Heading west from Canyon Village on the Grand Loop Road you’ll reach Norris Junction and the Norris Geyser Basin.
The area between Canyon and Norris has a chain of backcountry glacial lakes (small and serene) that are easy day hikes with some backcountry camping access. This is bear country though so be bear aware.
The Norris Geyser Basin, while sometimes overlooked – is arguably the explosive heart of Yellowstone.
Norris is the park’s hottest thermal area -with record temperatures of subterranean water reaching 459 degrees Farenheit. The majority of thermal features from fumaroles and hot springs to spouting geysers sizzle above the boiling point of 199 degrees (water boils faster at this high altitude).
Norris, unlike an Old Faithful is fully unpredictable. I remember waiting at Echinus Geyser in 2004 (summer I worked at Old Faithful during college) and kept waiting for it to erupt per the instructions from my ‘Geyser Guide’ – and it didn’t. I found out that the geyser was dormant (not regularly erupting) after years of actively spouting.
Norris is so hot and the underground plumbing between the thermal features so fragile and volatile that features change constantly.
I’ve been in Norris one day and the next the boardwalk is closed because a new thermal feature emerged…
Norris is an experience that allows you to discover the volcanism and forces of nature that shape Yellowstone. Don’t go in with set expectations here, but rather be open to the excitement that an unexpected Steamboat eruption or have a conversation with a sizzling fumarole.
STAY ON THE TRAIL. I’ve mentioned this before – but words cannot express how dangerous Norris is if you don’t follow the instructions and stay on the designated paths. People have died here by being overly curious and/or wanting that perfect shot. Use the brain God blessed you with and follow instructions.
Norris is a large basin and it can take at least two hours to walk the various meandering paths.
The highlight of Norris is Steamboat Geyser. While I was working in the park Steamboat was dormant, but it has been fairly active the past few years. Steamboat is the largest known geyser in the world! It can erupt up to 300 feet during a major eruption!
Norris also provides a thermal palette of gorgeous milky bacterial mats of thermophiles.
Thermophiles are microscopic organisms (bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, etc..) that thrive on extreme heat. These bacteria create radiant and glorious colors of oranges, reds, browns, pinks, etc…
Norris has some unique geyserite features – which appear to have a porcelain look due to high silica content.
Norris Geyser Basin can be broken up into three distinct parts – only two are walkable.
Porcelain Basin – a .75 mile dirt trail and boardwalk cascades around a milky, colored, steaming landscape barren of trees. Great article about the Basin on Outside’s Yellowstone Page
Back Basin – a 1.5 mile trail of boardwalk and dirt trail encircles a heavily wooded area of many geysers and hot springs.
One Hundred Springs Plain – an off-trail section of the Norris Geyser Basin that is very acidic, hollow, and dangerous.
Norris is home to the Museum of the Park Ranger and a Visitor Center. You can check the daily schedule for ranger led tours of the basin. Click here
Stay tuned as we complete Yellowstone’s Upper Loop before embarking on our tour of the park’s southern district.