Norris Geyser Basin Hike (Yellowstone National Park)

The Norris Geyser Basin offers great hiking at the hottest and most changeable thermal area in Yellowstone National Park. The hiking trails at the Norris Geyser Basin are well maintained due to the extreme thermal and geological conditions found in the Norris Geyser Basin. The Norris Geyser Basin is comprised of two distinctive hiking sections, the Black Basin and the Porcelain Basin. For more pictures of the Norris Geyser Basin make sure to check out our Facebook Page.

Directions to Trailhead: To get to the trailhead to hike at the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park you are going to head to the Norris Junction within Yellowstone National Park. Norris Junction is located 21 miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs, or 12 miles west of Canyon Village, or 14 miles north of Madison. At Norris Junction there are signs directing you to the Norris Geyser Basin. There is ample parking available at the Norris Geyser Basin.  This is a very popular hiking spot and you are likely to see other Yellowstone National Park visitors while hiking at the Norris Geyser Basin. Click Here for an interactive map of Yellowstone National Park to locate Norris Junction. There is an entrance fee for Yellowstone National Park, but no permit is required to hike in the Norris Geyser Basin. Make sure to stay on the boardwalk and designated hiking trails, and do not touch any hydrothermal features.

Description of Hike: The Norris Geyser Basin is the the hottest geyser basin in Yellowstone National Park. The basin is comprised of two distinct hiking sections, the Black Basin Hiking Trail and the Porcelain Basin Hiking Trail. The Porcelain Basin side of Norris Geyser Basin can be explored on two easy boardwalk loops. The main loop is half a mile long, and an auxiliary loop adds another half mile. The Back Basin Trail is a 1.5-mile loop passing numerous hot springs and geysers. Both loops have minimal elevation gain. Before you set out, pick up a copy of the Norris Geyser Basin Trail Guide, which offers a map of the trails, along with photos and concise descriptions of key hydrothermal features along the trail.

The Black Basin Trail (Blue Line Below) in Yellowstone National Park's Norris Geyser basin is located in a forest setting. The black basin trail contains numerous geysers and hot springs tucked among the trees. From the Norris Geyser Basin Museum and Bookstore, the first thermal feature reached heading down the northeast side of the loop is Emerald Spring. Emerald Spring is a 27 foot deep, green colored, pool of water which usually stays a few degrees below boiling. The bubbles you see are caused by carbon dioxide, steam, and other gasses. The water is about as acidic as tomato juice. The green color is due to the combination of the blue of the deep water and the yellow of sulfur that lines the pool’s walls. Emerald has been known to act as a geyser in the past sometimes reaching as much as 80 feet tall but this hasn't been seen since the early 1930s.

Next, the boardwalk slips through more pines and arrives at Steamboat Geyser, which is the world's tallest geyser (Seen in picture to right) geyser with record setting eruptions of 300 to 400 feet. These massive eruptions are quite rare, so you are more likely to see plumes of steam and small eruptions about ten feet tall than you are to be there the day the large eruption goes off.. If you continue down the path you will find Cistern Spring which is somehow connect to Steamboat Geyser. Cistern Spring is an indicator for Steamboat Geyser. After Steamboat Geyser has a major eruption, Cistern Spring will empty and spend the next couple days refilling in order to return to its usual state as an overflowing blue pool. For more information on Steamboat Geyser's last eruption click Here.

At Cistern Spring turn left and continue on the boardwalk. You will pass other hydrothermal features like Black Pit Spring, Echinus Geyser, Arch Steam Vent, Mystic Spring, Puff ‘n Stuff Geyser, Black Hermit Caldron, Green Dragon Spring, Blue Mud Steam Vent, Yellow Funnel Spring, Porkchop Geyser, Pearl Geyser, and Vixen Geyser. You can continue on the hiking trail and see Palpitaor Spring, Fearless Geyser, and Minute Geyser. The last labeled geyser on the loop is Minute Geyser. For the first half of the 20th century, Minute Geyser was an extremely popular geyser to visit because, it literally erupted every minute. This all changed when tourists threw rocks into the geyser’s main hole, clogging the artery and forever changing the geyser’s eruptions. The once-a-minute eruptions, sometimes as high as 50 feet, have now been replaced with unpredictable and less dramatic eruptions from a smaller vent. When hiking at the Norris Geyser basin remember that geysers are one of rarest features on earth, so please avoid creating another Minute Geyser and do not throw anything into any of Yellowstone’s geysers.
The Porcelain Basin Trail (Yellow Line Below) in Yellowstone National Park is characterized by a lack of vegetation. No plants can live in the hot, acidic, water emitted from the numerous thermal features in the Porcelain Basin. Porcelain Basin presents a beautiful but desolate visage which is unlike any of the other geyser basins in Yellowstone. You will find that once you step out from the Norris Geyser Basin Museum you have a beautiful view of the chalky hydrothermal basin circled by a wooden boardwalk that you will be compelled to hike. To begin exploring Porcelain Basin, continue straight on the Porcelain Basin Hiking Trail. You will reach the top of the main loop just above Ledge Geyser. As you walk along the trail, you will spot small geysers, hot springs, and vents in every direction.

The boardwalk passes Constant Geyser, Whirligig Geyser, and Pinwheel Geyser before looping back toward Ledge Geyser in a counter-clockwise direction. The last major hydrothermal feature is Crackling Lake, an emerald green pond of boiling water. Due to the ever-shifting makeup of Norris Geyser Basin, there are numerous unnamed but not unimpressive features along the boardwalk.

Further Thoughts:  Ashley and I thoroughly enjoyed our hike through both the Black Basin and the Porcelain Basin. Being able to see the thermal features at the Norris Geyser Basin is truly inspiring and you feel like you are on another planet. It is fun to see the same look on the faces of other visitors as everyone is completely fascinated by the possibility of a geyser eruption as well as seeing all the thermal features. This hiking trail is well maintained by the national park service due to the extreme environment the trail goes through. Make sure to stay on the designated trail/boardwalk as you would not want to end up in boiling water. This is a fun family friendly hike in Yellowstone that can be completed in relatively short time.

The Norris Geyser Basin offers great diversity in thermal features largely because it is at the junction of several disturbances in the earth's crust. A major fault (rock fracture) runs south from the Mammoth Hot Springs area toward Norris. This fault crosses another fault extending eastward from Hebgen Lake to Norris. Both of these breaks in the earth's surface intersect with fractures radiating from the great caldera that dominates central Yellowstone. Water from rain and snowfall percolates downward through cracks and fissures and becomes heated, rising to the surface again as a hot spring, geyser, mud pot, or steam vent. At Norris, a rare combination of ingredients creates a landscape unique on this planet.

One of the neatest things along the entire Norris Geyser Basin hiking trails are all the interpretive signs and informational signs about the area and its thermal features. One of the most interesting was on the July 2003 thermal disturbance. In July 2003, the Norris Geyser Basin lived up to its hot, unstable reputation as scientists and visitors witnessed vast changes in many geysers and increased ground temperatures in the southwestern part of the geyser basin. First, Steamboat Geyser erupted twice in the Spring of 2003 on 26 March and 27 April, and then again in the fall on October 22. During that time period several new geothermal features formed along the black basin trail and ground temperatures along portions of the hiking trail were recorded at 200 degrees Fahrenheit. For more information on the 2003 event click Here.

Bottom-line is the Norris Geyser Basin hike is a great hiking location in Yellowstone National Park!

Rating: Black Basin Trail: Elevation Gain: < 100 ft. (Easy), Distance: 1.5 Miles Roundtrip (Easy); Porcelain Basin Trail: Elevation Gain: < 100 ft. (Easy), Distance: 1 Mile Roundtrip (Easy)

Time to Complete Hike: 1 - 2 hours.


Lost Lake

Mammoth Hot Springs

Norris Geyser Basin (This Post)

Storm Point

View Norris Geyser Basin in a larger map