Fairy Falls

Yellowstone National Park / Old Faithful, Wyoming, USA

About Fairy Falls


Hiking Distance: 5.6 miles round trip (incl. Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook)
Suggested Time: 2.5-3 hours

Date first visited: 2004-06-19
Date last visited: 2017-08-11

Waterfall Latitude: 44.52429
Waterfall Longitude: -110.85982

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Fairy Falls (I’ve also seen it referred to as Fairy Fall) was one of the taller waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park with a reported height of 197ft, where it plunged for most of that drop.

Since Fairy Creek was on a narrow stream as it made this plunge, it had a wispy and thin appearance.

However, both of our visits (once in June 2004 and another in August 2017) showed us that this waterfall had surprisingly consistent flow.

Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_152_08112017 - Fairy Falls
Fairy Falls

This contrasted with what I would have thought how a seasonal waterfall would have behaved, where it ought to go dry towards late Summer given such an appearance of light volume.

That consistent flowing characteristic perplexed to me as it wasn’t obvious what was the main reason behind it.

Nonetheless, the book The Guide to Yellowstone Waterfalls and Their Discovery proposed that there was some seepage behind the middle of the falls causing a waterfall behind a waterfall effect (kind of like Running Eagle Falls in Glacier National Park).

The book also went on to say that over time, Fairy Creek was in the beginning stages of carving out a natural bridge. Only time will tell if that will happen in our lifetime.

The Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook

While this waterfall was impressive in its own right, it actually took a back seat to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, which was the only place we knew that you could see the giant spring in its entirety without being in the air.

Prior to our latest visit in August 2017, that overlook was nothing more than informal views up unofficial “social” trails on a hillside.

When we first visited back in 2004, we attained such a view when it was relatively unknown.

But over the years, that view grew in popularity. Somehow we felt partly responsible as our website analytics showed that the photo we took from there was one of this website’s most viewed photos.

Fairy_Falls_005_06192004 - The Grand Prismatic Spring from the informal social trails up the hillside as seen back in June 2004
The Grand Prismatic Spring from the informal social trails up the hillside as seen back in June 2004

So the amount of off-trail scrambling to attain such views resulted in erosion on that hillside.

Anyhow, now the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook could be reached on a sanctioned (and now much more crowded) trail about 0.8 miles from the trailhead (or 1.6 miles round trip).

The Fairy Falls Trail to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook Spur

However, Fairy Falls still remained a relatively quieter experience as it required a hike of about 5.6 miles round trip (about 2.5-3 hours) to even reach it!

The Fairy Falls hike began at the very crowded trailhead parking lot (see directions below).

After passing by a couple of hot springs flanking the parking area, the trail then crossed a bridge over the Firehole River.

Then, the trail proceeded along a flat wide path skirting following some power lines at the base of large hills flanking the left side while the wide expanse of the river and the Grand Prismatic Spring in the distance was on the right.

In our first visit back in June 2004, the hills were mostly populated with burnt trees, which was the result of the 1988 wildfires.

Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_183_08112017 - Looking towards the Fairy Falls Trailhead to show the context of the hills and trees on one side and the wide open expanse of thermal badlands on the other side
Looking towards the Fairy Falls Trailhead to show the context of the hills and trees on one side and the wide open expanse of thermal badlands on the other side

However, on a later visit in August 2017, the area seemed to have recovered nicely as newer healthier trees seemed to have taken their place.

We also noticed that fences were erected all along the left side of the hill to discourage off-trail scrambling up the hills for pretty much the entire stretch of this section of trail.

At about a half-mile, the trail reached a fork where the path on the left ascended moderately uphill while the path on the right continued along the power lines.

The trail on the left climbed before making a bend towards a large lookout platform that was now known as the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook. This was the new trail that was completed just before our August 2017 visit.

Prior to that, we had found some of those aforementioned “social” trails that led up the hillside amongst the burnt trees and new sproutlings. There was enough spacing to peer back towards the entirety of the impressive Grand Prismatic Spring once we got high enough on the hills.

