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.
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.
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.
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.”
Imperial Geyser and Spray Geyser
A little over a half-mile further down the trail, Imperial Geyser is reached (#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.
For a map of hiking trails and the park, you can purchase a Trails Illustrated map of Yellowstone at REI.