The Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone is the most photographed spot in the entire park, even when compared to Old Faithful. In fact, the spring may be the most beautiful site to look at in all of America. The dramatic array of colors and the enormous size of the spring make it a photographer’s dream. Located in Yellowstone’s Midway Geyser Basin, the jaw-dropping impression the rainbow colors leave on visitors makes it an out-of-this-world and must-visit experience.
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone NP
Yellowstone is most famous for its amazing wildlife, travertine terraces, erupting geysers, and colorful hot springs. Look no further than the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone for the ultimate hot spring viewing adventure. The sensational blue pool features colored rings of orange, yellow, and green—and everything in between.
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The sequence of colors is where Grand Prismatic Spring gets its name. Think of the way that a prism disperses light and how it resembles a rainbow.
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The colors around the edge are created from thermopile bacteria, which flourishes at high temperatures. Furthermore, as the temperature changes, season to season, the rings around the spring will deepen and fade.
On the other hand, the deep blue center is created from the way water scatters the blue wavelengths of light more than any other color. In other words, the blues are reflected back to the eyes. Also, the center of the spring is where the water is the most sterile, boiling up from below the surface.
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As a result, the bold color is wonderfully blue, and the spring can maintain the eye-catching color all year round.
It’s hard to imagine, but essentially each color ring represents a different environment. Each particular type of bacteria will thrive in its climate and provide the spring with its prismatic colors. Moving outward from the deep blue shades, the temperature of the hot spring begins to cool, and a more diverse array of organisms have the potential to flourish.
🏨 Best Yellowstone Accommodations
1. Inside the Park
There are nine different lodging facilities located within Yellowstone National Park offering over 2,000 rooms for tourists. Generally, the park’s accommodations are open from late spring through fall. Only the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel remain open during the winter months.
2. Outside the Park
Yellowstone has three small towns bordering the park and three major gateway communities to choose from when staying outside the park. Below are the names and locations of the three small three towns, we’ll discuss them in greater detail in the itinerary section. Furthermore, these are the closest lodging options to Yellowstone NP.
West Yellowstone, Montana (borders the West Entrance)
Of the three closest towns to the park, West Yellowstone is the biggest and has the largest array of lodging options. Also, it’s the most expensive with some of the nicest accommodation.
Budget-Savvy: Yellowstone Inn > Intimate cabin
Mid-Range: Kelly Inn West Yellowstone > Family hotel with indoor pool
Luxury: 1872 Inn – Adults Exclusive > Luxury for adults
Glamping: Under Canvas West Yellowstone > Safari-inspired tents
Gardiner, Montana (borders the North Entrance)
Gardiner is the second largest town and has many very nice mid-range accommodation options. If you’re looking for value then Gardiner is a great place to stay, especially with Yellowstone Riverside Cottages.
Budget-Savvy: Cowboy’s Lodge > excellent location
Mid-Range: Yellowstone Riverside Cottages (lovely patio overlooking river) or Yellowstone Gateway Inn (full kitchen)
Glamping: Dreamcatcher Tipi Hotel > nightly community campfire with s’mores and cocktails
Cooke City, Montana (5 miles past the Northeast Entrance)
Cooke City is the smallest town and has much fewer options in about the same price range as Gardiner.
Budget-Savvy: Alpine Motel of Cooke City > simple yet clean
Mid-Range: High Country Motel and Cabins (charming cabins) or Silver Gate Lodging (closest cabin to the national park)
Below are the three major gateway communities and a few recommended lodging options:
1.) Jackson, Wyoming (60 miles south)
2.) Cody, Wyoming (50 miles east)
3.) Dubois, Wyoming (80 miles southeast)
Even the smaller towns bordering the park offer a variety of lodges, cabins, hotels, and cozy vacation rentals. Although some vacation rentals may not be the most budget-savvy option, some travelers may appreciate the amenities that many properties offer. For example, some include firepits, fully-stocked kitchens, a washer/dryer, grills, patios, and hot tubs.
