Mystic Falls

Yellowstone National Park / Old Faithful, Wyoming, USA

About Mystic Falls


Hiking Distance: 2.4 miles round trip (direct to falls); 4.1 miles loop (incl Biscuit Basin Overlook and top of falls)
Suggested Time: 90 minutes (direct to falls); 2.5 hours (entire loop)

Date first visited: 2004-06-19
Date last visited: 2017-08-14

Waterfall Latitude: 44.48393
Waterfall Longitude: -110.86801

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Mystic Falls (not to be confused with the name of the town in the Vampire Diaries TV show) was a very attractive multi-tiered cascading waterfall said to tumble with a cumulative height of about 70ft on the Little Firehole River.

What was striking about this impressive waterfall was that there was noticeable steam rising from near its top, which turned out to be geothermal activity resulting in hot springs feeding the waterfall.

Mystic_Falls_17_140_08142017 - Mystic Falls
Mystic Falls

I had to believe that if someone came up with a list of largest geothermal waterfalls in the world, this waterfall would most certainly make that list.

Indeed, it was said that back in the 1930s, visitors would swim at the base of the falls to enjoy its heated waters (that would explain why we noticed a trail that led down there when we first visited in June 2004).

The Little Firehole River would eventually feed the Firehole River just past the Biscuit Basin – a popular geyser basin not far from Old Faithful.

So if you put that combination of hot springs and sizable waterfall together, this felt like an excursion unlike many other places in the world!

The Biscuit Basin and Mystic Falls Trail to the Start of the Loop

Overall, it was a short 2.4-mile out-and-back hike on a fairly easy trail that meandered through a forest recovering nicely from the 1988 wildfires.

It began at the Biscuit Basin parking lot then crossed a bridge over the Firehole River before entering the boardwalks meandering within the Biscuit Basin itself.

Mystic_Falls_17_195_08142017 - Colorful springs flanked the boardwalks in the Biscuit Basin
Colorful springs flanked the boardwalks in the Biscuit Basin

The basin featured attractive thermal features like the abyss of the Sapphire Pool and spasming Jewel Geyser.

The waterfall trail then continued at the end of the boardwalks at the far end of the basin (about 0.4 miles from the parking lot).

From there, a dirt trail meandered among a wooded area full of lodgepole pines that had now grown tall enough to obscure the neighboring hillsides once again. These trees were noticeably bare or fallen over when we first hiked it in June 2004 as a result of the 1988 wildfires.

After climbing a short hill, where the scenery briefly opened up before it meandered back into the forest, we then reached a signposted trail junction roughly 0.3 miles later (or about 3/4-mile from the parking lot).

While both paths would eventually lead to Mystic Falls (as it was a loop trail), the easiest and more straightforward path was on the left.

Mystic_Falls_17_167_08142017 - This was where the Mystic Falls Trail briefly opened up after climbing up to this hill before re-entering the forest and eventually reaching the trail junctions
This was where the Mystic Falls Trail briefly opened up after climbing up to this hill before re-entering the forest and eventually reaching the trail junctions

The path on the right was actually a pretty tough steeply climbing trail over several switchbacks eventually leading to an overlook of the Biscuit Basin.

The next section provides a trail description of the optional longer loop trail to the Biscuit Basin Overlook and beyond. The section after that continues on the Mystic Falls Trail as if we skipped this longer detour.

Optional Detour to Biscuit Basin Overlook

The path on the right started off innocently enough amidst the lodgepole pines, but it didn’t take long before the trail started ascending switchbacks in earnest.

I had lost count of the number of switchbacks in this stretch of trail.

But given that the aforementioned Biscuit Basin Overlook sat at the top of the neighboring plateau, it was no wonder why I found these switchbacks to be pretty tiring.

Mystic_Falls_17_053_08142017 - One of many steep switchbacks on the longer loop detour leading up to the Biscuit Basin Overlook
One of many steep switchbacks on the longer loop detour leading up to the Biscuit Basin Overlook

Afterwards the trail followed along the plateau back towards the Fairy Creek Trail.

That meant that I could have combined Mystic Falls with Fairy Falls as part of an even longer loop.

Anyways, continuing past this junction with the Fairy Creek Trail, the Mystic Falls Trail then descended steeply to the Mystic Falls itself.

This path from the top included an unsanctioned spur trail that descended rather steeply to the waterfall’s top.

That was where I was able to look carefully over the brink of the falls. The spur also revealed some thermal springs feeding the Little Firehole River.

