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West Thumb Geyser Basin Trail

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Yellowstone National Park

West Thumb Geyser Basin Trail is a 1 mile heavily trafficked loop trail located near Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming that features a lake and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and bird watching and is best used from May until October.

Distance: 1.0 miles Elevation Gain: 59 feet Route Type: Loop

kid friendly

hiking

nature trips

walking

bird watching

beach

lake

views

wild flowers

wildlife

no dogs

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). 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. 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. 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 you see the clear, blue water. In these hot springs, the water absorbs all wavelengths of light except blue, which the pool reflects.

hiking
1 hour ago

Great trail.

hiking
2 days ago

This boardwalk trail rates five-stars because of its uniqueness and it borders Yellowstone lake. The park does an excellent job in routing guests to close encounters with the diversity of the spouts, geysers, pots and vents. Several are even "in" the lake itself. Every turn on the boardwalk is a new fascination. There were many families with small children, but not overly crowded. The boardwalk design is also good for people with mobility issues.

hiking
2 days ago

Lots of action here. Great loop and awesome sights! Like others have said, loop it in with old faithful and Grand Prismatic!

hiking
4 days ago

So much to see! An easy add-on that’s 100% worth it. Of old faithful loop, grand prismatic and this one- west thumb was my favorite. Don’t forget your mask during covid, this is a popular one!

hiking
4 days ago

Short hike. Not too busy, great hike for small children. We did the hike in the afternoon and it was windy and a little cold

hiking
6 days ago

Fantastic quick hike. Lots to look at in a short distance. Saw a bear and three elk as well. Kid friendly.

hiking
great!
7 days ago

Great! I’ve never seen this many geothermal features in one place (Except maybe Rotorua in New Zealand). Everywhere you turn, you’ll see a geyser or fumerole of some sort. Bring a West Thumb map so you don’t miss any features.

hiking
9 days ago

So beautiful! The hot springs are truly stunning.

hiking
bridge out
13 days ago

Very cool trail along the boardwalks!

Incredible! A family-accessible boardwalk that’ll take you past awesome views of unique Yellowstone features. The colors are absolutely stunning! Don’t miss out on this spot if you’re coming in from the Yellowstone South Entrance. Saw two young elk as well. Be sure to complete both loops and take a look out on the lake - everything is worth seeing here!

walking
1 month ago

Beautiful sulphuric pools and view of the lake. Don’t expect to clock a fast mile - you’ll be gawking at the colors! Saw an elk at the beginning of the trail. Pretty empty, but we got there pretty early and the Park is just opening up.

Super easy. Saw lots of elk.

hiking
1 month ago

Easy and absolutely gorgeous.

hiking
1 month ago

Great trail and even better Instagram photos. Hiking is all about social media validation anyways.

hiking
3 months ago

Super cool but like almost all Yellowstone trails, extremely crowded

hiking
8 months ago

Mommy and I decided to celebrate my 37th birthday by visiting Yellowstone. This was our first hike and it quite the leg burner. Half way through I feel and got a boo boo on my knee. Mommy kissed it and make it better. A must do!

hiking
8 months ago

This was a beautiful view of Lake Yellowstone and the Tetons and some fun geysers along the way.

Beautiful scenery!

hiking
9 months ago

lots of people, good for a short walk not hike

hiking
10 months ago

Go for the sunrise. It’s amazing and I couldn’t find a word to describe it. Just go for it! Pretty cold, but really really worth it

hiking
10 months ago

Easy with plenty to see. Impressive

hiking
10 months ago

great area and not too busy

Fascinating! Boardwalk path around active geothermal pools and geysers. Be sure to take a close look at the section of lake at the boardwalk... it’s a volcanic caldera within a caldera!

10 months ago

Great thermal Area

hiking
10 months ago

There are other geyser basins I like more, but easy loops and short.

hiking
no shade
10 months ago

This is an interesting area, but very busy that has very little shade.

hiking
10 months ago

came here at sunrise after a rainy night... almost magical experience with the rays of the sun simultaneously piercing through and illuminating the mix of morning mist and fumeroles. highly recommend

Easy boardwalk, nice colours

hiking
no shade
11 months ago

This was our first stop after entering from the south entrance. We arrived around 10:00am and it wasn’t too crowded. It wasn’t my favorite stop but I definitely wouldn’t discourage it. The Abyss pool was amazing and it was a beautiful sight to see the contrast of the Black Pool near the serene Yellowstone Lake. I would recommend this quick stop.

hiking
11 months ago

It’s worth a stop if you’re in the area, but don’t go out of your way to see it. Super crowded, but it’s interesting to read about, nice easy boardwalk and views of the lake, was just a little underwhelming.

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