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Old Faithful, Yellowstone – A Complete Guide

Yellowstone National Park is one of the best places across the entire globe to witness the powerful and odd-smelling, steaming vents and spouting features of a geyser.

The geyser basins in the park are said to contain more than 10,000 hot springs and geysers, of which the most famous is Old Faithful.

Old Faithful is a geothermal cone geyser that got its name for its frequent eruptions, as well as its predictability of them. The geyser is one of the main attractions in the park even though it is neither the biggest nor the most regular geyser in Yellowstone–but it is the biggest regular geyser.

Furthermore, it has been erupting in pretty much the same way during the park’s history. The height of the eruptions from this natural wonder can reach close to 200 feet on a good day, and Old Faithful continues to enthrall visitors to the national park, almost on cue it would seem sometimes.

The History of Old Faithful in Montana

history of old faithful

Discovered in 1870 by the Washburn Expedition, the famous geyser was the very first one to be named in the national park when it was first opened in 1872.

Since then, the number of eruptions from this dependable geothermal wonder has numbered more than a million.

The Location of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful is located in the southwest region of the park in the Upper Geyser Basin. There is an easily-accessible geyser-viewing area complete with bench seating.

There is also a large parking lot nearby, not to mention a ranger station that is also tracking relevant stats like the time, height, and length of an eruption, and this gets fed into the prediction tank in order to help visitors catch the next eruption.

The Upper Geyser Basin is the largest geyser basin in Yellowstone, and as it turns out you’ll also find the world’s largest single concentration of hot springs covering more than a square mile.

The upper basin is situated in the Old Faithful area and the Biscuit Basin road, and it contains several groups of hot springs and more than 150 geysers.

The half-mile-wide basin actually has the majority of its geothermal features in a concentrated area, within a few hundred feet of the Firehole River.

The Eruptions and Predictions of Old Faithful

The world’s most famous geyser right now erupts around 20 times a day.

These eruptions are all predicted for visitors to check the times, and the information and various other statistics are maintained during visitor center hours by the naturalist staff.

Due to the geyser’s amazing reliability, 90 percent of the predictions turn out to be spot on. They’ve even got the average waiting time between each eruption figured out, and although it is around 70-90 minutes, even if this is out for any reason there won’t be that much of a difference.

Once an eruption is brewing it seems the geyser goes through a spot of ‘warming-up’ which can be as long as twenty minutes in duration.

The indicators are the beginnings of some splashing and jetting, occurring every few minutes, and reaching heights of a few feet.

Once the eruption properly starts, the jetting will increase, stop, increase again, and you’ll know this is it for real after two or three of these steps when the jets reach maximum height (whatever that may be today). It takes 10-20 seconds to reach full height.

The downside is that the full height is only fleeting, and it begins to wane within a minute or so. This is when anyone hoping to predict the next eruption needs to pay close attention, as the interval to the next one is related to the total duration of the last one. This includes the ‘fizzling out’ that ends the eruption.

In a short duration eruption, the end play stops quickly, whereas the longer eruptions tend to tail off slowly.

Over the years Old Faithful has become one of the most studied geysers around. One result of this close observation is that predicting its eruptions usually brings accurate results.

Apparently, when it comes to the predictions for the eruption times the findings of Yellowstone staff have indicated that the accuracy of them doesn’t stretch much farther than from one event to the next. 

This means the duration of the preceding eruption is the determining factor in that the longer an eruption, the longer the interval to the next eruption.

Some of the predictions are apparently done according to various data and observations, as well as timing with a stopwatch and keeping logs. Visitors can check for posted prediction times in most buildings in the Old Faithful area and on the webcam web page.

If you are a little unfamiliar with the park and its various webcams you can check HERE to see where they are located. To make things even easier you can now even download a special APP before your visit that will help to keep you updated.

The Volume of Water in an Old Faithful Eruption

volume of water in an old faithful

The volume of water from any given eruption depends largely on its duration. Estimations put the figures somewhere in the region of 3,700 gallons to 8,400 gallons.

A geyser burst with a short duration of one minute or so will likely expend more than 3,000 gallons, while the larger volumes are related more to eruptions closer to 5 minutes.

The steaming water shoots into the air at nothing less than extreme force so it’s good if you are well-prepared for this and are standing at a safe distance. The height of an eruption can vary from 100-180 feet, with the average being 130-140 feet and lasting between 1 and 5 minutes.

More than 4 million visitors per year get close to the hot and gushing geyser waters, yet a little-known fact is that some of them get into serious trouble when wandering near the geyser basins and other geothermal features.

Apparently, more than 20 people have perished under the wrath of the scalding waters so it’s always good to bear in mind when visiting natural geothermal features.

The Water Temperatures of Old Faithful

These waters are hot—and then some. Some water temperatures at the vent have apparently been recorded at 204°F (95.6°C). Think that’s hot? Not so much when you consider that the steam temperature has been measured above 350°F!

Needless to say, it is wise to stay a safe distance from thermal features and never leave the boardwalk and/or designated viewing areas.

People still do unwittingly walk on the fragile crusts surrounding the geysers unaware of the potentially terrible consequences, and there have even been criticism of both visitors and park staff in the past regarding the taking more seriously of safety issues regarding the geysers and hot springs.

Accommodation near Old Faithful and other Related Buildings

old faithful inn yellowstone

The historic Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone Park dates back as far as 1903 and remains one of the popular park lodges as well as a national historic landmark.

On top of that, there is also the Old Faithful Lodge which dates back to the 1920s and is another popular stop-off near the famous geyser for those wanting to stay in the park.

There is also the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center which was opened in 2010 and provides park visitors with various insights into the geyser phenomenon and allows the opportunity to learn more about the science by way of the geology, hydrothermal properties, and scientific study of Old Faithful.

old faithful visitor education center

Viewing Old Faithful

viewing old faithful

There are 3 main different ways to get some decent glimpses of the world’s most famous geyser.

This might depend on exactly how close you want to get, but you can watch the eruption from a seat on the boardwalk viewing area which is probably the nearest safe distance.

observation point

Then there is a special observation point if you fancy watching the natural phenomenon from a bit farther afield. This observation point has a half-mile trail leading up to it and there are various other geological features in the near and far vicinity of it.

You’ll be able to escape the crowds a bit more easily as well from this point.

old faithful geyser from observation point

The historic Old Faithful Inn is the other popular place from which to witness the eruptions of this great geyser. The lodge even has its own viewing deck so you can get a drink and pull up a chair with your viewing experience.

Conclusion

Montana’s Old Faithful Geyser is something special among the natural wonders of the world.

It is in many ways synonymous with the national park it is located in, and it is also an impressive example of some of the stunning and powerful natural features of the rugged and picturesque terrain of Yellowstone National Park.

Certainly, those who have already witnessed the geyser at close range will testify to its stunning, if not terrifying power that keeps people adding Old Faithful to their bucket lists.

 

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