About Mystic Falls
Mystic Falls 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 might have explained 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!
By the way, Mystic Falls has no relation to the name of the town in the Vampire Diaries TV show.
Hiking to Mystic Falls
There are actually two different ways to experience the Mystic Falls hike.
The most direct method would be to do a 2.4-mile out-and-back hike, which took us on average about 1.5-2 hours.
A less direct method would be a loop hike with a length of about 4.1 miles, which took me at least 2.5 hours.
Both trails started from the Biscuit Basin Parking Lot, which then crossed a bridge over the Firehole River and meandered over boardwalks passing by many geothermal features.
Among the features within the Biscuit Basin were the abyss of the Sapphire Pool and the spasming Jewel Geyser.
The Mystic Falls Trail then continued at the end of the boardwalk at the far end of the basin (about 0.4 miles from the parking lot).
From there, the fairly easy trail meandered through a forest of lodgepole pines recovering nicely from the 1988 wildfires.
As of our visits in August 2017 and 2020, these trees had grown tall enough to obscure the neighboring hillsides once again.
When we first came here in June 2004, these trees were ghostly and bare.
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.
This was 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.
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.
Mystic Falls Trail Description – the out-and-back option
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.
However, it wouldn’t be until the trail climbed high enough past a thin seasonal waterfall before reaching a switchback with a signpost.
That was where we got the attractive view of the Mystic Falls 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.
Overall, the first time Julie and I did this hike in this manner, it took us a leisurely 1.5-2 hours to complete.
Mystic Falls Trail Description – the loop hike with detour to the Biscuit Basin Overlook
Back at the signposted trail junction, this section now describes the longer detour to Mystic Falls via the Biscuit Basin Overlook.
So the path on the right of the junction started off innocently enough amidst the lodgepole pines.
However, 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.
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 Trail Description – closing the loop and exploring an old spur
After scrambling back up to the main trail, it then descended a series of long switchbacks.
During the descent, I experienced interesting views of the Mystic Falls cascading in multiple tiers.
Eventually, the trail reached an area where I got to a signed lookout for the Mystic Falls view, which provided a more frontal and vertical-looking perspective of the waterfall.
The rest of this trail’s descent pretty much followed as the out-and-back trail description earlier on in this page (but in reverse).
However, during the initial quarter-mile of this descent (or the last quarter-mile up to the lookout if headed in the other direction), I swore that the park service must have re-routed the trail at some point.
That’s because I recalled in our first visit in June 2004 that it used to switchback somewhere downstream of a seasonal waterfall.
And near one of those switchbacks we inadvertently took a spur trail that we used to think led us closer to the bottom of Mystic Falls.
However, it that “trail” to the bottom of the falls disappeared into the Little Firehole River as a scramble that we eventually decided not to pursue.
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.
Anyways, in hindsight, that could very well 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.
Regardless, the longer loop trail that encompassed the Biscuit Basin Overlook and the top of Mystic Falls added an additional 1.7 miles to the overall hike.
Thus, that made this route 4.1 miles round trip instead of just 2.4 miles round trip, and it took me about 2.5 hours to complete solo.
Mystic Falls 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 hike to Mystic Falls began from the Biscuit Basin.
This 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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