About Gibbon Falls
Gibbon Falls was an attractively long and wide cascade on the Gibbon River tumbling a reported total of 84ft in height over or near the caldera rim of the Yellowstone Supervolcano. With its unusual trapezoidal shape and seemingly brush-like texture, this was one of the more photogenic waterfalls we’ve encountered in the park, especially for those long long exposure photographs that create the silky effect. The texture of the falls owed its existence to the underlying Lava Creek tuff, which was ash fused by immense heat as a result of the last Yellowstone Volcano eruption about 640,000 years ago. The size of the Lava Creek tuff walls surrounding the waterfall as well as some of the cliffs further up the Grand Loop Road provided a humbling sense of scale and magnitude of the volcano.
When we first visited Gibbon Falls in June 2004, there were a few roadside pullouts along a narrow cliff-hugging stretch of the Grand Loop Road. When we returned in August 2017, the park service completely redid this area by setting up a parking lot further upstream of the falls, then providing a wide and gently sloping paved walking path towards at couple of signed lookouts as well as some additional unsigned intermediate views in between. In my mind, this was an example of how a change was for the better as this section of the Grand Loop Road was no longer congested, and there was plenty of space for people to enjoy the falls without feeling overly claustrophobic.
According to my GPS logs, it was about a quarter-mile round trip to reach the first signed lookout near the top of Gibbon Falls. It was about 0.6 miles round trip to make it all the way down to the last signed lookout and back. As a result of the extra walking necessary to experience the falls (as it was no longer roadside), I bumped up the difficulty score to reflect this change since our first visit. That said, according to The Guide to Yellowstone Waterfalls and Their Discovery, the authors managed to take an unusual photo of the falls from the opposite side of the river as that was where the stagecoaches used to follow a road there then drop down towards Canyon Creek for the view of the falls. I didn’t pursue that way to experience the falls as there was no sanctioned trail from the nearest lookouts on the north and west side of the Gibbon River. That said, I suspect that the authors might have gone to the Gibbon Meadow picnic area then scrambled their way in the upstream direction on the opposite banks of the river.
Finally, I should mention that this waterfall faced west so it was more of an afternoon waterfall as far as sunlight was concerned. I was once here in the early morning during our June 2004 trip, and we were pretty much looking smack against the sun! I learned my lesson from that visit during our August 2017 trip, and the improved lighting was pretty obvious as you can see in the photos on this page.
The parking lot for Gibbon Falls was on the Grand Loop Road about 8.5 miles south of the Norris Junction on the left side of the road and about 4.8 miles east of the Madison Junction. Madison Junction was about 15 miles (under 30 minutes drive) east of West Yellowstone, Montana while Norris Junction was about 29 miles (about 75 minutes drive) south of Gardiner, Montana.
For additional 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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