About Fairy Falls
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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