Wednesday, July 28, 2010
One of the most impressive sights in Yellowstone is Midway Geyser Basin’s Grand Prismatic Spring. Yet, despite being able to walk right up to and over it, it is impossible to fully appreciate from the official park viewpoints. Yes, one can get a sense of it from the pastel blue steam cloud rising from its center; and by following the boardwalk over its burnt orange tendrils. But this provides just a hint of the spectacular beauty that inspired its name. Grand Prismatic Spring can only be fully appreciated from the air.
If you’ve seen a park video featuring a flyover of the spring you already know what I mean. However, unless you’re willing to sneak an ultralight into the park (and suffer the consequences) this isn’t an option. Fortunately the higher ground that surrounds Midway Geyser Basin on two sides provides an alternative. There are no officially sanctioned trails leading up in either direction but there are trails nonetheless. They are steep and slippery with no railings at the viewpoints—in other words, proceed at your own risk—but they offer the best and only means for an aerial view of Grand Prismatic Spring.
Which view is better, looking east or looking west, is going to depend on the light. A nice day with the sun shining at your back while you view the spring is ideal. Cloud cover dulls the colors dramatically so be patient and wait for a sun break on a partly cloudy day.
The view looking east is accessible via a trail-bike path that takes visitors north along the back of MGB to Fairy Falls and Goose Lake. Park in the first parking area south of Midway Geyser Basin to access the trailhead. (RV’s will have to park in a pullout along the main road.) Follow the bike path north for a short distance until you see distinct trails leading up the side of the hill. There are many paths up which should all lead, more or less, to the one clearing on the hillside that provides a relatively tree-free view of the spring.
The view looking west is accessible via one or more roadside pullouts to the south of the parking area for MGB. They are on the east side of the main road, opposite of the Firehole River. Parking at Midway Geyser Basin and crossing the road is also an option. You’ll see ad hoc trails going up from the road. It’s worth emphasizing that, while you don’t need to be Ueli Steck to climb up to this viewpoint, carelessness could get you killed at the top. It’s straight down. Parents keep track of your kids.
I find it a little surprising that the park service doesn’t provide a reasonable trail to either of these viewpoints but the upside is that neither viewpoint is particularly crowded. We shared the western viewpoint with a handful of other people; the eastern viewpoint we had to ourselves. That’s something that can’t be said about very many places in Yellowstone at this time of year.
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