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: -110.87016

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, and 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.

Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_152_08112017 - Fairy Falls as seen in mid-August 2017
Fairy Falls as seen in mid-August 2017

Yet despite its seemingly low flow, it seemed to be a consistent performer as evidenced by how it behaved in mid-June 2004 and in mid-August 2017.

This contrasted with what I would have thought how a seasonal waterfall would behave, where it ought to go dry towards late Summer given such seemingly 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.

Fairy_Falls_008_jx_06192004 - Fairy Falls as seen in mid-June 2004
Fairy Falls as seen in mid-June 2004

This was not unlike the 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 Fairy Falls was impressive in its own right, it actually took a back seat to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook.

GPS_Overlook_085_08062020 - The Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook from the newly-built spur trail (completed in 2017) uphill from the Fairy Falls Trail as seen in August 2020
The Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook from the newly-built spur trail (completed in 2017) uphill from the Fairy Falls Trail as seen in August 2020

It was the only place we knew that you could see the giant and colorful 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 June 2004, we attained such a view when it was relatively unknown.

But over the years, that informal view of the Grand Prismatic Spring grew in popularity.

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

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.

Nevertheless, 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).

Fairy Falls Trail Description – hiking to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook Spur

Even with the popularity of the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, Fairy Falls still remained a relatively quieter experience.

GPS_Overlook_150_08062020 - One of the hot springs seen near the Fairy Falls Trailhead before we got started on the actual hike itself
One of the hot springs seen near the Fairy Falls Trailhead before we got started on the actual hike itself

That may be largely due to the fact that 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.

Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_183_08112017 - Looking back 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 back 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

Meanwhile, 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.

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.

Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_024_08112017 - Julie and Tahia ascending the newly-built trail leading to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook during our August 2017 visit
Julie and Tahia ascending the newly-built trail leading to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook during our August 2017 visit

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.

Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_041_08112017 - The crazy-busy overlook at the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook as seen during our August 2017 visit
The crazy-busy overlook at the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook as seen during our August 2017 visit

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 our August 2017 visit, the Montana Conservation Corps were in the process of completing the other side of this detour, which would eliminate this backtracking.

Fairy Falls Trail Description – 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.

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.

Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_069_08112017 - Continuing on the main Fairy Falls 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 Fairy Falls 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

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 on the left) 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.

Fairy_Falls_008_06192004 - Julie on the spur trail in June 2004 leading to the Fairy Falls as she was flanked by ghostly-bare trees that didn't make it through the Yellowstone Fires of 1988
Julie on the spur trail in June 2004 leading to the Fairy Falls as she was flanked by ghostly-bare trees that didn’t make it through the Yellowstone Fires of 1988

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 Fairy Falls Trail shown here in August 2017 were most likely the trees that had survived the 1988 wildfires
The tallest trees along the Fairy Falls Trail shown here in August 2017 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.

Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_155_08112017 - Looking back at the Fairy Falls Trail flanked by still bare parts of the forest that have either re-burned or still have not recovered from the 1988 wildfires
Looking back at the Fairy Falls Trail flanked by still bare parts of the forest that have either re-burned or still have not recovered from the 1988 wildfires

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 in June 2004.

Fairy Falls Trail Description – around the waterfall

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

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.

Since 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.

Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_140_08112017 - Looking back towards the deadfall near the foot of the Fairy Falls during our August 2017 visit
Looking back towards the deadfall near the foot of the Fairy Falls during our August 2017 visit

There were only a handful of people here during my visit in August 2017, and back in June 2004, Julie and I were the only people here.

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 near West Yellowstone in Park County, Wyoming. They are administered by the National Park Service. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit the National Park Service website.

