Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA

About Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces


Hiking Distance: about 1.1-mile loop for Lower Terrace
Suggested Time: 30-45 minutes

Date first visited: 2020-08-04
Date last visited: 2020-08-04

Waterfall Latitude: 44.96971
Waterfall Longitude: -110.70531

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The Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces was perhaps the most unusual entry we have on this website.

These terraces were basically where geothermally-heated hot springs bubbled up from the ground and flowed over stair-stepping and rounded ledges.

Mammoth_Hot_Springs_106_08042020 - The impressive Mound Terrace that was flowing well during our August 2020 visit
The impressive Mound Terrace that was flowing well during our August 2020 visit

Such a flow of water over these ledges essentially meant that they were cascading waterfalls.

However, their scenic allure were further exacerbated by the colors brought forth by thermophile algae and bacteria thriving in the water.

It also helped that these terraces were quite large as some mounds were at least 30ft tall while others were over 100ft or more.

In fact, the Upper and Lower Terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs collectively made up Terrace Mountain, and was said to be the largest carbonate-depositing spring in the world.

Mammoth_Hot_Springs_037_08042020 - The colorful Palette Spring at the bottom of the Lower Terraces of the Mammoth Hot Springs as seen during our August 2020 visit
The colorful Palette Spring at the bottom of the Lower Terraces of the Mammoth Hot Springs as seen during our August 2020 visit

Like with the Midway Geyser Basin Runoff, the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces did not rely on precipitation for its flow.

Yet these terraces might bend the rules of the predictability of flow test (see our waterfall definition article for how we determine the legitimacy of waterfalls).

Based on our experiences with the Mammoth Hot Springs (which spanned at least 16 years so far), we’ve observed some terraces come to life while others were diminishing or drying up.

Indeed, the best performing terraces and mounds that we saw on our August 2020 visit were the Palette Spring and Mound Terrace, but Orange Spring Mound was diminished.

Mammoth_008_jx_06232004 - Looking across the Canary Spring during our first visit to the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces in late June 2004
Looking across the Canary Spring during our first visit to the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces in late June 2004

On our first visit to the Mammoth Hot Springs in June 2004, the best performing springs were the Canary Spring and the Orange Spring Mound, but Mound Terrace didn’t flow at all.

And throughout our visits to the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, we’ve never seen the famous Minerva Terrace flow.

However, we’ve seen historical photos in the 80s showing why it was widely considered the poster child of what beautiful terraces looked like.

So given such uncertainty of flow, it’s arguable that these terraces should not count as waterfalls.

Mammoth_Hot_Springs_193_08042020 - Minerva Terrace was completely dry each time we've visited Mammoth Hot Springs
Minerva Terrace was completely dry each time we’ve visited Mammoth Hot Springs

However, these springs could be flowing for years before seismic and geothermal activity may change the flow patterns once again.

Thus, one can ask how long should the predictability window last as part of the predictable flow test?

Could it be year-over-year? Or can it behave for several years in a row before it changes and goes dormant for the next several years?

Indeed, it’s for these reasons that we think Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces really bend the rules on what constitutes a waterfall.

Mammoth_094_06232004 - Orange Spring Mound in the Upper Terrace Loop Drive had a lot more activity in late June 2004 than it did in August 2020
Orange Spring Mound in the Upper Terrace Loop Drive had a lot more activity in late June 2004 than it did in August 2020

We even didn’t consider them waterfalls on our first visit in June 2004, but we reconsidered after our August 2020 visit, especially after seeing the treatment that questionable South Dakota waterfalls had gotten at Grizzly Bear Falls and Cascade Falls near Hot Springs.

Experiencing the Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs

In order to get up close and personal with these terraces, we walked the boardwalk of the Lower Terrace, which covered a distance of around 1.2 miles according to my GPS logs.

This was a very easy and leisurely stroll on the boardwalks taking in attractions like the Liberty Cap, Palette Spring, Minerva Terrace, Jupiter Terrace, Mound Terrace, and Cleopatra Terrace among others.

It was even possible to walk all the way up to the top of the Lower Terrace and join up with the Upper Terrace to see the Canary Spring.

Mammoth_Hot_Springs_160_08042020 - Context of the boardwalk of the Lower Terrace and the Mammoth Hot Springs Village, which was where the National Park Service Headquarters was based
Context of the boardwalk of the Lower Terrace and the Mammoth Hot Springs Village, which was where the National Park Service Headquarters was based

On both of our visits, we’ve done the Lower Terrace boardwalk and took around 90 minutes.

In addition to the Lower Terrace, the Upper Terrace featured a one-way 1.6-mile loop drive encompassing the Canary Spring, Highland Terrace, and Orange Mound among others.

Both of these terraces can easily be experienced in a half-day.

Authorities

The Midway Geyser Basin resides in Yellowstone National Park near West Yellowstone in Park County, Wyoming. It is administered by the National Park Service. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit the National Park Service website.

