Searching for optimal viewpoints for the Grand Prismatic Spring? Discover three options, including the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook and more.
The Grand Prismatic Spring stands as one of the most remarkable attractions in Yellowstone National Park, and rightfully so. The name itself is incredibly fitting—prismatic means “brilliantly colored,” and that’s precisely what this natural wonder delivers. It’s a spectacular sight unlike anything else in the park.
There are two primary ways to view Grand Prismatic Spring—via a hike to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook or a stroll on the 0.8-mile boardwalk at the Midway Geyser Basin. In this guide, I will provide tips and tricks for both. Additionally, there’s a 3rd bucket list option that I’ll discuss later on.
Grand Prismatic Spring Overview
The Grand Prismatic Spring stands as the largest hot spring in the United States and claims the third spot globally in terms of size, with the top two positions held by Frying Pan Lake in New Zealand and Boiling Lake in Dominica. The hot spring is located in the Midway Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park.
The bright rainbow hues that the Grand Prismatic Spring is known for are attributed to various factors, depending on the color. For example, the vibrant blue in the center of the hot spring is due to sunlight being scattered by fine particles suspended in the water. While the yellow and orange colors that outline the hot spring are caused by thermophiles—microorganisms that thrive in the spring’s high temperatures.
With temperatures soaring up to 160°F (70°C), Grand Prismatic Spring is frequently covered in steam. Hence, the ideal time to observe the hot spring is typically on a nice summer day in the mid-afternoon when the sun has dissipated the steam. Though, that’s also when traffic in the park is at its peak, so patience will be key.
Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook
DISTANCE: 1.6 MILES
EXPECTED DURATION: 15-20 MINUTES TO REACH THE OVERLOOK
BEST TIME TO VISIT: LATE-MAY THROUGH EARLY OCTOBER
The Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook offers a higher viewpoint of the hot spring, which, in my opinion, provides the most impressive vantage. To reach the overlook, a hike of about 1.6 miles (round trip) on a section of the Fairy Falls Trail is required.
To access the trail, park your vehicle in the Fairy Falls parking lot. The lot is relatively large by Yellowstone National Park standards, making it unlikely you’ll have to wait too long to find a spot. The Fairy Falls Trail also leads to Fairy Falls (waterfalls), providing the option for a dual hike if you’re interested.
However, if your goal is solely the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, when you reach a fork in the path around 0.6 miles in, choose the trail on the left marked “Trail”.
The remaining 0.2 miles of the hike are more challenging due to the short uphill climb. Hiking shoes are recommended, but a good pair of walking shoes will do. Most people in reasonable physical shape should be able to manage well, although this final segment is not suitable for wheelchairs or easily maneuvered with strollers.
After capturing all the photos you desire, retrace your steps along the same path (0.8 miles back) to return to the parking lot.
Midway Geyser Basin
DISTANCE: 0.8 MILES
EXPECTED DURATION: ALLOCATE 1 HOUR+ TO WALK AROUND AND TAKE PICTURES
BEST TIME TO VISIT: LATE-MAY THROUGH EARLY OCTOBER
To view the Grand Prismatic Spring at eye level, make your way to the Midway Geyser Basin. Here, a 0.8-mile boardwalk encircles the Grand Prismatic Spring, as well as the Excelsior Geyser Crater, Opal Pool, and Turquoise Pool.
I highly recommend taking the time to explore the hot springs from this vantage point as well, if your schedule allows. Seeing the vibrant colors up close is truly something special.
If you’re coming from the Fairy Falls parking lot after visiting the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, you’ll need to relocate your vehicle to the Grand Prismatic Spring parking lot to visit the Midway Geyser Basin. It’ll be about a 5-minute drive to the north.
Unfortunately, this parking lot is much smaller and can become quite congested during the park’s peak season (June, July, and August). You may find yourself needing to park your car at one of the pullouts along the roadside and walk a ways to reach the boardwalk entrance.
The 0.8-mile walk on the boardwalk is wheelchair-accessible and can also be easily navigated with strollers. The trail is consistently flat with little to no elevation change.
⚠️ Warning: Swimming in the hot springs is strictly prohibited. There are no railings on the boardwalk to prevent access to Grand Prismatic Spring so it’s crucial not to venture “off trail” to test how hot the temperature of the springs are firsthand.
While I know it may be tempting to head straight to Grand Prismatic Spring, make sure to take some time to enjoy the other sights along the way:
Excelsior Geyser Crater was once an active geyser but is now considered a dormant hot spring due to its infrequent eruptions. The last eruption was back in 1985. The crater itself is an enormous and vibrant blue pool, measuring approximately 276 feet (84 meters) in diameter and reaching depths of up to 200 feet (61 meters).
Opal Pool is considered a fountain-type geyser and looks like a mini version of the Grand Prismatic Spring with varying shades of blue, green, and orange. Opal Pool is considered the largest active geyser at Midway Geyser Basin with eruptions happening at least once a year.
Turquoise Pool is characterized by its stunning turquoise-blue coloration. This hot spring has a temperature between 142 and 160 °F (61 and 71 °C) and is the final pool along the boardwalk.
