.
In this post, we'll highlight seven hydrothermal areas perfect for exploring when the temperatures drop, along with travel and safety tips. Bundle up and get ready to discover some of nature's most impressive warmth, defying the winter chill.
But First, A Quick Look at Yellowstone's Winter Accessibility
Reaching Yellowstone National Park in the winter can be tricky. Of the Yellowstone hot springs and geysers on this list, only the Mammoth Hot Springs can be reached by regular vehicle.
Contact Yellowstone National Park's Authorized Snowmobile and Snowcoach Tour Companies to get to the other locations and read about the park's official winter exploration reminders.
|Mammoth Hot Springs
|Accessible by regular vehicles year-round, as the route from the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana, to Cooke City, Montana, is maintained for vehicle travel even during winter.
|Norris Geyser Basin
|Closed to regular vehicle traffic in winter, access is via guided over-snow tours.
|Lower Geyser Basin
|Not accessible by regular vehicles in winter. Access is via guided over-snow tours.
|Midway Geyser Basin (including Grand Prismatic Spring)
|Inaccessible by regular vehicles during winter; access is through over-snow travel on guided tours.
|Grand Prismatic Spring
|Not accessible by regular vehicles during winter. Visitors must join guided over-snow vehicle tours (snowmobiles or snow coaches).
|Upper Geyser Basin (Old Faithful area)
|Not accessible by regular vehicles during winter; access is through over-snow vehicles. The Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins are typically open for accommodations.
|West Thumb Geyser Basin
|Not accessible by regular vehicles during winter. Access is through guided over-snow vehicles.
With that out of the way, we're off to our list!
1. Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs is not just a visual wonder with its terraced limestone formations but also a geological marvel.
The hot springs result from hot water rising through limestone, carrying high amounts of dissolved carbonate. The steamy terraces against the snow are particularly striking in winter, offering a surreal landscape.
Along the boardwalks, you can see the intricate details of these formations. For more information, read it on our blog: Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs: The Largest Carbonate-Depositing Spring in the U.S.
2. Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone's hottest and most dynamic thermal area, is home to Steamboat Geyser, the world's tallest currently active geyser.
The basin's landscape continuously changes due to seismic activity and varying heat flow. It features a variety of hot springs, fumaroles, and geysers.
The basin’s extreme environment can be attributed to the Norris-Mammoth Corridor, a fault system that runs through the park.
3. Lower Geyser Basin
The Lower Geyser Basin is Yellowstone's largest geyser basin, covering approximately 11 square miles.
The area includes the Fountain Paint Pot Trail, where visitors can view a range of hydrothermal features, such as erupting geysers, vibrant hot pools, steaming fumaroles, and the unique Fountain Paint Pots, which vary in consistency based on recent rainfall.
Great Fountain Geyser, a highlight of this basin, is known for its elegant structure and terraced pools. Eruptions can reach impressive heights, sometimes even a rare "superburst" of 200 feet.
The basin's dynamic landscape is accessible via the boardwalk trail, providing safe and close-up views of these natural wonders.
4. Midway Geyser Basin
Though more minor in size, the Midway Geyser Basin is home to two of the park’s most famous features: the Grand Prismatic Spring and the Excelsior Geyser.
The Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the United States, is renowned for its striking coloration from microbial mats around the edges.
The Excelsior Geyser, once a regular geyser, now functions as a vast, boiling hot spring, discharging over 4,000 gallons of water per minute into the Firehole River.
The Midway Geyser Basin's colorful and diverse thermal features present an unforgettable view, especially in the winter when steam blankets the area.
5. Grand Prismatic Spring
Although the Grand Prismatic Spring is within the Midway Geyser Basin, this deserves a solo spot on our list. As the largest hot spring in the United States, the Grand Prismatic is a must-see during Yellowstone's winter.
Its rainbow colors come from microbial mats around the edges, which change color depending on the ratio of chlorophyll to carotenoids and the water temperature. The spring measures approximately 370 feet in diameter and is over 121 feet deep.
The steam creates a mystical ambiance in winter, making it a photographer's dream. You can learn more about it here: Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring – The Largest Hot Spring in the United States.
6. Upper Geyser Basin
The Upper Geyser Basin, boasting the highest concentration of geysers in the world, includes the renowned Old Faithful. Geysers like Old Faithful erupt at predictable intervals, offering a spectacular show against the snowy background in winter.
The basin also features more geysers, hot springs, and pools with unique eruption patterns. Visitor paths provide safe and close-up views of the geothermal features.
7. West Thumb Geyser Basin
Along the shores of Yellowstone Lake, West Thumb is notable for its stunning contrast of hot geothermal features next to the icy lake.
The basin includes hot springs, mudpots, and geysers, with some underwater features in the lake itself. Winter adds a serene beauty to the area, making it a quieter area to explore.
Safety Tips for Visiting Yellowstone's Geysers
Sadly, there have been serious injuries (and even deaths) over the years from people getting too close to Yellowstone's hot springs and geysers.
To ensure a safe visit, please stick to the marked boardwalks and trails. The ground around geothermal features can be extremely hot and fragile.
Additionally, maintain a safe distance from all hot springs and geysers, as they can erupt unexpectedly. Thermal waters can cause severe burns.
Other tips: Heed warning signs and closures, never go off-trail or past barricades, keep pets leashed at all times, and supervise children closely. Windy days call for extra caution.
Check the National Park Service’s website before visiting for the latest safety information for Yellowstone’s fabulous but potentially dangerous geothermal wonders. Following park guidelines will allow you to enjoy these gorgeous sites safely.
You can also watch the Yellowstone National Park's video on tips for planning your winter trip below:
Appreciate Nature's Winter Majesty
As you finish exploring Yellowstone’s magical hydrothermal winter wonderlands, take a moment to appreciate the fleeting beauty.
Let the steam rising against icy backdrops fill you with childlike awe. Bundle up, wander slowly, and savor the sights and smells that only occur when Old Faithful and friends slip on their icy winter coats.
Bonus tip: Check current accessibility and weather conditions before visiting, as heavy snow can cause temporary closures.
Bundle up, have fun, and stay safe!