About Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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