Fairy Falls-Imperial Geyser
ElevationAscent: 220' 67 m
Descent: -220' -67 m
High: 7,338' 2,237 m
Low: 7,249' 2,209 m
GradeAvg Grade: 1% (1°)
Max Grade: 7% (4°)
Current trail conditions
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“A popular hike to impressive hot springs and geysers, and one of Yellowstone’s highest falls.”— Tom Carter
The Fairy Falls-Imperial Geyser trail lies in the Firehole Bear Management Area. Each year it is closed March 10 through the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.
The normal trailhead for the Fairy Falls-Imperial Geyser hike is CLOSED for 2016-17. Hikers can access Fairy Falls using the Fountain Freight Road Trailhead located north of Midway Geyser Basin. But it adds at an extra 3-4 miles round-trip depending on the route.
Look closely, even the steam over Grand Prismatic reflects the brilliant colors of the pool. In 1839, mountain man, Osborne Russell described it this way, “At length we came to a boiling lake about 300 ft. in diameter... The steam which arose from it was of three distinct colors from the west side for one third the diameter it was white, in the middle it was pale red, and the remaining third on the east light sky blue...”
At the 1.0-mile mark, the trail turns left, leaves the freight road and enters the forest. This area was dramatically affected by the fires of 1988. As devastated as this forest appeared, it was not dead. In fact, by some measures it was more alive than before. Yellowstone was covered by aging lodgepole pine trees. This "lodgepole desert," as some called it, supported relatively few species of plants and animals. The fires opened the overhead canopy and cleared the cluttered forest floor. Within weeks, grasses and other plant life began sprouting and small animals began feeding on the feast of seeds dropped during the fire. Eagles, hawks, and owls then moved in to prey on these vulnerable animals. Burned trees attracted insects that in turn attracted a variety of other birds. Stop and look for signs of new life. Listen for the sounds of a forest alive.
At the 2.5-mile mark, Fairy Falls is reached. Fairy Creek shoots out over the edge of the Madison Plateau and plunges 197 feet into a peaceful pool beneath. Members of the 1871 Hayden Survey discovered the falls from the top of one of the nearby Twin Buttes. They named it for the "graceful beauty with which the little stream dropped down a clear descent."
To reach Imperial Geyser, continue another 0.5 miles farther west along the trail. This geyser became quite active in the 1920s. Because of its size (80-foot bursts from a 100-foot crater) and importance, a contest was organized to give the new geyser a name. Soon after the name "Imperial" was chosen the geyser fell dormant. Imperial Geyser erupted again from 1966 through 1984. Today, it merely boils and overflows its impressive crater and waits for subterranean changes to call it forth once again. Follow Imperial's large runoff channel 0.2 miles to the east to find Spray Geyser. This colorful geyser lies just north of the channel and erupts frequently through several openings to a height of 6 feet. When you are finished exploring, return to the trailhead via the same route you came.
Thanks to guidebook author, Tom Carter, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about visiting Yellowstone, check out his book, Day Hiking Yellowstone.