West Thumb Geyser Basin Trail is a 0.9 mile heavily trafficked loop trail located near Yellowstone National Park, WY that features a lake and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and birding and is accessible from May until October.
On the west thumb of Yellowstone Lake, this trail/boardwalk makes a loop and passes several hot springs and pools. Lake Facts Elevation: 7,733 ft (2,357 m) Area: 131.7 sq mi (341 sq km) Shoreline: 141 mi (227 km) Width: 14 mi (23 km) Length: 20 mi (32 km) Avg depth: about 140 ft (42 m) Max depth: 410 ft (125 m) Avg summer temp: 45ºF (70ºC) West Thumb Facts West Thumb is a caldera within a larger caldera. Active hydrothermal features exist on the lake bottom here and elsewhere in the lake. West Thumb Geyser Basin overlooks Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake at high elevation in North America. You can best appreciate its vastness in winter when the frozen surface extends as a white sheet for miles. Summer is the season to appreciate the lake's many moods. Here you can enjoy its calm, quiet mornings or witness the wind-whipped whitecaps of afternoon storms. After storms, look for rainbows arching into the wilderness beyond, a land nearly as wild as when Native Americans and explorers experienced it centuries ago. The surface of the lake hints of what exists below. Surveys of the lake bottom in the 1990s documented hot springs and hydrothermal vents just offshore in West Thumb. Look closely-you may see their swirling patterns in the water. Framed on the east by the Absaroka Range, the lake may be thought of as the heart of Yellowstone. Its waters are the lifeblood for a large network of plant and animal communities. Trumpeter swans and moose thrive on the aquatic growth in shallow waters along the shore. Trout are drawn to zooplankton living in these waters. Cutthroat trout are food for pelicans, otters, eagles, black and grizzly bears, and other wild life. Unfortunately, this population of cutthroat trout is now threatened by non-native lake trout. As you walk among the basin's superheated waters, you may wonder if the lake is warmer here than elsewhere. After all, the geyser basin pours an average of 3,100 gallons (11,733 liters) of hot water into the lake every day. But even here, the lake's average summer temperature is 45ºF (7ºC). Explosive Encounter The large circular bay of West Thumb is an excellent example of a volcanic caldera. A powerful volcanic explosion approximately 174,000 years ago caused the earth's crust to collapse, creating the West Thumb caldera. The depression produced by the volcano later filled with water to become this large bay of Yellowstone Lake. The West Thumb caldera lies within an even greater caldera, the Yellowstone Caldera, which is one of the world's largest and encompasses the central and southern portions of the park. Much of your visit in Yellowstone may be spent within the boundaries of this huge caldera. This larger caldera, and the lava that eventually filled it, shaped much of the present Yellowstone landscape. It resulted from a massive eruption roughly 640,000 years ago. Since that time, numerous lava flows have filled the caldera. A Bit of History People have long been drawn to West Thumb. Native Americans favored campsites in this area as they hunted bison in the summer. The Crow people gathered medicinal herbs here. Shoshone and Bannock peoples have stories about the formation of the lake. Early scientific expeditions, which corroborated the tales of colorful hot springs mentioned by mountain men, rested here. Visitors in the late 1890s and early 1900s appreciated a refreshing boat ride to Lake Yellowstone Hotel after several dusty days on rutted roads. The rustic log cabin near the parking lot was the original West Thumb Ranger Station built in 1925; it is one of the few such stations remaining. Now it serves as a summer visitor information station and a winter warming hut. Water Colors The colors you see in the pools of West Thumb are created, in part, by thermophiles (heat-loving microorganisms). Generally, green and brown indicate organisms living in cooler water, orange and yellow indicate those living in hotter water. Only a few microorganisms thrive in the springs where the temperature is close to boiling, so we see the clear, blue water. In these hot springs, the water absorbs all wavelengths of light except blue, which the pool reflects.
While West Thumb Geyser Basin isn’t as impressive as the Upper Geyser Basin or Norris Geyser Basin, it’s still pretty interesting. We particularly enjoyed the deep blue color of Black Pool – gorgeous!
The most memorable thing about our visit to the West Thumb Geyser Basin was that when a woman’s hat blew off her head near Fishing Cone, her husband started to climb OVER THE RAILING to fetch it for her! We yelled for him to stop, which caught the attention of the ranger leading a guided talk nearby. She informed the couple that she could return with her “grabber” AFTER her guided talk was concluded (about 20 minutes later) and retrieve the woman’s hat. Wonder how that turned out? Even if the gentleman hadn’t injured himself, he could have easily damaged the fragile thermal features. My wife and I hope we reacted appropriately to this situation.
It’s amazing to us how many people don’t seem to understand that all those signs telling visitors to stay on the boardwalks actually mean STAY ON THE BOARDWALKS.
Best place to see the thermal activity in the park. It sits right on Yellowstone lake, and if you go in the spring, the lake is still frozen making it absolutely gorgeous.
One of my favorite Basins, mainly cause you have the wonderful landscape of the Lake right next to you, no squirting Geysers, but plenty of nice color at a great setting, very easy walk, try to squeeze this one in!
Went here with family years ago and loved it! Could spend so much time admiring the hot springs and the lake! So beautiful and so unique!
Very scenic! Best place to see Geysers & the lake at the same time.
short loop, small elevation change, right on the lake, one really cool basin.
Test review, please ignore
Not a true hike (more walking tour) but the thermal features and scenery are stunning
More of a tour of geysers than a trail, but still interesting to check out
It's amazing the different unexpected things you see here. Very interesting, do I just to say you did.
Not as exciting as some of the other geysers in the park, but still worth the stop.
Not as pretty, or as active as the geysers around Old Faithful, but still a fun spot to spot when your exploring Yellowstone. Really pretty views of Yellowstone Lake also.