When you drive by an overlook in Yellowstone National Park, it pays to stop. A short walk from a pullout on Grand Loop Road just north of Tower Fall brings travelers to Calcite Springs Overlook, perched on a bluff above the narrowest section of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The mesmerizing northward view puts a rugged section of the Yellowstone River on display, accented by bleached cliffs and steam venting hydrothermal springs. The loop to the viewing platform is a quarter mile long, and well worth the effort.
Calcite Springs Overlook surveys the north end of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, where the Yellowstone River leaves steep canyon walls for rolling prairie grasses. A butte just north of the overlook is draped by hydrothermally stained rhyolite that is bleach white and quite dramatic. Along the river at the bottom of these cliffs you’ll spot Calcite Springs, where steam rises from hydrothermal vents just feet from water’s edge. You might even catch a whiff of sulfur.
Steam venting from Calcite Springs along the Yellowstone River
A display at the overlook offers this description Calcite Springs:
In cool weather, wisps of steam rise from Calcite Springs—the pale slope near river level. There the Yellowstone River flows above a volcanic fracture zone that allows geothermal discharge to reach the surface. Chemicals from Calcite Springs’ hot water vents are slowly turning the cliff to whitish, yellowish pulp.
Looking down the Yellowstone River from Calcite Springs Overlook
There is another interesting feature running along the opposite wall of the canyon, a line of uniform volcanic pillars. The basalt columns testify to a more active volcanic period in Yellowstone’s past, when a 25-foot layer of lava flowed across the land.
A sign at the overlook offers this description of the flood of fire:
River canyons expose the landscape’s hidden excesses, it’s violent past. The orderly columns across the canyon are volcanic. From vents in the Yellowstone Plateau lava welled up and flowed—a vast flood of fire 25 feet (7.6m) deep. As the lava cooled and contracted about 1.3 million years ago, it formed contraction cracks, producing hexagonal columns of basalt.
Basalt cliffs across from the overlook
Calcite Springs Overlook sits atop the narrowest section of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Notches along the canyon wall are a popular nesting site for osprey. See if you can spot one of these large birds before returning to the trailhead. No permit is required to hike to Calcite Springs Overlook, but there is an entrance fee for Yellowstone National Park.
To get to the trailhead: Drive 0.8 miles south of Tower Junction on Grand Loop Road and pull into the parking area for Calcite Springs Overlook on the east side of the road. Coming from the south, drive 17.5 miles north of Canyon Junction to the overlook. Calcite Springs Overlook is 1.6 miles north of the trailhead for Tower Fall.
Trailhead address: Grand Loop Road, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190
Trailhead coordinates: 44.901788, -110.393053 (44° 54′ 06.43″N 110° 23′ 34.99″W)
Use the map below to create your own directions:
This 1-mile hike starts with a head-on view of a 132-foot waterfall. Unfortunately, the final leg of the trail to the base of Tower Fall is closed due to damage from rock and mud slides.
|Inspiration Point on the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone|
This jutting point is one of the premier vistas along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, reachable at the bottom of a flight of stairs from a parking area at the east end of North Rim Trail.
|Pebble Creek Trail|
This 12-mile long trail travels down a beautiful backcountry meadow between Montana and Wyoming, bringing through hikers to a second trailhead (shorter out and back hikes are also possible without a car shuttle).
This easy 0.8-mile round trip hike climbs 100 feet to a ghostly 100-foot cascade.
|Mammoth Hot Springs|
This series of boardwalks explores a park highlight, a collection of colorful hot springs terraces.
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.
|More trails in Yellowstone|
Explore other hikes to waterfalls and hydrothermal hot spots in Yellowstone National Park.
|Yellowstone National Park Campgrounds|
There are 12 developed campgrounds with over 2,000 total sites spread throughout Yellowstone.