GPS_Overlook_003_08062020 - On our August 2020 visit to Yellowstone, we actually did just the brief trail to the Grand Prismatic Spring instead of going all the way to Fairy Falls.  Given the nice weather, we figured we mind as well take advantage of the opportunity.  So this was the one of the thermal springs by the parking lot
GPS_Overlook_005_08062020 - Looking back across the unnamed thermal spring by the Fairy Falls Trailhead Parking Lot during our August 2020 visit. As you can see, the weather makes a world of difference when it comes to experiencing these features
GPS_Overlook_006_08062020 - Looking towards the Firehole River as it flowed by the Fairy Falls Trail
GPS_Overlook_007_08062020 - COVID-19 definitely didn't stop people from visiting Yellowstone during our August 2020 visit
GPS_Overlook_016_08062020 - Looking ahead towards the familiar Fairy Falls Trail with the vast majority of visitors hiking only to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook and not the falls itself during our August 2020 visit
GPS_Overlook_020_08062020 - Julie on the Fairy Falls Trail under beautiful morning weather in August 2020
GPS_Overlook_022_08062020 - Julie ascending the new trail to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook on the left during our August 2020 visit
GPS_Overlook_024_08062020 - Context of Julie and Tahia going up the trail to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, where you can see the blue mist rising from that spring in the background on the right during our August 2020 visit
GPS_Overlook_062_08062020 - Finally making it back to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook on our August 2020 trip to Yellowstone
GPS_Overlook_032_08062020 - A more zoomed in look at the Grand Prismatic Spring as seen in August 2020. Notice the people on the boardwalk on the other side of the spring, which gives you a sense of scale of just how huge this spring was
GPS_Overlook_089_08062020 - After having our fill of the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook in August 2020, I noticed that they completed the other connecting trail back to Fairy Falls so I decided to check it out this time
GPS_Overlook_093_08062020 - This other connecting trail to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook (that I finally got to do in August 2020) also yielded teasing glimpses of the colorful spring
GPS_Overlook_099_08062020 - Descending back to the Fairy Falls Trail from the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook spur trail during my August 2020 visit
GPS_Overlook_102_08062020 - Looking towards the Grand Prismatic Spring from the Fairy Falls Trail as I was headed back during my August 2020 visit
GPS_Overlook_121_08062020 - Another look towards the blue mist rising from the Grand Prismatic Spring as seen from the Fairy Falls Trail in August 2020
GPS_Overlook_126_08062020 - Lots of people on the Fairy Falls Trail as I was headed back to the trailhead to end this short visit in August 2020
GPS_Overlook_129_08062020 - Closeup at some pretty wildflowers blooming by the Fairy Falls Trail during my August 2020 visit
GPS_Overlook_131_08062020 - Closeup look at another one of the wildflowers that I noticed along the Fairy Falls Trail during my August 2020 visit
GPS_Overlook_132_08062020 - Looking towards some thermal runoff going into the Firehole River as seen near the Fairy Falls Trailhead in August 2020. Shouldn't this also count as a waterfall?
GPS_Overlook_134_08062020 - Context of the thermal runoff draining into the Firehole River as seen from around the Fairy Falls Trailhead in August 2020
GPS_Overlook_139_08062020 - Looking directly across the Firehole River at the thermal runoff that's arguably a legitimate waterfall in its own right
GPS_Overlook_145_08062020 - Looking downstream along the Firehole River from the bridge at the Fairy Falls Trailhead as seen in August 2020
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_001_08112017 - Heading towards the Fairy Falls Trailhead from the very busy parking lot during our August 2017 visit. This photo and the next several shots were taken from that visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_005_08112017 - This was one of the hot springs by the parking lot for Fairy Falls as seen during our August 2017 visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_008_08112017 - Julie crossing the bridge over the Firehole River at the Fairy Falls Trailhead during our August 2017 visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_009_08112017 - Looking downstream from the footbridge over the Firehole River at the Fairy Falls Trailhead during our August 2017 hike
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_016_08112017 - Looking over a heart-shaped hot spring towards the Firehole River from the Fairy Falls Trail during our August 2017
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_019_08112017 - Wildflowers blooming besides the Fairy Falls Trail during our visit in August 2017 visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_026_08112017 - Partial view towards the Grand Prismatic Spring during the ascent up to its overlook on our hike in August 2017
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_027_08112017 - After the climb started to flatten out, 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 Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook Trail this way.  Either that or maybe they're trying to restore where damage and erosion once occurred from social trails
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_030_08112017 - Making our way up to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook on our August 2017 visit. You can see it's full of people
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_032_08112017 - Finally getting to see the Grand Prismatic Spring on our August 2017 visit, which was 13 years after the very first time we saw it from around this spot
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 during that August 2017 visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_054_08112017 - Another look at the Grand Prismatic Spring from the newly-built overlook during our visit in August 2017
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_064_08112017 - Contextual view of the Grand Prismatic Spring as seen from the newly-built overlook during our visit in August 2017
