The Artists’ Paintpots Trail, a 1.1-mile lollipop loop, offers a chance to see some of Yellowstone’s most famous features in a short period of time. The trail covers a mixture of dirt and boardwalk with 125 feet of elevation gain.
Heading out from the trailhead you’ll wander for 1/3 of a mile past a forest of scorched lodgepole pines. These conifers suffered mightily in the large fire of 1988. Then you’ll hit a circular boardwalk that meanders among many different geothermal features. Visitors can head around the path in either direction. Once on the boardwalk, you’ll notice that steam blankets much of the landscape. The top of the loop offers a great view out over the hydrothermal area.
The most memorable stop on this brief tour, also the one for which it’s named, is the Artists’ Paintpots. These features are situated on a hillside, above the boiling pools, which means that they have less water to work with. As a result, mudpots are formed. An underground source emits sulfuric acid derived from hydrogen sulfide gas. This acid breaks down the rhyolite stone into grey clay, which then bulges and pops as gas bubbles rise up to the surface. Along this section of the path, you’ll notice that the Artists’ Paintpots feature a collection of pastel colors. This is because iron oxide stains their whitish/gray mud.
The mud in the area varies in consistency, with some sections very runny and others thick as, well, mud. When the Paintpots blow their tops, they can shoot mud up to 15 feet in the air.