From the Biscuit Basin parking area, cross the Firehole River on the footbridge and continue along the boardwalk. On the right, you'll pass an active spring known as Black Opal Pool, with larger Wall Pool just behind. Thereafter, you'll reach a deep, dark blue spring marked "Sapphire Pool." Until the big earthquake of August 1959, it was a very hot but relatively small geyser, surrounded by a delicate buildup of silicon dioxide scalloping that resembled small biscuits. Following the quake, explosive eruptions occurred, reaching a height of 150 feet. Attendance for its frequent displays rivaled even that of Old Faithful
. But alas, Sapphire's eruptive powers waned with time and by the mid-1960s it had returned to its passive pre-earthquake character. None of the delicate scalloping that gave the basin its name survived the violent eruptions.
Continue straight and pass Jewel Geyser. It is named for the lovely beads of sinter around its vent. A bit further on the left is Shell Geyser. Its fun to guess the names of features or to look for the namer’s reasoning. Can you see the resemblance to a yellow clam shell? Next are Silver Globe Spring and Avoca Spring.
At the .2-mile mark, follow the Mystic Falls Trail
as it leaves the boardwalk on the left and heads into the forest. For the next mile, the trail follows the north side of the Little Firehole River and climbs gradually to the base of Mystic Falls. Along the way you'll pass two trail junctions. The first is the Fairy Creek Trail
dropping steeply from a scenic lookout, which joins from the right (our return route on this loop). The second is the seldom used Summit Lake Trail
, which splits to the left. Continue on the main trail through forests partially burned in the 1988 fires and reach Mystic Falls at the 1.1-mile mark.
Mystic Falls cascades majestically 70 feet over erosion-resistant canyon rhyolite. It has two sections, each with multiple steps. There are several small hot springs along the banks of the falls and downstream. Look also for playful yellow-bellied marmots along the trail.These golden brown rodents easily attain a length of two feet, counting their short bushy tail. During the winter these hibernators burrow into the ground and "power down" their metabolism. Their body temperature drops to almost freezing, their heart beats only four times each minute, and they enter a deep coma-like sleep.
From the falls, the trail continues to the right and switchbacks steeply up more than 500 feet in the next 1/2 mile to reach the top of the Madison Plateau. At the 1.7-mile mark a trail junction is reached. Turn right and follow the Fairy Creek Trail
east as it rolls up and down along the top of the plateau to a scenic lookout at the 2.2-mile point.
The view from the lookout is spectacular! The entire Upper Geyser Basin spreads out before you. The 150 active geysers which lie here comprise more than 25% of the world's total and include some of the largest and most predictable geysers. For a real treat, sit and wait a while and maybe you'll see one erupt. Old Faithful
Geyser, surrounded by buildings, is easy to spot. Other geysers with eruptions large enough to identify from here include Castle, Grand and Riverside geysers.
Contemplate for a moment another of nature's forces. On September 7, 1988, wild fire attacked this area with a vengeance. Fanned by wind gusts of up to 70 mph, a massive wall of fire descended on the Old Faithful
area from the Madison Plateau to the southwest. There was nothing firefighters could do to stop it. Fire roared across this large valley, jumped the Firehole, climbed the ridge on the opposite side and continued across the Central Plateau. In fact, it took a herculean effort and a lot of luck to save the Old Faithful Inn
To return to the trailhead, continue along the trail as it switchbacks steeply to the valley floor. Stay left when it rejoins the Mystic Falls Trail
and proceed through Biscuit Basin to the trailhead.
Thanks to guidebook author, Tom Carter, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about visiting Yellowstone, check out his book, Day Hiking Yellowstone
Fire ripped through this area in 1988, charring the lodgepole pines. These trees have an unusual way of coping. Besides their annual seed cones, they produce special "serotinous cones," which only open at temperatures that exceed 113° F. Today, you can spot an abundance of immature lodgepoles that were born in the aftermath of the fire. As the trail climbs through fire-burned areas, look for other "pioneer" vegetation. The tall, green, two to three-foot stems with multiple deep pink flowers are known as "fireweed," in recognition of their ability to populate burned-over areas. Other plants that enjoy the increased sunlight include colorful clumps of purple lupine (distant relative of the Texas bluebonnet) and tiny clusters of stark white pearly everlasting (whose hardy flowers live up to their name). There also are opportunities to see yellow-bellied marmots on this trail.