Mammoth_Hot_Springs_016_08042020 - Looking towards the Liberty Cap and Palette Spring as we were starting to walk the Lower Terrace on our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_019_08042020 - Julie and Tahia along with other people walking on the Lower Terrace Boardwalk at Mammoth Hot Springs in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_020_08042020 - Looking back across the Liberty Cap and Lower Terrace Parking while walking the Lower Terrace Boardwalk on our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_025_08042020 - Context of our approach to the Palette Spring at the bottommost part of the Lower Terrace in Mammoth Hot Springs in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_031_08042020 - Looking upstream at part of the Palette Spring, which had a healthy flow during our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_032_08042020 - Satisfying look up at the flowing part of the Palette Spring on our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_035_08042020 - More focused look at the colorful parts of the Palette Spring during our August 2020 visit
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_042_08042020 - Looking towards the context of the drier part of the Palette Spring during our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_052_08042020 - After having our fill of the Palette Spring, we then continued higher up the Lower Terrace Boardwalk where we got this view back towards the Grand Loop Road and Mammoth Hot Springs Village
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_022_iPhone_08042020 - Julie and Tahia walking by another trailhead parking area for the Lower Terrace Boardwalk
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_062_08042020 - Julie and Tahia walking up some steps on the Lower Terrace Boardwalk where there seemed to be a healthy flow alongside these steps during our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_063_08042020 - Looking towards the dry Minerva Terrace on our August 2020 visit
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_067_08042020 - We could see up ahead that it appeared that the Mound Terrace had a nice flow on our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_076_08042020 - Even though the Mound Terrace appeared to have some flow, the Jupiter Terrace didn't seem to have any life to it during our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_077_08042020 - Looking back towards the boardwalk we had ascended to get up closer to the Mound Terrace in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_080_08042020 - Looking back at the outflow of Mound Terrace flowing next to Minerva Terrace on our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_088_08042020 - Another look down towards travertine dams and pools caused by the outflow of Mound Terrace in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_085_08042020 - Looking upstream at the Mound Terrace, which had a really nice flow to it during our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_092_08042020 - Colorful look across the Mound Terrace during our satisfying visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_098_08042020 - Closer examination of the terraces partaking in the flow from Mound Terrace during our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_103_08042020 - Another closeup look at some terraces and travertine dams at the Mound Terrace as seen in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_116_08042020 - Looking back at the context of the boardwalk with Mound Terrace as seen during our August 2020 visit
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_123_08042020 - Comprehensive view back towards the very active part of Mound Terrace as seen during our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_126_08042020 - Focused look at the very active part of Mound Terrace as of August 2020.  Convinced now that it should be considered a legitimate waterfall?
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_130_08042020 - Slightly more contextual look at the active part of Mound Terrace as of August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_132_08042020 - Looking downstream from the active part of Mound Terrace in August 2020 towards Mammoth Hot Springs Village in the distance
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_135_08042020 - Looking back at Mound Terrace as we started to walk away and complete the loop walk of the Lower Terrace in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_143_08042020 - Contextual look back towards the Mound Terrace so you get a sense of how big the terrace part was compared to the boardwalk in front of it as seen on our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_156_08042020 - Looking towards the mostly inactive Cleopatra Terrace in the distance with steps leading up to the Upper Terrace Loop, which we opted not to walk up to during our August 2020 visit
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_174_08042020 - Julie and Tahia walking towards the top of the Palette Spring as we were completing the Lower Terrace Boardwalk in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_179_08042020 - Looking over the Palette Spring from the Lower Terrace Boardwalk near the Minerva Terrace in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_186_08042020 - Looking back down towards the trailhead parking for the Lower Terrace Boardwalk as we were completing the walk in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_192_08042020 - Context of the Lower Terrace Boardwalk crossing before the dry Minerva Terrace during our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_196_08042020 - Descending the boardwalk back down to the trailhead parking for the Lower Terrace Boardwalk to wrap up our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_210_08042020 - Julie and Tahia returning to the Lower Terrace Boardwalk Trailhead to wrap up our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_217_08042020 - Looking towards the only flowing part of the Orange Spring Mound when we were doing the Upper Terrace Loop Drive in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_219_08042020 - Looking up towards the waterflowing part of the Orange Spring Mound in the Upper Terrace Loop Drive during our visit in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_224_08042020 - Context of the Upper Terrace Loop Drive with the only flowing part of the Orange Spring Mound in August 2020
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_227_08042020 - This was the familiar view of the Orange Spring Mound in August 2020, and as you can see, it was definitely flowing way less than it did in June 2004
Mammoth_Hot_Springs_230_08042020 - Looking up at the Highland Terrace as we were wrapping up our visit of the Upper Terrace Loop Drive in August 2020
Mammoth_001_06232004 - For a little perspective, this photo and the rest of the photos in this gallery were taken on our first trip to Yellowstone in late June 2004. This was the Liberty Cap fronting the Lower Terrace
Mammoth_006_06232004 - Context of the Palette Spring and the boardwalk in front of it, which was still flowing pretty well even back then in June 2004
Mammoth_009_06232004 - Other parts of the Lower Terrace were definitely flowing when we visited in late June 2004
Mammoth_010_06232004 - Looking down over the source of the Palette Spring during our late June 2004 visit of the Lower Terrace
Mammoth_012_06232004 - Minerva Terrace as well as the Jupiter Terrace were still dry when we visited in late June 2004
Mammoth_017_06232004 - Another look at the Minerva Terrace and Jupiter Terrace from the end of the spur path as seen in June 2004
Mammoth_026_06232004 - Context of the Palette Spring and the boardwalk in front of it, which was still flowing pretty well even back then in June 2004
Mammoth_035_06232004 - This strange face-like formation in the Jupiter Terrace was still there back in June 2004
Mammoth_040_06232004 - Context looking down over the dry Minerva Terrace towards Mammoth Hot Springs Village in June 2004
Mammoth_042_06232004 - Looking towards an elk grazing on a dry part of the Lower Terrace as seen in June 2004
Mammoth_052_06232004 - Another look back towards the Palette Spring as we were wrapping up our walk of the Lower Terrace in June 2004
Mammoth_054_06232004 - Looking up at some more active spring flows further downhill from the Liberty Cap in June 2004
Mammoth_002_jx_06232004 - Eventually, we explored the Upper Terrace Loop Drive and first stopped at the Canary Spring, which was very active in June 2004
Mammoth_003_jx_06232004 - Another look towards the very active Canary Spring during our June 2004 visit
Mammoth_010_jx_06232004 - Looking across the contour of the Canary Spring with some parts of sky blue water pooling in the white terraces by the Upper Terrace Drive in June 2004
Mammoth_015_jx_06232004 - Looking over the top of the Mound Terrace I think in context of the Mammoth Hot Springs Village as seen in June 2004
Mammoth_019_jx_06232004 - Another look towards one of the few active springs between the Upper and Lower Terraces as seen during our visit in June 2004
Mammoth_023_jx_06232004 - This was the Orange Spring Mound in pretty active flow when we saw it in June 2004
Mammoth_102_06232004 - Looking up at the Highland Terrace at the end of our Upper Terrace Scenic Loop Drive in June 2004

