Midway Geyser Basin Runoff

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA

About Midway Geyser Basin Runoff


Hiking Distance: almost roadside
Suggested Time:

Date first visited: 2020-08-03
Date last visited: 2020-08-03

Waterfall Latitude: 44.52712
Waterfall Longitude: -110.83598

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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.

Midway_Geyser_Basin_011_08032020 - One of the thermal runoff cascades draining the Midway Geyser Basin into the Firehole River
One of the thermal runoff cascades draining the Midway Geyser Basin into the Firehole River

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.

Midway_Geyser_Basin_047_08032020 - Looking across the pair of geothermal runoff segments from the bridge over the Firehole River at the Midway Geyser Basin
Looking across the pair of geothermal runoff segments from the bridge over the Firehole River at the Midway Geyser Basin

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

Midway_Geyser_Basin_008_08032020 - Context of the bridge and boardwalk crossing the Firehole River and ascending into the Midway Geyser Basin as seen from the very busy parking lot
Context of the bridge and boardwalk crossing the Firehole River and ascending into the Midway Geyser Basin as seen from the very busy parking lot

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.

Midway_Geyser_Basin_020_08032020 - Looking across the Firehole River at the furthest segment of the geothermal runoff coming from the Midway Geyser Basin
Looking across the Firehole River at the furthest segment of the geothermal runoff coming from 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.

Midway_Geyser_Basin_102_08032020 - Many people on the Midway Geyser Basin boardwalk skirting by the Grand Prismatic Spring
Many people on the Midway Geyser Basin boardwalk skirting by 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.

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.

Midway_Geyser_Basin_002_08032020 - Parking a little further on the Grand Loop Road and then walking some use-trails back towards the Midway Geyser Basin seemed to be the wise thing to do when it came to experiencing this place when it was crowded like it was on our August 2020 visit
Midway_Geyser_Basin_006_08032020 - Julie and Tahia walking past the main parking lot for the Midway Geyser Basin as we pursued the boardwalk on our visit in August 2020
Midway_Geyser_Basin_010_08032020 - Looking across the Firehole River towards the boardwalk leading to the heart of the Midway Geyser Basin on our August 2020 visit
Midway_Geyser_Basin_021_08032020 - Looking back across the Firehole River towards the segment of the thermal runoff nearest to the bridge and boardwalk for the Midway Geyser Basin as seen on our August 2020 visit
Midway_Geyser_Basin_032_08032020 - Looking towards the further segment of the Midway Geyser Basin thermal runoff as seen from across the Firehole River in August 2020
Midway_Geyser_Basin_034_08032020 - Another look back at the nearest thermal runoff segment to the footbridge and boardwalk for the Midway Geyser Basin as seen in August 2020
Midway_Geyser_Basin_037_08032020 - Portrait view of the thermal runoff at the Midway Geyser Basin showing some people up above on the boardwalk for a senes of scale
Midway_Geyser_Basin_039_08032020 - Context of the footbridge going over the Firehole River at the Midway Geyser Basin in August 2020
Midway_Geyser_Basin_041_08032020 - Looking across the pair of thermal runoff segments at the Midway Geyser Basin as seen in August 2020
Midway_Geyser_Basin_043_08032020 - Even more severely angled look at the Midway Geyser Basin Runoff from the footbridge in August 2020
Midway_Geyser_Basin_010_iPhone_08032020 - This was the view of the Midway Geyser Basin Runoff as seen with an iPhone in August 2020 visit
Midway_Geyser_Basin_052_08032020 - Julie and Tahia following the busy boardwalk at the Midway Geyser Basin with a looming thunderstorm seemingly getting closer by the minute on our August 2020 visit
Midway_Geyser_Basin_058_08032020 - One-way traffic at the lollipop loop of the Midway Geyser Basin Boardwalk during our August 2020 visit
Midway_Geyser_Basin_065_08032020 - This was the huge Excelsior Geyser, which was one of the primary sources of the Midway Geyser Basin Runoff that constituted the cascade feeding the Firehole River
Midway_Geyser_Basin_069_08032020 - Continuing on the Midway Geyser Basin boardwalk towards the Grand Prismatic Spring. As you can see, it was very busy here during our August 2020 visit
Midway_Geyser_Basin_087_08032020 - Looking across some thermophile lines within the outer fringes of the Grand Prismatic Spring with blue mist rising in the background
Midway_Geyser_Basin_084_08032020 - Context of the boardwalk by the Grand Prismatic Spring during our visit in August 2020
Midway_Geyser_Basin_090_08032020 - Looking downstream from the Grand Prismatic Spring towards the direction of the Excelsior Geyser with a dark thunderstorm looming in the distance during our August 2020 visit
Midway_Geyser_Basin_095_08032020 - Context of the boardwalk by the Grand Prismatic Spring as seen on our August 2020 visit
Midway_Geyser_Basin_114_08032020 - Looking back at the very busy boardwalk by the Grand Prismatic Spring during our visit in August 2020
Midway_Geyser_Basin_121_08032020 - Another look towards the Grand Prismatic Spring from the boardwalk during our visit in August 2020
Midway_Geyser_Basin_133_08032020 - Starting to head back from the Grand Prismatic Spring as the thunderclouds continued to look dark and menacing (and producing lightning) in the distance on our visit in August 2020
Midway_Geyser_Basin_136_08032020 - Julie and Tahia heading back by the Turquoise Pool before the Excelsior Geyser on the return walk
Midway_Geyser_Basin_144_08032020 - Looking back downstream across the Firehole River as we were wrapping up our Midway Geyser Basin visit in August 2020
Midway_Geyser_Basin_151_08032020 - Last look upstream along the Firehole River on our way back to the parking lot to end our visit in August 2020
Midway_Geyser_Basin_157_08032020 - Making it back to the parking lot at the Midway Geyser Basin
Midway_Geyser_Basin_001_06192004 - Just to show you that this wasn't our first time noticing this thermal runoff at the Midway Geyser Basin, this was the view across the Firehole River when we first went to Yellowstone back in June 2004
Midway_Geyser_Basin_002_06192004 - Looking along the Firehole River from the footbridge at the Midway Geyser Basin in June 2004
Midway_Geyser_Basin_014_06192004 - Looking towards the Grand Prismatic Spring from back in June 2004. Notice how burnt the hillside on the other side of the spring looked back then
Fairy_Falls_005_06192004 - This was the view of the Grand Prismatic Spring as seen from one of the social trails off the Fairy Falls Trail back during our June 2004 visit

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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.

Midway_Geyser_Basin_005_08032020 - The parking situation at the Midway Geyser Basin's main lot was pretty intense, and we wound up parking a little further and walking a little more to save ourselves the trouble of being caught in this traffic jam
The parking situation at the Midway Geyser Basin’s main lot was pretty intense, and we wound up parking a little further and walking a little more to save ourselves the trouble of being caught in this traffic jam

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.

Exploring the thermal runoff cascades feeding the Firehole River at the Midway Geyser Basin


Video from the bridge over the Firehole River examining the profiles of the thermal cascades running off from the Midway Geyser Basin

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Tagged with: midway geyser basin, teton county, yellowstone national park, wyoming, grand prismatic spring, excelsior geyser, firehole river, thermal cascades



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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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