Old Faithful might be more synonymous with Yellowstone, but the Grand Prismatic Spring is the thermal feature that will make you forget for a moment that you’re still on Planet Earth. Hiking the Fairy Falls Trail takes you past the best vantage point for viewing the Grand Prismatic from above, and then along a short, well groomed trail to the 200-foot-tall Fairy Falls. Just a half-mile more and you’re at the Imperial and Spray geysers.
The Fairy Falls trailhead begins one mile from the Midway Basin Geyser and is an easy out-and-back despite its length. The hike to Fairy Falls is relatively flat, and a great option when you’re traveling with family and want something easy and rewarding (with some highly photographable spots). Kids will have no problem tackling this hike, and standing in the fall’s mist is a fun way to cool off if it’s a hot day.
Enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the Grand Prismatic
From the trailhead, hike a little over a half-mile and take the short, side trail to see the Grand Prismatic Spring and the Excelsior Geyser from the newly constructed overlook. The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the US (and third largest in the world) and the most photographed thermal feature in Yellowstone — you’re going to want to snap a few pics. The multicolored rainbow layers that encircle this football field-sized hot spring are altogether otherworldly, and so vibrant they appear photoshopped. Early in the morning, the Grand Prismatic can be quite steamy, sometimes obstructing the view of the spring itself; stop on the way back from Fairy Falls and you’ll have a better view of the spring’s radiant hues, but expect more crowds.
How to hike to Fairy Falls
Continuing on, stroll through a regenerating lodgepole pine forest until you reach the spray of Fairy Falls, 2.5 miles from where you started. Nearly all of the Fairy Falls area was affected by the fires of ‘88, and it’s worth taking note of the new growth that’s bringing the forest back to life. Stop, have a snack and enjoy the spot before turning around or hiking the half-mile farther to the Spray and Imperial geysers. Imperial Geyser can reach up to 35 feet, but it erupts infrequently. Just a little more to the east, you’ll come across Spray Geyser, a little less impressive, but a frequent erupter. These thermal features tend to be much less populated than other parts of the park and definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for an escape from the crowds.
The trail is closed for bear management part of the year; it opens in late May and is suitable to hike until early winter. Make sure to check trail conditions before you hike.