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There are several ways to experience the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, but I’ll just focus on the two main ways we did it – the Lower Terrace Boardwalk and the Upper Terrace Loop Drive.

For the Lower Terrace Boardwalk, all we had to do was to find parking at one of the trailheads between 0.3-0.5 miles south from the intersection right by the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.

Mammoth_Hot_Springs_049_08042020 - Looking back at one of the parking areas for the trailheads of the Lower Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs
Looking back at one of the parking areas for the trailheads of the Lower Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs

It’s even possible to park at the Mammoth Hot Springs Village and walk that distance to the trailheads at the Mammoth Hot Springs Lower Terrace Trailhead.

As for the Upper Terrace Drive, we continued to drive about 1.6 miles further to the south as the road climbed up a couple of curves.

Then, we turned right onto the one-way Upper Terrace Loop Drive, which went counterclockwise.

For a little context, Mammoth Hot Springs Village was about 21 miles (over 30 minutes drive) north of the Norris Junction and about 18 miles (30 minutes drive) west of the Tower Junction. It was also about 6 miles (less than 30 minutes drive) south of Gardiner, Montana and about 49 miles (about 90 minutes drive) northeast of West Yellowstone, Montana.

Mammoth_Hot_Springs_023_08042020 - It seemed like whenver we drove by Mammoth Hot Springs, there were always resident elk safely grazing where they knew wolves or grizzly bears were less likely to attack
It seemed like whenver we drove by Mammoth Hot Springs, there were always resident elk safely grazing where they knew wolves or grizzly bears were less likely to attack

For additional geographical context, Gardiner was 78 miles (about 90 minutes drive) south of Bozeman, 132 miles (over 3 hours drive) west of Cody, Wyoming, 142 miles (about 3.5 hours drive) north of Jackson, Wyoming, and 374 miles (over 6 hours drive) north of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Comprehensive sweep of the Palette Spring in Mammoth Hot Springs


Comprehensive sweep showing the main flowing part of the Mound Terrace from both sides of the boardwalk


Another comprehensive sweep of the impressive Mound Terrace which performed well despite being next to the Minerva Terrace


Long video showing the Mound Terrace from various angles as I followed its flow along the boardwalk


Sweep looking downstream towards the source of the Palette Spring from the boardwalk near the Minerva Terrace


Video showing the Orange Spring Mound from all sorts of different angles

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Tagged with: mammoth hot springs, yellowstone national park, park county, wyoming, lower terrace, upper terrace, minerva terrace, palette spring, mound terrace, thermal springs, thermal runoff



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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.
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