Once we had our fill of this overlook, we had to hike back down to the trail fork. However, it looked like that as of this writing, the Montana Conservation Corps. were in the process of completing the other side of this detour, which would eliminate this backtracking.

The Fairy Falls Trail beyond the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook

Back at the main trail, the crowds dramatically thinned out as I continued to follow the main trail, which still followed along the power lines and fences on the left.

Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_069_08112017 - Continuing on the main trail beyond the spur to the Grand Prismatic Spring, where it followed along a fence (to discourage off-trail scrambling) as well as some power lines
Continuing on the main trail beyond the spur to the Grand Prismatic Spring, where it followed along a fence (to discourage off-trail scrambling) as well as some power lines

At about a mile from the trailhead (or another half-mile beyond the point where I rejoined the main trail from the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook), I encountered a signed trail junction in a fairly wide open area.

This was the spur trail leading to the Fairy Falls, and that was where I went next. Also at the junction was what appeared to be a bike rack, which suggested to me that mountain bikers could conceivably make it here before it would become foot traffic only on the Fairy Falls Spur Trail.

Meanwhile, going straight on the trail I was on (instead of taking the Fairy Falls Spur Trail) would continue towards the Fountain Flat Drive and Goose Lake.

On the Fairy Falls Spur Trail, the trail narrowed a bit more as it went beneath the power lines and then entered a forested area.

When I first did this trail back in June 2004, this area was still recovering from the 1988 wildfires that pretty much burned every tree here except save for a handful of them. There were lots of downed trees but there were also sproutlings that were probably not much taller than I was.

On my second visit in August 2017, this area seemed to have recovered nicely as the neighboring hills were now obstructed by taller trees, and the tallest trees standing in this grove must have been the ones that survived the 1988 wildfires.

This was evidence that Nature tended to do a pretty good job of rehabilitating itself, and that fires were a necessary aspect of the natural cycle of life as far as vegetation was concerned.

Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_099_08112017 - The tallest trees along the trail were most likely the trees that had survived the 1988 wildfires
The tallest trees along the trail were most likely the trees that had survived the 1988 wildfires

The only issue as far as humans were concerned was that it took nearly 30 years (which would be a significant chunk of a human lifetime) for the forest to get back to this state. This highlighted the patience required for Nature to do its thing.

The Fairy Falls Spur Trail would persist this way for pretty much the next 1.6 miles. At 0.4 miles from the trail junction, there was a small stream crossing, and at 3/4-mile from the trail junction, there was a signed spur (saying something about “ODI No Campfire”). According to my map, that spur trail led to the Fairy Meadows Campsite.

There were also still some pockets of fallen trees and clearings as reminders of the inferno that once passed through here. Other than that, it was a semi-shady hike that was pretty quiet and flat, and it felt a little bit longer than when I remembered doing this hike the first time.

The Fairy Falls Experience

Eventually, the trail skirted along the hillside, and shortly thereafter, it veered left before I was finally able to witness the imposing Fairy Falls.

It was somewhat against the afternoon sun when I made my visits, and because it was a north-facing waterfall, it very would be against the sun (or at least in total shadow) for most of the day.

The closer I got to the waterfall, the harder it was to photograph the entirety of the falls due to its height.

There were only a handful of people here during my visit in August 2017. Back in June 2004, I was the only person here.

Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_125_08112017 - Finally at the base of Fairy Falls
Finally at the base of Fairy Falls

This attested to how much more peaceful and tranquil the Fairy Falls experience was compared to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook.

The trail kept going on towards the Imperial Geyser and Spray Geyser while also continuing on to a much longer loop trail encompassing the Mystic Falls and the Biscuit Basin.

But this was my turnaround point, and I returned back the way I came.

Authorities

Fairy Falls resides in Yellowstone National Park. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit the National Park Service website.

Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_001_08112017 - At the very busy parking lot for the Fairy Falls Trail
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_005_08112017 - This was one of the hot springs by the parking lot for Fairy Falls
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_008_08112017 - Julie crossing the bridge over the Firehole River at the Fairy Falls Trailhead
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_016_08112017 - Looking over a hot spring towards the Firehole River from the Fairy Falls Trail
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_024_08112017 - This was the climbing stretch as the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook Trail left the Fairy Falls Trail
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_027_08112017 - The Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook Trail then veered to the right and followed these fences
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_029_08112017 - This trail closure by the police tape suggested that there could either be more trail work to extend the trail this way or a restoration area where damage and erosion once occurred
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_030_08112017 - Making our way up to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_041_08112017 - This photo perhaps conveys how crowded it was up at the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_035_08112017 - Once I was finally able to squeeze my way towards a decent view of Grand Prismatic Spring, that was when I could finally take meaningful photos
Fairy_Falls_004_06192004 - Back in June 2004, this was one of the photos we took of the Grand Prismatic Spring from somewhere up one of the social trails on the hillside
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_071_08112017 - Checking out the edges of the thermal badlands caused by the Grand Prismatic Spring
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_076_08112017 - Looking towards the Grand Prismatic Spring from the Fairy Falls Trail
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_080_08112017 - Continuing on the wide Fairy Falls Trail
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_085_08112017 - At the trail junction where the spur trail for Fairy Falls was past the rocks on the left
Fairy_Falls_007_06192004 - Julie on the flat main trail approaching the signed junction back in June 2004. Note the difference in the vegetation
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_093_08112017 - On the Fairy Falls Spur Trail as it meandered amongst a recovering forest
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_096_08112017 - Some parts of the Fairy Falls Trail passed through some fairly dense re-generated forest
Fairy_Falls_008_06192004 - Julie on the spur trail leading away from the main trail and towards the falls in June 2004. Notice how the badly burnt trees opened up the vistas compared to the more recent photos taken in August 2017
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_110_08112017 - Looking over some wildflowers towards some burnt trees that might have been from a fire more recent than the 1988 inferno
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_113_08112017 - As the Fairy Falls Spur Trail finally left the dense part of the forest, it then skirted the foot of the neighboring hills
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_147_08112017 - Finally arriving at the impressive Fairy Falls
Fairy_Falls_008_jx_06192004 - This was how the Fairy Falls looked back in June 2004
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_133_08112017 - This was probably as close to Fairy Falls as I could get and still capture the whole height of the falls in a single frame
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_140_08112017 - Looking out from the base of Fairy Falls
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_159_08112017 - On a trail as quiet as this, there was bound to be some incidental wildlife sighting
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_163_08112017 - Approaching the trail junction
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_173_08112017 - The Montana Conservation Corps was hard at work to finish the trail work for the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_180_08112017 - Approaching the trail junction with the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook spur trail. After that junction was the home stretch to get back to the trailhead

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The Fairy Falls Trailhead was roughly 4 miles north from the on-ramp leaving Old Faithful Village and heading north on the Grand Loop Road. The pair of turnoffs going into the Fairy Falls Parking Lot would be on the left as you head north. Given the limited parking space in the lot, we noticed quite a few people also parked on available road shoulders along the Grand Loop Road.

Conversely, the parking lot for Fairy Falls was about 11.7 miles south of Madison Junction on the right.

For a little context, Old Faithful was about 17 miles (under 30 minutes drive) south of the Madison Junction and about 19 miles (30 minutes drive) west of the West Thumb Junction. It was also about 98 miles (2.5 hours drive) north of Jackson and about 32 miles (an hour drive) east of West Yellowstone, Montana.

For additional geographical context, West Yellowstone, Montana was 58 miles (at least 90 minutes drive) south of Gardiner, Montana, 90 miles (over 90 minutes drive) south of Bozeman, Montana, 72 miles (under 2 hours drive) north of Flagg Ranch (near Yellowstone’s South Entrance), and 321 miles (about 4.5 hours drive) north of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Downstream to upstream sweep revealing the falls and surrounding cliffs before scrambling a little closer for a more angled look at the falls


Looking around the base of Fairy Falls before heading downstream for a few more looks at the falls in context

Tagged with: madison, old faithful, midway, grand prismatic spring, fire, yellowstone, west yellowstone, wyoming, waterfall, rockies, rocky mountains, jackson, park county



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