About Midway Geyser Basin Runoff
The Midway Geyser Basin Runoff was a cascade that really stretched the definition of what would define a legitimate waterfall.
We had written an article discussing how to identify a waterfall based on our experiences.
However, waterfalls whose flow were exclusively sourced by thermal springs had not crossed our minds.
In fact, we had known about this particular cascade since our first visit to Yellowstone back in June 2004, but it wasn’t until after our visit in August 2020 that we finally decided to devote a write-up to it.
So based on some of the tests that we’ve discussed, when we apply them to the Midway Geyser Basin Runoff, it seemed to pass the tests.
For example, did the cascade look like a waterfall? Well as you can see from the photo above, it most certainly looked like a legitimate waterfall.
Do you stand a reasonable chance of seeing this waterfall flow (i.e. is its flow predictable)? Indeed, this waterfall had year-round flow as it perennially drained the Excelsior Geyser and Grand Prismatic Spring into the Firehole River.
Was this waterfall interfered with by man? From what we can tell, people had nothing to do with groundwater rising from the geothermal heating and draining from the higher elevation into the Firehole River.
Heck, if smaller questionable waterfalls are going to be officially categorized as waterfalls like a couple of them in South Dakota (i.e. Grizzly Bear Falls and Cascade Falls near Hot Springs), then this thermal runoff would blow them away.
As a result, having this page devoted to the Midway Geyser Basin Runoff as a legitimate waterfall seemed like a no-brainer under these circumstances.
Experiencing the Midway Geyser Basin
The Midway Geyser Basin Runoff was easily experienced as part of the very popular boardwalk encompassing the Excelsior Geyser and the Grand Prismatic Spring.
This walk was on the order of 0.8 miles round-trip from the official parking lot (see directions below).
We actually had to walk an addition 0.4-mile in each direction because the parking situation at the main lot was too intense so we found shoulder parking further along the Grand Loop Road, and then walked back to the main parking lot.
Nevertheless, the thermal runoff was actually about 300ft from the parking lot itself along the Firehole River just south of the footbridge leading to the continuation of the trail and boardwalk for the Midway Geyser Basin.
From across the Firehole River, we could see a pair of thermophile-colored segments feeding the Firehole River.
We were also able to get more angled views of the thermal runoff from the footbridge over the Firehole River itself.
But aside from experiencing the cascade in this manner, the rest of the boardwalk was a straightforward affair as it ascended a single switchback before doing a lollipop loop in a clockwise direction.
The boardwalk started by going around half of the Excelsior Geyser, and then it skirted alongside the Grand Prismatic Spring.
After getting past the Grand Prismatic Spring, the boardwalk went by the Opal Pool and the Turquoise Pool before going back downhill to the parking lot.
Overall, this boardwalk took us a little over an hour, but I swore most of that time was spent making frequent stops to take photos or try to wait out photo opportunities since many people shared this experience at the same time.
The waterfall was pretty much like an incidental roadside attraction, and no one would come to the Midway Geyser Basin just for the thermal runoff.
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.
The main parking lot for the Midway Geyser Basin was about 5.6 miles north of the Old Faithful turnoffs and ramps (or roughly 3.6 miles north of the Biscuit Basin turnoff) along the Grand Loop Road between Madison Junction and West Thumb Junction.
The turnoff was well signed, but finding a parking spot in the Midway Geyser Basin lot was very competitive.
So we actually managed to find parking a little further north of the turnoff along the shoulders of the Grand Loop Road, which added to our overall hike by around 0.8-1 mile.
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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