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Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States

Fairy Falls - Yellowstone National Park

This easy hike to the 197-foot-tall Fairy Falls passes Grand Prismatic Spring, wildflowers, lodgepole pine, and more.

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Difficulty: Easy
Length: 2.5 miles / 4.0 km
Duration: 1-3 hours
Family Friendly
Overview: The hike to Fairy Falls is very easy despite its length. The trail passes Grand Prismatic Spring, and a short detour scramble up a hill offers a spectacular view of the spring. Along the hike are tons of wildflowers, obsidian, lodgepole pines, and other wildlife. Fairy Falls is 197 ft tall.

Tips: Plan on hiking for about 2-3 hours round trip if you turn around at the falls. Alternatively, you can continue on past Fairy Falls to Spray Geyser and Imperial Geyser. This will add another hour to your trip.

Bring plenty of water and good shoes. This trail is fairly popular, but the dense trees make it so you don't notice the other hikers.

Points of Interest


Firehole River Bridge

The information stand on the north side of the Firehole River Bridge shows that the Fairy Falls trailhead is in 1.0 mi.

Good Place to Take Pictures From

The foot trails going up the hill on the left of the Fountain Freight Road Trail do not look official. However, a Yellowstone Park Ranger told his group that he highly recommended the short scramble to the top of the hill to get a good view of Grand Prismatic Spring.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Notice the brilliant colors of the Grand Prismatic Spring ahead on the right. Early visitors to the park were told it was “so dazzling that the eye cannot endure it.” Most of the colors you see are caused by algae, which thrives in the hot spring water at temperatures up to 167° F. At that temperature, the algae is normally a light yellow color. Soon orange, red and finally green algae are found near the outer edge of the spring.

Excelsior Geyser Crater


Turquoise Pool


Opal Pool


Fairy Falls Trailhead

At the 1-mile mark, the trail turns left, leaves the freight road, and enters the forest.

As You Hike

Virtually all of this trail has been affected by the fires of 1988. As devastated as this forest may appear, it is not dead. In fact, by some measures it is 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 up 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. Hawks, in turn, traveled great distances to prey on these vulnerable animals. Burned trees attracted insects that in turn attracted a variety of birds.

Listen for the sounds of a forest alive.

Much of the trail is dark gray from obsidian.

Fairy Falls

At the 2.5-mile mark, you will reach Fairy Falls. Fairy Creek shoots out over the edge of the Madison Plateau and plunges 197 feet. Members of the 1871 Hayden Survey named it for the “graceful beauty with which the little stream dropped down a clear descent.”

At this point, you can either turn around and return to your car the way you came, or you can continue another mile to Imperial Geyser and Spray Geyser.

Imperial Geyser

Temperature 200°F Interval seconds to 2 hours and occasional dormancy. Duration seconds to 3 minutes. Height 6-80 feet. The geyser became active in 1927. In 1929 a contest among visiting newspaper men named this popular new thermal feature. The eruptions during that year were so violent-reaching 80 to 150 feet high- that its plumbing system may have been damaged creating steam and pressure leakage. The geyser went into dormancy until 1966 when it began a near constant eruption. In 1985 Imperial again went into dormancy, but continues to boil and churn. The 75x100 feet alkaline pool is known for its clear, blue-colored water. The discharge has been estimated at 500 gallons per minute. In 1988 a wildfire swept through this area and even burned logs, projecting from the pool, to the water line.

Spray Geyser

Temperature 199°F Interval 1-5 minutes. Duration 3-10 minutes. Height 10-25 feet. An old and popular small geyser, Spray has had regular eruptions since its early discovery. It has the same energy source as Imperial Geyser at the base of South Twin Butte. It is one of the few geysers that has a longer eruption time (duration) than the interval between eruptions. When it erupts there are two main jets of water. The main column jets at a 70° angle and both jets spray with some of the water dissipating into steam. A lush mat of chocolate-brown-colored cyanobacteria and algae cover the vent and vicinity.
Leisure hike, even for seniors! Round trip was about 3.5 hours at a comfortably slow pace. The trail to the turnoff to Fairy Falls is a graveled maintenance road. From the turnoff it is a well layed out trail with a few muddy/mushy spots. The Falls were very full and the spray was cool and refreshing.
Visited on May 27, 2014

by jimjones.asheville on May 27, 2014

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