Helicopter Tour of Grand Prismatic Spring
Now, for my favorite vantage point of them all…drum roll please…a bird’s eye view via a helicopter tour with Rocky Mountain Rotors. As of 2023, Rocky Mountain Rotors stands as the sole company that offers flights to the Grand Prismatic Spring.
While other companies like Yellowstone Helicopters provide tours of Yellowstone National Park ranging from 10 to 60 minutes, they do not have clearance to fly over the Grand Prismatic Spring. It’s still an amazing experience though if you want to check a flying in a helicopter off your bucket list!
Rocky Mountain Rotors is located in the heart of helicopter country just to the north of Yellowstone National Park at the Yellowstone International Airport near Bozeman, Montana. The company provides a fleet of five helicopters that vary in size and capacity to accommodate different numbers of passengers (up to 7).
All flights are custom photo flights tailored to the customer’s wishes. My husband and I of course wanted to see Grand Prismatic Spring but opted to make a large loop of Yellowstone so we weren’t seeing the same thing twice, which included Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and some hidden gems.
Prices start at $850/per hour for 3 passengers.
When departing from their base in Bozeman, the photo flight typically lasts around 2.5 hours, and let me tell you, the time flies by! It’s recommended to book 3-4 weeks in advance, especially if you’re planning this adventure for late spring or summer.
As you can see from the pictures we took on the tour below, the views are INCREDIBLE! I can’t even adequately describe the sensation of witnessing such an iconic landmark from high above. While it’s definitely a significant investment, the experience is truly a once-in-a-lifetime. To book a tour or for more information, call (406) 579-9312.
Top Tours of Grand Prismatic Spring
If you’re interested in exploring the national park with an expert guide who can showcase the attractions stress-free, here are a few tour options that allow you to discover Grand Prismatic Spring and other popular sites without any hassle.
Yellowstone Lower Loop Full-Day Tour
⭐️ RATING: 5 out of 5 stars (318 reviews) |⌛️ TOUR LENGTH: 10 to 12 hours (approx.) | 🏔 INCLUDES: Expert guide, Hotel pickup/dropoff, Lunch, snacks and bottled water, Visit to popular sites like Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and more | ➡️ BOOK HERE
Private Yellowstone Tour: ICONIC Sites, Wildlife, Family Friendly Hikes + Lunch
⭐️ RATING: 5 out of 5 stars (263 reviews) |⌛️ TOUR LENGTH: 7 to 9 hours (approx.) | 🏔 INCLUDES: Private tour, Hotel pickup/dropoff, Picnic lunch at a scenic location, Visit to popular sites like Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and more | ➡️ BOOK HERE
VIP Private Boutique Tour of Yellowstone’s Lower Loop – West Yellowstone, MT
⭐️ RATING: 5 out of 5 stars (177 reviews) |⌛️ TOUR LENGTH: 7 to 9 hours (approx.) | 🏔 INCLUDES: Customizable tour, Hotel pickup/dropoff, Snacks and bottled water, Professional-quality portraits, Visit to popular sites like Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, and more | ➡️ BOOK HERE
Where to Stay Near Grand Prismatic Spring
The closest hotel to Grand Prismatic Spring is Old Faithful Inn (a 20-minute drive) which is conveniently located right next to the world-famous Old Faithful Geyser. With over 300 rooms, the inn offers a variety of accommodations, including recently renovated suites and deluxe rooms that reflect the history of Yellowstone National Park.
Reservations open up a year in advance and it’s highly encouraged to book early. Old Faithful Inn is open from early May through early October.
If you’re planning to visit Yellowstone for the day but prefer to stay near Grand Teton National Park, you have that option as well. The journey from Grand Tetons to Grand Prismatic Springs typically takes around 2 to 3 hours by car.
How long should you spend at Grand Prismatic Spring?
The amount of time you should spend at Grand Prismatic Spring can vary depending on how much you want to explore the area and take in the sights. Generally, you should set aside 1-2 hours to visit the Grand Prismatic Spring. Especially if you add the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook to your experience.
This allows you enough time to walk along the boardwalks, take photos, admire the vibrant colors, and enjoy the unique geothermal features of the area. Keep in mind that the popularity of the site can impact the crowd levels and the time you might spend waiting to park and access certain viewpoints, especially during peak season.
Is Grand Prismatic Spring free to visit?
Yes, visiting Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park is free. There is no separate admission fee to access the area and view the spring.
However, keep in mind that you’ll need to pay the entrance fee to enter Yellowstone National Park itself, which covers access to all the park’s attractions, including Grand Prismatic Spring. The entrance fee is valid for seven consecutive days and allows you to explore various other iconic features and attractions within the park as well.
A visit to Grand Prismatic Spring is an unforgettable experience that immerses you in the beauty and unique geothermal wonders of Yellowstone National Park. The vibrant colors, steamy mist, and diverse microbial life make this hot spring a must-see attraction for nature enthusiasts and travelers alike.
Whether you choose to admire it from the overlook, stroll along the boardwalk, or even take a helicopter tour, I hope you now have a better understanding of the different ways to explore this natural wonder. Enjoy your visit!
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