3 Best Places to Take Pictures of Grand Prismatic Spring
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone is 121 feet deep, making it taller than a 10-story building. Also, at nearly 400 feet in diameter, it’s wider than a football field. The size of the spring makes it a bit of a challenge to get an Instagram-worthy photo. Also, Grand Prismatic Spring has a temperature of 160 °F (70 °C) which can create a lot of steam. This too, like fog, will impact your photography.
The best way to appreciate the loveliness of Grand Prismatic Spring will depend on your personal photography goals. Photographers looking for large sweeping views of the spring will benefit from gaining altitude via the Grand Prismatic Overlook trail or the Midway Bluff trail.
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While shutterbugs yearning to focus on small intricacies, like zooming in on individual ridges or colors, should get as close to the spring as possible along the boardwalk.
1. Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail
The viewing platform overlook is located just south of Grand Prismatic Spring, on the adjacent hill. The colors of the spring are the most vivid on sunny days, around midday.
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With large sweeping views of the entire spring, the overlook is the ideal place for photographers looking to capture the entire spring. This is where you’re going to get the picture that impresses your friends!
The overlook can be reached by parking at the Fairy Falls parking lot. From there, head northwest, crossing the Firehole River bridge, and simply follow the crowd. The 0.6 miles (1 km) one-way trail takes about 10 to 15 minutes to walk. If there’s any short hike in Yellowstone that’s worth doing, it’s this one. However, keep in mind, that individuals with mobility issues may find the hike a bit challenging.
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2. Midway Bluff Trail
Head to Midway Bluff for a truly interesting perspective of the springs. The easy-to-miss roadside pull-off is located 0.3 miles (500 meters) south of the Grand Prismatic Spring parking lot, on the east side of the Grand Loop Road. The short but steep trail provides walkers with all-encompassing views of the Midway Geyser Basin.
We were not able to fly our DJI Mavic Air drone in the park because drones are not allowed in Yellowstone. Therefore, Midway Bluff is a great option for photographers looking to gain altitude to see the various rings of color.
The boardwalk can be accessed via the Grand Prismatic Spring parking lot which is how most visitors view the spring. The short 0.4 miles (0.6 km) walk is handicap accessible and takes just a few minutes to reach from the parking lot. Visitors will cross the Firehole River and pass the Excelsior Geyser Crater before reaching Grand Prismatic Spring.
Don’t rush this part of your trip. Take the extra time to smell the sulfur and feel the warmth of the springs. You won’t get this intimate experience if you only visit the viewing platform overlooks. Witness how the 560 gallons of water departs the spring every minute, and how it trickles down the small ledges.
Best Area of the Boardwalk
From our experience, the best place to take selfies on the boardwalk is after passing the spring, on the way toward the Turquoise Pool. This is because most visitors will reach the spring and immediately begin taking photos. By the time they’ve reached the end of the spring, the wistfulness has begun to erode and most are ready to move on to ‘the next thing.’
Yellowstone’s Midway Geyser Basin may be a relatively small area but there’s a lot to see. In addition to viewing the Grand Prismatic Spring, make sure to appreciate the other thermal features.
Know Before You Go
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone is located in the southwest corridor of the park, near Old Faithful. Plan on spending about one hour touring the Midway Geyser Basin. With the boardwalk, visitors have easy access to Grand Prismatic Spring, Excelsior Geyser Crater, Opal Pool, and Turquoise Pool.
The Grand Prismatic Spring parking lot is surprisingly small and extremely busy. Don’t be surprised if the wait time for a parking spot exceeds 15 minutes, especially in the summer after 11 A.M.
The Midway Geyser Basin is practically void of any kind of shade, including trees so plan accordingly. Also, the wind here can be extremely strong, so hold onto those hats. Find a ranger as soon as possible if something falls off of the boardwalk, like a camera lens—it’s the only way to retrieve an item. Do not attempt to retrieve it yourself.
Resembling a portal to another planet, the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone is the park’s largest hot spring. At first sight, the vivid colors make absolutely no sense and the mind begins to wonder if the eyes are playing a trick on it. The spring is an extraordinary place for photography. Awe-inspiring is not a dramatic enough word to describe this out-of-this-world experience.
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