Artists' Paintpots Trail Yellowstone National Park hydrothermal hike

Artists’ Paintpots Trail is located 3.7 miles south of the Norris Geyser Basin (home of the world’s tallest geyser) on the west side of Yellowstone National Park. A 1.1-mile loop circles a hillside hydrothermal area, passing bursting mudpots, bubbling hot springs, and mesmerizing milky blue pools. There is 125 feet of elevation gain along this fun and easy lollipop loop with plenty to see.

Begin by hiking a third of a mile over a level dirt trail leading to the circle through the hydrothermal area. This relaxing start passes through a lodgepole pine forest that is recovering from a wildfire that scorched this area in 1988. When the trail splits, you can head either direction around the loop. The dirt trail turns into a boardwalk that climbs up the side of Paintpot Hill.

Heading to the left first for a clockwise tour, you will pass steaming water pouring down from hot springs at the base of the slope. Mist hovers over the streams of boiling water, which will eventually flow into the nearby Gibbon River.

Head up a few flights of stairs past erupting hot springs. At the top of the loop, you can look down over the hydrothermal hillside, and over the pine forest to the north toward Mount Holmes. Next you’ll get an intimate view of a line of mudpots named the Artists’ Paintpots.

Artists' Paintpots Trail Yellowstone
Looking down over the hydrothermal area

Because this hydrothermal area is built into a hillside, the highest ground has different features than the terrain below. As you rise above the boiling pools, the hydrothermal features have less water to work with and mudpots are created. Sulfuric acid derived from hydrogen sulfide gas that is emitted from an underground source, breaks down the surrounding rhyolite stone into grey clay. The muddy pools bulge and burst as gas bubbles erupt on the surface. Mud can spit several feet up into the air. It is quite entertaining.

Artists' Paintpots Trail Yellowstone
Mud bursting from the Artists’ Paintpots

Descending to the west end of the loop, you will pass holes in the rusty geothermal crust that reveal blue pools just below the surface. After closing the loop, hike out the way you came in. The easy hike passes a variety of features in a short time, making it a fun excursion. There in an entrance fee for Yellowstone National Park. No permit is required to hike this trail, so paint your way to Artists’ Paintpots.

Artists' Paintpots Trail Yellowstone
One of the milky blue pools

To get to the trailhead: Drive 3.7 miles south of Norris Canyon Road on Route 89 (Grand Loop Road) and turn left (east) into the parking area for Artists’ Paintpots Trail.

Trailhead address: Grand Loop Road (Route 89), Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190
Trailhead coordinates: 44.696237, -110.741095 (44° 41′ 46.45″N 110° 44′ 27.94″W)

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Photos

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These photos were taken in August of 2011. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Monument Geyser BasinMonument Geyser Basin
This 2.8-mile hike reaches a rarely visited hydrothermal area that is boardwalk-free and fun to explore.
Back Basin of Norris Geyser BasinBack Basin of Norris Geyser Basin
This loop passes Steamboat Spring, the world’s largest geyser, and several other hydrothermal features.
Porcelain Basin of Norris Geyser BasinPorcelain Basin of Norris Geyser Basin
This pair of loops explores a stark basin with an impressive collection of geysers and hot springs.
Fountain Paint Pot TrailFountain Paint Pot
This half-mile loop in Lower Geyser Basin passes geysers, hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles – all of the hydrothermal features found in Yellowstone.
Midway Geyser BasinMidway Geyser Basin
This 0.8 mile walkway passes Excelsior Geyser and Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot springs in Yellowstone.
Biscuit Basin Loop WalkwayBiscuit Basin Loop
This 2/3 of a mile loop explores hydrothermal features in Upper Geyser Basin like Black Opal Pool, Sapphire Pool, and Black Pearl Geyser.
Mammoth Hot SpringsMammoth Hot Springs
This series of boardwalks explores a park highlight, a collection of colorful hot springs terraces.
Boiling River TrailBoiling River
This 1.25-mile round trip hike follows a riverbank to a natural hot tub where a stream of water cooked by nearby hydrothermal features mixes with the river.
Mud Volcano AreaMud Volcano Area
This hike of up to 2/3 of a mile visits a collection of sulfur-scented muddy springs.
West Thumb Geyser BasinMore trails in Yellowstone
Explore other hikes to waterfalls and hydrothermal hot spots in Yellowstone National Park.
Camping
Yellowstone CampgroundsYellowstone National Park Campgrounds
There are 12 developed campgrounds with over 2,000 total sites spread throughout Yellowstone.
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Distance: 1.1 miles – Elevation change: 125 feet

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