Fairy Falls Trail to Imperial Geyser in Yellowstone

See an incredible waterfall and two geysers along this hike starting near the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring off the Grand Loop Road.
Publish date:

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. As of July 2017, trail crews finished a new official trail that stretches for .5 mile, climbs 105 feet and brings you to a fantastic overlook of Grand Prismatic. The trail replaces 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. 

Because its construction is complete, visitors can use a new trail and overlook to safely gain spectacular views of the Grand Prismatic Spring and Excelsior Geyser. To alleviate traffic congestion, safety concerns, and resource impacts, the park also made a parking near the Fairy Falls Trailhead at Midway Geyser Basin. Parking is very limited at this popular destination.

Fairy Falls Trail Map

At 220-feet-high, Fairy Falls is the park's tallest frontcountry waterfall.  There are two trailheads and two different approaches to hiking to the falls. You can park 1 mile south of Midway Geyser Basin at the Fairy Falls Parking Lot. Or park at the end of Fountain Flat Drive. You'll walk through a lodgepole pine forest to the falls along a 5-mile round-trip route. 

Trailhead to Fairy Falls. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Trailhead to Fairy Falls. (#1 on map)

The new Grand Prismatic Overlook opened on Picture HIll in July 2017.

The new Grand Prismatic Overlook opened on Picture Hill in July 2017. (#2 on map)

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

Hikers standing near Fairy Falls. (#4 on map)

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

Imperial Geyser. (#6 on map)

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.

Geyser runoff from Imperial Geyser. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Geyser runoff from Imperial Geyser.

Spray Geyser. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Spray Geyser. (#5 on map)

For a map of hiking trails and the park, you can purchase a Trails Illustrated map of Yellowstone at REI. 


Black Canyon of Yellowstone River off Rescue Creek Trail

Blacktail Creek Trail Hike in Yellowstone

Start near Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone and end in Gardiner, Mont. Excerpted from Tom Carter's Day Hiking Yellowstone Park

A hiker headed up Avalanche Peak Trail in Yellowstone

Which Yellowstone Trail Should I Hike?

Do you want to see lakes, waterfalls, thermal features, or peaks? Find your perfect day hike with our personalized guide.

Bunsen Peak Trail in Yellowstone

Hike Yellowstone National Park's Bunsen Peak Trail

See evidence of Yellowstone's 1988 fires on a hike that starts and ends just south of Rustic Falls near Mammoth. Excerpted from Tom Carter's Day Hiking Yellowstone Park.

Ascending the stairs on Uncle Tom's Trail in Yellowstone

Uncle Tom's Trail Hike to Lower Falls in Yellowstone

This steep but wonderful trail takes you from the top of Yellowstone's Grand Canyon to the base of the 308-foot-high Lower Falls. It's strenuous going down 500 feet, but less so than in 1905 when Uncle Tom lowered you by rope.

Dunanda Falls in Yellowstone

Hike: Ferris Fork and Dunanda Falls

Yellowstone is home to a few natural spas the mix with creeks, making them worthy of a post-hike dip. Your best option? Ferris Fork and Dunanda Falls.

Yellowstone's most famous geyser, Old Faithful at Twilight

8 Best Yellowstone Geyser Basins and Map

A map showing Yellowstone's geyser basins including the Upper Geyser Basin with Old Faithful and Morning Glory Pool, and nearby Grand Prismatic.

Looking toward Specimen Ridge from the Garnet Hill Loop Trail. Photo by permission Flickr Upstate Dave

Hiking Yellowstone’s Garnet Hill Loop Trail

Wander over gently rolling hills covered in sagebrush and cast a line in the Yellowstone River on this animal-dotted 8.3-mile lollipop.

A woman viewing Morning Glory Pool from the boardwalk

Things Stuffed Down Yellowstone's Geysers

From laundry to couches, soap to horseshoes, Old Faithful and neighboring Yellowstone geysers and hot springs have been a receptacle for more than just water since the park's inception. The latest has been a drone that dived into the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring


Yellowstone Volcano Caldera Rises, Falls and Rises Again

Deep beneath Yellowstone, forces of heat and pressure cause the surface to rise and fall much like the breathing of a gigantic, slumbering beast.