Mystic_Falls_17_087_08142017 - The Biscuit Basin Overlook after working up a sweat to get up here
The Biscuit Basin Overlook after working up a sweat to get up here

The longer loop trail added an additional 1.7 miles to the overall hike making this route 4.1 miles round trip instead of just 2.4 miles round trip.

Heading Straight to Mystic Falls

Assuming we didn’t take the longer detour to the Biscuit Basin Overlook, we continued left of the fork at the bottom of the loop.

This trail meandered some more towards another trail junction just a few paces later.

At this junction, we kept right (the trail on the left went to Summit Lake) then the forest started to thin out as the trail followed along the Little Firehole River.

After rounding a bend to the right roughly 0.4 miles from the trail junctions, Mystic Falls started coming into view.

The views would continue to improve the closer we’d get to the falls.

Mystic_Falls_17_150_08142017 - Approaching Mystic Falls from the shorter main trail
Approaching Mystic Falls from the shorter main trail

However, it wouldn’t be until the trail climbed high enough past a thin seasonal waterfall before reaching a switchback with a signpost and the attractive view of the waterfall that you see pictured at the top of this page.

This was about 0.6 miles from the trail junctions or 1.2 miles from the Biscuit Basin Parking Lot.

An Old Spur Trail and Closing The Loop

During that final quarter-mile stretch of the trail, I swore that the park service must have re-routed the trail at some point because I recalled in our first visit in 2004 that it used to switchback somewhere downstream of the seasonal waterfall.

And near one of those switchbacks we inadvertently took a spur trail that we used to think led closer to the falls except it turned out to disappear into the Little Firehole River as a scramble that probably eventually led up to the base of the waterfall.

It was only when we realized that the views of the waterfall weren’t that great from down there that we backtracked and found the correct trail.

Mystic_Falls_001_jx_06192004 - Back on our first visit in June 2004, we inadvertently took a path along the Little Firehole River and ended up with this partial view of Mystic Falls.  That was when we realized the official trail climbed higher than where we somehow deviated from it
Back on our first visit in June 2004, we inadvertently took a path along the Little Firehole River and ended up with this partial view of Mystic Falls. That was when we realized the official trail climbed higher than where we somehow deviated from it

Anyways, in hindsight, that must have been the historical trail and scramble that visitors from the past would use to access the geothermally-heated waters at the base of the falls.

So in retrospect, it made sense that the park service would obscure that lower path because it was rugged and prone to erosion from the heavy foot traffic on the main trail up above.

As the sign at the Mystic Falls view indicated, we could continue climbing up the switchbacks towards higher and more angled views looking down at the cascading waterfall.

It would eventually make one long switchback climbing well above the falls before backtracking towards the aforementioned unsanctioned spur.

That unsanctioned spur was where I made the steep descent to the brink of Mystic Falls while bringing me closer to the sources of some of the geothermal springs heating up the Little Firehole River.

Mystic_Falls_17_107_08142017 - Looking upstream from the top of Mystic Falls towards thermal springs feeding the Little Firehole River
Looking upstream from the top of Mystic Falls towards thermal springs feeding the Little Firehole River

Overall, the first time Julie and I did this hike was the shorter out-and-back path, and it took us a leisurely 1.5-2 hours.

The second time I did this hike solo was the longer loop hike that involved the Biscuit Basin Overlook, and that took me 2.5 hours.

Authorities

Mystic Falls resides in Yellowstone National Park. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit the National Park Service website.

Mystic_Falls_17_002_08142017 - This was part of the parking lot for the Biscuit Basin. As you can see from this photo, it was rainy each time I've done this hike
Mystic_Falls_17_004_08142017 - Crossing a bridge over the Firehole River and onto the Biscuit Basin Boardwalks
Mystic_Falls_17_008_08142017 - The Biscuit Basin was a nice warm-up to the Mystic Falls hike, especially given the colorful springs where algae thrived in the hot water
Mystic_Falls_17_201_08142017 - Looking in the other direction towards more colorful hot springs and runoff thanks to the algae that thrive within the otherwise inhospitable environment
Biscuit_Basin_003_06192004 - Watching the Jewel Geyser trying to go off in the Biscuit Basin
Mystic_Falls_17_029_08142017 - This was the end of the Biscuit Basin Boardwalk and the start of the Mystic Falls Trail
Mystic_Falls_17_031_08142017 - The Mystic Falls Trail meandered amongst a grove of lodgepole pine trees
Mystic_Falls_001_06192004 - Back in June 2004, this area was still recovering from the 1988 wildfires. Notice how visible the neighboring plateau was given all the burnt trees and new sproutlings starting to grow in place of the trees that didn't make it
Mystic_Falls_17_033_08142017 - After climbing out of the initial grove of lodgepole pines, the trail briefly opened up on this hill before returning back into the lodgepole pine forest up ahead
Mystic_Falls_17_034_08142017 - Back amongst the lodgepole pines
Mystic_Falls_17_165_08142017 - Keeping left at the trail junction, the trail continued to meander past another trail junction (with the Summit Lake Trail) then follow more lightly forested terrain amongst lodgepoles
Mystic_Falls_17_161_08142017 - The trail then opened up revealing the Little Firehole River as the hike would continue further upstream
Mystic_Falls_021_06192004 - Back in our first visit, Julie and I saw this elk grazing on the hillside across the Little Firehole River
Mystic_Falls_17_158_08142017 - As we went further along the Mystic Falls Trail, we started to see steam rising in the distance
Mystic_Falls_005_jx_06192004 - Partial view of Mystic Falls as we climbed higher to regain the main trail (as seen from back in June 2004)
Mystic_Falls_004_06192004 - This was the ephemeral waterfall near Mystic Falls
Mystic_Falls_005_06192004 - Back in June 2004, we saw this bold rainbow while looking back on the Mystic Falls Trail.  Given the foul weather we had on our trip, this kind of was the silver lining.
Mystic_Falls_17_144_08142017 - This was the approach to Mystic Falls from the official trail
Mystic_Falls_17_121_08142017 - Finally reaching the Mystic Falls
Mystic_Falls_014_jx_06192004 - Our view of Mystic Falls when we first visited back in June 2004
Mystic_Falls_17_124_08142017 - Broader look back down at the impressive Mystic Falls
Mystic_Falls_17_040_08142017 - When I visited Mystic Falls the second time in August 2017, I wound up taking the longer trail (going right at the first trail junction) which eventually led up to the Biscuit Basin Overlook
Mystic_Falls_17_043_08142017 - What I didn't realize was that it was a steep climb going up several switchbacks
Mystic_Falls_17_047_08142017 - The switchbacking trail was also steep and narrow in spots
Mystic_Falls_17_067_08142017 - And another steep switchback
Mystic_Falls_17_075_08142017 - Eventually, I had climbed so high on the trail that I started to get commanding views back in the direction of both the Biscuit Basin and the Upper Geyser Basin. I swore I managed to see some of the geysers in the distance erupting
Mystic_Falls_17_092_08142017 - Beyond the Biscuit Basin Overlook, the trail then followed along this grove of lodgepole pines at the top of the plateau
Mystic_Falls_17_095_08142017 - Just when I thought the trail was going to be flat and mostly downhill on the way to Mystic Falls, I was wrong as there were still a few more minor inclines to climb
Mystic_Falls_17_110_08142017 - When I finally started to descend towards Mystic Falls, I noticed a spur trail leading down to the top of the falls as well as views over the steaming Little Firehole River fronted by wildflowers
Mystic_Falls_17_112_08142017 - Looking downstream over the top of Mystic Falls as the Little Firehole River rushed towards the geyser basins further downstream
Mystic_Falls_17_116_08142017 - Continuing the steep downhill hike towards Mystic Falls
Mystic_Falls_17_119_08142017 - A top down angled view of Mystic Falls as I was descending switchbacks
Mystic_Falls_17_202_08142017 - When I met up with Julie and Tahia again, all of us were enjoying the Biscuit Basin as the crowds had also shown up

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The Biscuit Basin was about 2 miles north of the Old Faithful turnoffs and ramps (or 3 miles from Old Faithful Village) along the Grand Loop Road between Madison Junction and West Thumb Junction. The turnoff was well signed and although the parking lot was spacious, I did notice that it filled up quickly, even on a rainy day!

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.

360 degree sweep showing the falls and its creek as well as the surrounding cliffs


Back and forth sweep from one of the switchbacks above the official viewing spot of Mystic Falls


Scrambling down to the brink of Mystic Falls showing the thermal spring responsible for all the steam rising out from its creek

Tagged with: biscuit basin, midway, old faithful, madison, fire, yellowstone, west yellowstone, wyoming, waterfall, rockies, rocky mountains, jackson, park county



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