About Mystic Falls
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. 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), and the river would eventually feed the Firehole River just past the Biscuit Basin – a popular geyser basin not far from Old Faithful. So you put that combination of hot springs and sizable waterfall together, and this felt like an excursion unlike many other places in the world!
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, where after crossing the Firehole River and meandering over boardwalks past attractive thermal features like the Sapphire Pool and 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). Then, a dirt trail meandered amongst a wooded area full of lodgepole pines that had now grown enough to obscure the neighboring hillsides once again (they 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), the easiest and more straightforward path was on the left. 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 at the top of the neighboring plateau before following along the plateau back towards the Fairy Creek Trail (so it could be combined with Fairy Falls as part of an even longer loop) then descending steeply to the Mystic Falls. This path from the top included an unsanctioned spur trail that descended rather steeply to the waterfall’s top, where a careful look over the brink of the falls revealed some thermal springs feeding the Little Firehole River. 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.
Anyways, continuing left of the fork, the trail meandered some more towards another trail junction, where we’d keep 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 though 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 (about 0.6 miles from the trail junctions or 1.2 miles from the Biscuit Basin Parking Lot).
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. However, 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 steeply descending to the brink of the falls and closer to the sources of some of the geothermal springs heating up 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.
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.
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