Firehole Falls and the Cascades of the Firehole were two notable waterfalls and cascades amongst a larger series of pretty impressive waterfalls on the Firehole River. They were two of the more notable roadside stops along the one-way Firehole Canyon Drive, but the popular road also featured precipitous rhyolite cliffs flanking the narrow road as well as the Firehole Swimming Area, which allowed us the opportunity to dip in the geothermally heated waters at a calm part of the river. Indeed, the waterfalls found along this stretch of the river could technically be considered geothermal waterfalls! As with roadside attractions like these, the temptation would be to take pictures and keep driving, but I’ve found that actually getting out of the car and spending time to really pay attention to the subtleties of Nature made the experience more fulfilling and memorable as somehow experiencing things from the car created some kind of detachment from the immediate surroundings.
Pictured at the top of this page was the 40ft Firehole Falls, which being perhaps the main scenic attraction of the Firehole Canyon Drive, was a real busy and popular roadside stop. It was said to be the result of a large pool of lava that once filled the massive Yellowstone Supervolcano’s caldera and eventually hardened into the more erosion-resistant rhyolite layer over which the falls dropped. The Firehole River would continue to erode away the softer layers thereby growing this waterfall over time. The roadside pullout for this falls was pretty large though often times dozens of vehicles would crowd the area so some patience might be required to both get in and get out of the congestion. While the best and most direct views of the falls were by the sign pointing the falls, I also spotted a more unusual view further down the hill by some fencing, where I’d imagine at one point might have been scrambling access to the waterfall’s base (very steep and not recommended). The pullout for this falls was about 0.9 miles from the start of the Firehole Canyon Drive.
While Firehole Falls was not safely accessible, further upstream along the Firehole River was the Firehole Swimming Area. While parking was very limited for this spot (there were only a handful of roadside pullouts nearby), there were a couple of change rooms as well as a well-established boardwalk and stairs leading down to the rocky shores flanking a wide and calm part of the Firehole River. Upstream from the calm section, there were a few rapids and mini-cascades as the river was channeled through a narrow canyon. Meanwhile, downstream of the calm section were a few more wide cascades before the river would become turbulent again. The Firehole River Swimming Area was about a mile further from Firehole Falls or nearly 1.9 miles from the start of the Firehole Canyon Drive.
Finally, the Cascades of the Firehole were actually an attractive set of cascades and waterfalls seen right at the very end of the one-way Firehole Canyon Drive. I noticed a paved walkway along the Firehole River following this stretch towards a picnic area right off the Grand Loop Road further upstream. Although I didn’t see any signage acknowledging this name for the cascades, it was apparently named by park superintendent P.W. Norris according to The Guide to Yellowstone Waterfalls and Their Discovery. We managed to pull over at an informal shoulder just before the stop sign marking the end of the Firehole Canyon Drive. However, if this pullout was missed, there was a much larger pullout about 250ft south (right) from where the Firehole Canyon Drive rejoined the Grand Loop Road. This pullout was near an island in the Firehole River that was apparently used as a camping spot by the park’s earliest visitors.
All the attractions mentioned on this page were along the one-way Firehole Canyon Drive. To reach the entry point of this drive, we drove about 0.8 miles south of the Madison Junction. The entrance to the Firehole Canyon Drive was on the right.
Coming from the other direction, we drove a little over 15 miles along the Grand Loop Road north of the Old Faithful turnoffs (or about 33 miles along the Grand Loop Road northwest of the West Thumb Junction). The entrance to the Firehole Canyon Drive was on the left.
For context, the Madison Junction was about 14 miles (under 30 minutes drive) east of West Yellowstone, Montana, about 40 miles (over an hour drive) south of Gardiner, Montana, 104 miles (over 2 hours drive) south of Bozeman, Montana, 123 miles (over 2 hours drive) northeast of Idaho Falls, Idaho, about 141 miles (about 3 hours drive) north of Jackson, and about 335 miles (over 5 hours drive) north of Salt Lake City, Utah.
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