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_066_08112017 - After having our fill of the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, it was time to hike back down the way we came up in our August 2017 visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_067_08112017 - Given how busy it was on the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook Trail, it was difficult to pass slower hikers during that August 2017 visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_071_08112017 - Checking out the edges of the thermal badlands caused by the Grand Prismatic Spring during the August 2017 hike
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_076_08112017 - Flatter view towards the Grand Prismatic Spring from the Fairy Falls Trail in August 2017
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_080_08112017 - Continuing on the wide Fairy Falls Trail. Notice how much emptier this trail was during my August 2017 hike compared to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_082_08112017 - During my August 2017 hike to Fairy Falls, I still had to go around large puddles like this one which kind of suggested to me that this area still saw quite a bit of rain throughout the Summer
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_085_08112017 - At the trail junction where the spur trail for Fairy Falls was past the rocks on the left during my August 2017 visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_088_08112017 - Looking towards power lines that I had to go under on the final 1.6-mile stretch leading to the Fairy Falls in August 2017 visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_093_08112017 - On the Fairy Falls Spur Trail as it meandered amongst a recovering forest in August 2017
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_096_08112017 - Some parts of the Fairy Falls Trail passed through some fairly dense re-generated forest in August 2017, which contrasted sharply with the first time Julie and I were here in June 2004
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. This was seen during my August 2017 hike
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 en route to the waterfall itself during my August 2017 visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_123_08112017 - Back at the Fairy Falls in August 2017 visit for the first time in 13 years and looking similar to how it did back then
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 during my August 2017 visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_147_08112017 - Another look back at the impressive Fairy Falls though the afternoon sun was starting to break through the clouds and cause artifacts during my August 2017 visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_150_08112017 - Last look at the Fairy Falls before I headed back to the trailhead during my August 2017 visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_159_08112017 - On a trail as quiet as the Fairy Falls Trail, there was bound to be some incidental wildlife sighting like this baby chipmunk in August 2017
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_160_08112017 - On the return hike from Fairy Falls during my August 2017 visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_162_08112017 - Hiking under the power lines on the way back to the main Fairy Falls Trail as I was headed back to the trailhead in August 2017
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_163_08112017 - Approaching the trail junction with the main trail as I was returning from Fairy Falls in August 2017
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_164_08112017 - Looking back at the sign leading to Fairy Falls. The reason why it felt long was because it was apparently 1.6 miles to get there!  So that spur alone made this a 3.2-mile round trip hike!  And that didn't even include the flat part beneath the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_168_08112017 - Heading back to the Fairy Falls Trailhead in my August 2017 visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_173_08112017 - The Montana Conservation Corps was hard at work to finish the trail work for the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook during my August 2017 visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_179_08112017 - Continuing the return hike from Fairy Falls as I followed the fences and power lines back during my August 2017 visit
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_180_08112017 - Approaching the trail junction with the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook spur trail on my August 2017 visit. After that junction was the home stretch to get back to the trailhead
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_182_08112017 - Noticing more wildlife alongside the Fairy Falls Trail during my August 2017 hike
Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_185_08112017 - When I returned to the Fairy Falls Trailhead and Parking Lot on my August 2017 hike, I noticed this person actually went all the way to the edge of the pool. I wonder what she saw
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_007_06192004 - Julie on the flat main trail approaching the signed junction back in June 2004. Note the difference in the vegetation here compared to our August 2017 photos above
Fairy_Falls_008_jx_06192004 - This was how the Fairy Falls looked back in June 2004
Fairy_Falls_004_jx_06192004 - Contextual look back at the Fairy Falls surrounded by dead trees during our June 2004 visit
Fairy_Falls_013_06192004 - Last look at Fairy Falls fronted by lots of deadfall from the 1988 fires as seen during our June 2004 visit

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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.

Fairy_Falls_Yellowstone_002_08112017 - Looking back at the very full parking lot at the Fairy Falls Trailhead
Looking back at the very full parking lot at the Fairy Falls Trailhead

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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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
Read More About Johnny | A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls.