Norris Geyser Basin is one of Yellowstone’s prime hydrothermal areas, found on the west side of the park, several miles north of Old Faithful. Norris Geyser Basin is split into two areas, Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin. Each area has its own set of trails. The Porcelain Basin side of Norris Geyser Basin can be explored on two easy boardwalk loops. The main loop is about half a mile long, and an auxiliary loop brings the total to 1.1 miles. Hike the full distance and you’ll be mesmerized by a bleached basin of steaming vents, spouting geysers, bubbling and boiling hot springs, and colorful runoff channels.
Before you set out, pick up a copy of the Norris Geyser Basin Trail Guide, which offers a map of the trails, along with photos and concise descriptions of key hydrothermal features.
Stepping up to Porcelain Basin Overlook at the start of the hike, you will see why the guide describes Norris Geyser Basin as “one of the hottest and most dynamic of Yellowstone’s hydrothermal areas.” The overlook, just outside the Norris Geyser Basin Museum, delivers an overview of the chalky hydrothermal basin circled by a wooden boardwalk that you will be compelled to hike.
Between the museum and Porcelain Basin Overlook, there is a trail heading east toward Porcelain Springs Overlook. This is the secondary loop through Porcelain Basin. There is also a trail across from Porcelain Basin Overlook leading west and eventually south into the Back Basin of Norris Geyser Basin. To begin exploring Porcelain Basin, continue straight (north) on Porcelain Basin Trail. You will reach the top of the main loop just above Ledge Geyser. Continue to the right and descend alongside Ledge Geyser into the basin.
Setting out across the barren snow-colored basin on the boardwalk, you will come to one last junction. The trail to the right rounds up to Porcelain Springs Overlook, forming the lower half of the secondary loop. Stay to the left on the main boardwalk through Porcelain Basin, hiking past a milky-blue pool named Sunday Geyser.
As you walk along the trail, spot small geysers, hot springs, and vents in every direction. The albino basin gets in porcelain color from siliceous sinter, a mineral that has been deposited by centuries of thermal activity.
Be sure to look over your shoulder for a view back at Ledge Geyser, which should be spouting out a steady flow of steam (unless you are fortunate enough to see one of its irregular and impressive eruptions). The online tour of Norris Geyser Basin offers this description of Ledge Geyser:
Ledge is the second largest geyser in the Norris Geyser Basin, capable of shooting water 125 feet into the air. Because it erupts at an angle, however, the water will sometimes reach the ground 220 feet away.
The hot springs on Porcelain Basin Trail can have extreme temperatures above the boiling point, which is 200 degrees Fahrenheit at this altitude. The first take away from this is that you should leave your bathing suit at home (though you are allowed to swim in hydrothermal runoff at the nearby Boiling River). The second take away is how baffling it is that microorganisms are able to live under these seemingly deadly conditions. The online tour of Norris Geyser Basin offers this description:
Many of Norris’ features release acidic water. Amazingly, living organisms thrive even in the extreme environments of these acidic hot springs! The overflow channels of geysers and hot springs are often brightly colored with minerals and microscopic life forms. Hardy, microscopic, lime-green Cyanidium algae thrive in these warm acid waters. Orange cyanobacteria may be found in the runoff streams in Porcelain Basin. From a distance, these bacteria look like rusty, iron-rich mineral deposits. These and other microscopic life forms are links to the emergence of life on earth billions of years ago. They are also a focus of research in the fields of medicine and criminal investigation. New tools for use in such complex areas as AIDS research and DNA “fingerprinting” have been developed from the microscopic thermal organisms found in Yellowstone’s hot springs.
The boardwalk passes Constant Geyser, Whirligig Geyser, and Pinwheel Geyser before looping back toward Ledge Geyser in a counter-clockwise direction. The last major hydrothermal feature is Crackling Lake, an emerald green pond of boiling water.
Due to the ever-shifting makeup of Norris Geyser Basin, numerous unnamed but not unimpressive features are visible along the boardwalk like small geysers, salad bowl-shaped bubbling pools, and colorful runoff channels. Porcelain Basin Trail gives you a lot to look at!
The second loop extends east from Porcelain Basin Overlook. On the high side of this boardwalk, you will pass Congress Pool and arrive at a short spur to Porcelain Springs Overlook. The viewing platform looks out over the east end of Porcelain Basin over blue pools and whale spout-like geysers. Beyond the stark hydrothermal basin and the surrounding pines, you will have a view of the Gallatin Mountains.
Behind Porcelain Springs Overlook, a dirt trail extends another mile to Norris Campground, passing Nuphar Lake. Returning to the loop, the boardwalk descends into Porcelain Basin, passing Hurricane Vent, to return to the junction by Sunday Geyser. Turn left and hike past Ledge Geyser a final time to finish the second loop next to Porcelain Basin Overlook and the Norris Geyser Basin Museum.
To extend your hike in Norris Geyser Basin, check out Back Basin Trail, which visits the world’s tallest geyser. There is an entrance fee for Yellowstone National Park, but no permit is required to hike Porcelain Basin Trail in Norris Geyser Basin. Stay on the boardwalk and do not touch any hydrothermal features or throw anything in.
To get to the trailhead: Drive to the intersection of Grand Loop Road and Norris Canyon Road and go west into the parking area for Norris Geyser Basin. From Madison Junction drive 13 miles northeast on Grand Loop Road (Route 89) to reach Norris Canyon Road, or drive 21 miles south on Route 89 from Mammoth Hot Springs. From the Canyon Area, drive 11.5 miles west on Norris Canyon Road to reach the trailhead.
Trailhead address: Grand Loop Road & Norris Canyon Road, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190
Trailhead coordinates: 44.726133, -110.701998 (44° 43′ 34.07″N 110° 42′ 07.19″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Wyoming trails and campgrounds.
|Back Basin of Norris Geyser Basin|
This loop passes Steamboat Spring, the world’s largest geyser, and several other hydrothermal features.
|Monument Geyser Basin|
This 2.8-mile hike reaches a rarely visited hydrothermal area that is boardwalk-free and fun to explore.
This 1.1-mile hike circles a hillside hydrothermal area, passing bursting mudpots, bubbling hot springs, and mesmerizing milky blue pools.
|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.
|Fountain 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 Basin|
This 0.8 mile walkway passes Excelsior Geyser and Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot springs in Yellowstone.
This 2/3 of a mile loop explores hydrothermal features in Upper Geyser Basin like Black Opal Pool, Sapphire Pool, and Black Pearl Geyser.
|Old Faithful Geyser|
The tall, frequent eruptions of Yellowstone’s most famous geyser have been dazzling visitors for over a century and are easy to witness today.
|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.