Calcite Springs Overlook Yellowstone River Overlook Bleached Cliffs view Yellowstone National Park viewpoint

When you drive by an overlook in Yellowstone National Park, it pays to stop. A short walk from a turnout 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.

Calcite Springs Overlook Yellowstone River
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.

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Looking down the Yellowstone River from Calcite Springs Overlook

Another interesting feature runs 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.

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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 Yellowstone National Park has an entrance fee.

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)

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These photos were taken in August of 2011. Click to enlarge.
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Tagged with · National Parks · Yellowstone River
Distance: 0.25 miles · Elevation change: 25 feet

2 Comments on Calcite Springs Overlook in Yellowstone National Park

  1. […] the way up to Calcite Springs we saw a cinnamon-colored black bear.  There was a mob of people by Rosie’s Meadow and the […]

  2. […] On the other side of the pass, there was another beautiful canyon carved by the Yellowstone River. I wasn’t sure if it was precisely part of the Grand Canyon, but it was very dramatic and lovely (I’ve since learned it’s narrowest section of the Grand Canyon called the Calcite Springs). […]

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