Fairy Falls Trail to Imperial Geyser in Yellowstone

A Colorful Spring, Waterfall and Two Geysers

One of our favorite hikes in Yellowstone combines three trails off the southwestern leg of the Grand Loop Road. It’s the Fairy Falls trail to Imperial and Spray geysers. However, beginning in May 2016 and lasting 1-2 years, trail crews will be constructing an official trail and overlook to replace the many user-created trails that led to the unofficial “Picture Hill” off the Fairy Falls trail.  It was from this view that people used to photograph, albeit unsanctioned by Yellowstone officials,  the Grand Prismatic Spring from above. After construction is completed by 2017-18, visitors will be able to use a new trail and overlook to safely gain spectacular views of the Grand Prismatic Spring and Excelsior Geyser.

Fairy Falls Trail Map

If you wanted to do the Fairy Falls hike in the past, you would find the trailhead (1 on map) between the Midway Geyser Basin (Grand Prismatic Spring) and Old Faithful. Because of construction commencing May 2016, the Fairy Falls trailhead and parking lot, located 1 mile south of Midway Geyser Basin, is closed. The Fountain Freight Road between the parking lot and the Fairy Falls Junction is also closed.

To reach the Fairy Falls trail, starting in May 2016, use the Fountain Freight Road trailhead located north of Midway Geyser Basin. However, this new route increases the distance of the hike from 5-miles roundtrip to 8.8 miles roundtrip. The Fountain Freight Road is a gravel road and is a popular biking route. During the winter, skiers will be able to traverse the Fountain Freight Road to go to Fairy Falls and beyond.

Trailhead to Fairy Falls. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Overlooking the Grand Prismatic Spring on Picture Hill. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Virtually all of the Fairy Falls Trail has been affected by the fires of 1988. As you walk the trail you will see multiple kinds of wildflowers and grasses that are bringing this forest back to life. This new plant life has also brought more small animals and birds.

Fairy Falls

At Fairy Falls, Fairy Creek shoots out over the edge of the Madison Plateau and plunges 197 feet. Members of the 1871 Hayden Survey named it for the “graceful beauty with which the little stream dropped down a clear descent.”

Hikers standing near Fairy Falls. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Imperial Geyser and Spray Geyser

A little over a half-mile further down the trail, Imperial Geyser is reached (6 on map).

Imperial Geyser. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

This geyser became quite active in the 1920s. Because of its size and importance, a contest was organized to give the geyser a new name. Soon after the name “Imperial” was chosen, the geyser stopped erupting. Today, Imperial Geyser erupts again (although infrequently), sometimes reaching a height of 35 feet.

Follow Imperial’s large runoff channel one-eighth of a mile to the east to find Spray Geyser (5 on map). This geyser lies just north of the channel and erupts frequently.

Geyser runoff from Imperial Geyser. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Geyser runoff from Imperial Geyser. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Spray Geyser. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski