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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.

Length 1.0 mi Elevation gain 59 ft Route type Loop
Kid friendly Hiking Nature trips Walking Bird watching Beach Lake Views Wild flowers Wildlife No dogs
Description
Waypoints (18)
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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.

Hydrothermal features are fragile rarities of nature. Yellowstone preserves the largest collection of hydrothermal features on the planet. You have an unparalleled opportunity to view hot springs, geysers, mudpots, and fumaroles in a natural setting. Change takes place naturally in a hydrothermal area, but people can disrupt these processes and cause irreparable damage. Rocks, sticks, and other objects thrown into a hydrothermal feature may be permanently cemented in place, choking off water circulation and ending all activity. For the sake of all who follow, never throw objects into any feature. Stay on established walkways for your safety and to protect fragile formations that have formed over thousands of years. It is illegal to collect any natural or cultural objects or to remove, deface, or destroy any plant, animal, or mineral in Yellowstone's hydrothermal areas. Bring drinking water; take out all trash. While viewing or photographing the area, protect your camera, glasses, and binocular lenses from hydrothermal heat and stray. Toxic gases exist in Yellowstone. Dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide have been measured in some hydrothermal areas. If you feel sick, leave the location immediately. Help preserve Yellowstone for the future.

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Reviews (436)
Photos (384)
Recordings (305)
Completed (1566)
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Ariana Hoffman
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HikingGreat!

Absolutely stunning vistas and amazing thermal features with the backdrop of the lake are like nothing else in the park.

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Eric Mitchell
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Hiking
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Sam G
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Hiking

The thermals are so cool! Busy as always in this spot but worth a quick walkabout on the boardwalk lakeside.

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Rachel Tricase
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarSeptember 17, 2020
Hiking

Not really much of a hike, & lots of tourists. It’s a wooded boardwalk. The geysers are cool but if you miss this one, you’re not missing anything major.

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Kyle Spoelma
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Hiking
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Jeff Kempski
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Hiking

Easy stroll on a wooded path.

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Kimberly Brown
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Hiking

Went late in the afternoon and it was lovely. Probably my favorite boardwalk in YSP.

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julie_journeys on instagram
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSeptember 14, 2020
Hiking

Lots of mesmerizing blue pools - and awesome views of the lake! Follow my instagram for more adventures @julie_journeys

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Bill Cronin
Yellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarSeptember 13, 2020
Walking

Heavily trafficked tourist spot with geysers that are similar to others elsewhere in the park. The view of Yellowstone lake is nice, but this isn’t really a hike - more like a leisurely stroll. This location is far from the other great hiking locations in Yellowstone, and it doesn’t really offer anything unique. I recommend skipping this one.

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Wes Harris
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Hiking
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Sarah Wilson
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Hiking
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Aashish G
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Hiking
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Sid Jain
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Hiking
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Matt Johnson
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Saw some elk! View of the lake was excellent

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Alex Drobes
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Hiking
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Joelle Trollinger
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Hiking

Good introductory trail to Yellowstone. Boardwalks are easily accesible. Very popular spot

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Sangeeta Parulekar
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSeptember 6, 2020
Hiking

Easy trail on boardwalk with a lot of geothermal elements.

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Aidan Walker
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Hiking

Really nice little trail! Definitely heavily trafficked but it’s a lot of bang for your buck so far as geothermal features go. While I was there a herd of elk came to graze which was cool.

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Becca Craig
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Hiking

Great sights. Pretty crowded

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Lawrence Coppin
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HikingGreat!

Absolutely incredible. We saw a number of geysers erupt luckily enough. The colours and the landscape are spectacular. Highly recommend this loop!

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Chris Gammell
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Hiking
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Erik Warner
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Hiking

Good entry trail to the park....

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Melissa Marszal
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Hiking
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Kylee Kowalski
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Hiking

Went at sunset and it was so lovely! Great way to avoid the crowds.

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Chloe Pierson
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WalkingGreat!

Easy trail with the regular Yellowstone stuff. This one is interesting because it’s right on the edge of the lake, with fishing cone just off shore.

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Christina Gilbert
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarAugust 21, 2020
Hiking

The black pool was awesome. As I had seen others say I bet it’s awesome at sunset. Too much haze in the air tonight.

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Mary Hare
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarAugust 20, 2020

We really enjoyed this easy trail because there was so much to look at!! We also saw an elk not far from the parking lot which was neat.

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Erik McEwen
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarAugust 20, 2020
WalkingGreat!

Pretty busy “by the road” trail however, it got even better as you get to the look-out areas. Super-super easy trail. There are incredible views of the lower falls and an especially great experience with 17 members of my wife’s family. I am actually really happy to be able to do this trail even with the abdominal pains I was experiencing. I didn’t realize that this trail would be the last one I could do for a very long time — I have found solace from the stresses of mortality while walking and hiking. And dang it — I just paid 20 bones on a new pair of Quicklaces for my Salomon 3 GTX’s! A congenital birth defect has taken my left Kidney and my right Kidney is beginning to fail as well. Living a lifestyle devoid of alcohol and other recreational substances - you would think - would have saved me from this situation. Surgery is in my future and hopefully my right Kidney can make a turn-a-round. The worst part is the abdominal catheter that was placed a day after this hike. It’s going to be a long haul. Attitude will be a big part of healing mentally. Good organs, diet, and the miracles of medicine will help me physically. Such great memories... Pray on.

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Neal Amin
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Hiking
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Kate Leuba
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarAugust 19, 2020
Hiking

Don't skip this loop! The stunning lake in the background makes it unique from all the other geyser loops. The fish cone in the lake is very cool, including the history behind it!

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