by Matt, July 2022
Old Faithful is Yellowstone’s most iconic feature. Bears & bison have both staked their claim to Yellowstone’s symbolism, but they’ve come and gone. True to its name, Old Faithful has always faithfully represented Yellowstone.
This area of the park — the southwest portion of the Lower Loop — is the densest collection of geysers and hot springs in the entire world. Just think about that — with all the volcanoes in the world, and all of Iceland’s many wonders (the word geyser comes from an Icelandic word meaning “to gush”) — Yellowstone still has HALF of the world’s geysers.
And most of them are found in this concentrated section of the park.
Old Faithful was the first geyser named in the park and kudos to those first explorers who named it!
By their very nature, geysers are constantly evolving and changing. Almost all of the geysers that were popular early on (in the 1800s) are no longer erupting (early visitors used the terms “performing” or “playing,” as if they were putting on a show).
The one constant is Old Faithful — an absolutely remarkable creation of nature.
No other geyser has the perfect combination of regularity, predictability, eruption height, and beauty.
Old Faithful Erupts Every 60-90 Minutes
Old Faithful used to erupt every hour but the 1959 Hebgen Earthquake (my video) changed geyser activity throughout much of the park. Old Faithful was only slightly scathed, and now its dormancy between eruptions sometimes lasts about 90 minutes.
Based on the prior eruption length and water discharge, park rangers can predict Old Faithful’s eruption time to be within 10 minutes.
Old Faithful’s eruptions last 2-5 minutes long.
Old Faithful is Tall
Old Faithful is not the tallest geyser in the world. That honor belongs to Steamboat Geyser, which resides in Norris Geyser Basin. Steamboat is an absolute marvel to behold, though I’ve only seen it on video. It would require camping out for days or weeks to see it, or being blessed with miraculous luck.
Nor is Old Faithful the tallest “predictable” geyser (one that the park actually posts prediction times for). No, that honor goes to Grand Geyser, at about 200 feet. Grand resides within walking distance of Old Faithful. It only erupts every 7-15 hours, and though it is taller, it really doesn’t feel like it due to its eruption pattern.
At 180 feet tall, Old Faithful is only slightly behind Grand, but with a more consistent and prettier eruption.
Old Faithful is Popular
The park has installed benches as viewing areas for all of the regularly-performing geysers.
Old Faithful’s viewing area is a massive boardwalk circling around the famous geyser, located very close to the visitor center and a large complex of buildings nearby.
When she starts erupting, people start cheering! When she finishes, people clap! The last time I watched her perform, I overheard a woman behind me say “I never get tired of seeing her.”
You can also watch Old Faithful erupt from the deck of the Old Faithful Inn.
The Old Faithful Inn
Looking over Old Faithful is a massive building that some claim is the biggest log cabin in the world: The Old Faithful Inn. It was constructed in 1904 from nearby pine trees.
It is a magnificent building.
Early tourists would hear the clerk ring a bell and announce when Old Faithful began erupting! A spotlight used to shine on Old Faithful so guests could watch her perform at night as well!
Today, there are no announcements or spotlights, but it still maintains that early 20th-century charm. A wooden chart on the wall shows the next prediction time. Live musicians play violin and piano from the second floor (which all can hear due to the open design). And you can still grab a bite or a drink and wait for Old Faithful to erupt while sitting on the deck of the Old Faithful Inn.
Tours are given daily; stop in to check for times. There are multiple places to eat and drink inside. Ice cream is popular as well!
The Old Faithful stop is a large complex. It has a massive parking lot with multiple gas stations, lodges, and restaurants.
The pull-off for the stop even has an overpass, as if you’re exiting the freeway into a new city.
In addition to the Old Faithful Inn, here are some other buildings of note:
- Old Faithful Lodge. This sits adjacent to the geyser as well. It’s a beautiful log building in its own right. You can stay or eat here. You can even eat while watching Old Faithful through the window.
- Old Faithful Snow Lodge. This is newer than the others, and it’s the only building here that stays open in the winter (Mammoth Hotel is the only other winter lodging in the park).
- Visitor Center. Perhaps the best visitor center in the park, this is also a newer building. They post geyser prediction times for Old Faithful and other geysers here.
- Hamilton Store. This funky-looking building was owned by an iconic family who had a concession license in Yellowstone for about 100 years. They’ve since given up the license and it’s now owned by the park. It is now a gift shop.
- Gas and charging stations. There are two gas stations as well as a charging station here.
- Restaurants. Within each of the lodges, there are multiple restaurants, delis, bars, and ice cream shops. I’ve eaten at the Geyser Grill and the Old Faithful Inn Deli. Both were mediocre, which is the general consensus on food in Yellowstone.
There are many more geysers and hot springs near Old Faithful. They are separated into three geyser basins: Upper, Midway, and Lower.
These are spread out over 10-15 miles, and most people don’t realize they are separate basins, which is why I’ve lumped them all together in this article.
Not sure which Yellowstone entrance is right for you?
Download our Free Quick and Easy Guide to Yellowstone’s entrances!
One thing to note: the basins are named after their elevation, not their direction. So Upper Geyser Basin is the furthest South.
Upper Geyser Basin
Old Faithful is located in the Upper Geyser Basin. Surrounding Old Faithful is a series of boardwalks and paved paths that meander through many geyser formations.
The park makes predictions for some of these geysers, but you might see any other random geyser erupt while you’re walking around.
Beehive is a popular “surprise” geyser. Riverside is a gorgeous geyser that erupts into the river. Castle is a quirky formation that once had turrets like a castle, but the turrets are gone now. Morning Glory is a colorful and popular hot spring. There are many other interesting formations!
- Want a game plan for seeing more geysers erupt? Check out our Yellowstone itinerary for insider secrets!
The park even provides an audio walking tour on its official app for this area.
The upper geyser basin is so large it even includes two sub-basins with their own parking lots.
Black Sand Basin
This is a small parking lot and a short walk around an interesting area with hot springs, a nearby mountain, a river, and an often-erupting Cliff Geyser.
More popular than Black Sand, Biscuit has a larger parking lot as well as a diverse collection of geothermal features, including gorgeous deep blue hot springs.
Biscuit Basin is also the jumping-off point to Mystic Falls, a nice cascading waterfall. It requires a hike to get there, and if you’re physically up for it you can extend the hike up the hill to an overlook of the entire Upper Geyser Basin, a rewarding view where I once saw Old Faithful erupt!
Midway Geyser Basin
This is the smallest of the three basins, but it packs a punch.
The star here is Grand Prismatic Spring, which is among Yellowstone’s Big 3: Old Faithful, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and Grand Prismatic Spring.
Grand Prismatic Spring is the 3rd-largest hot spring in the world. It is over a football field long and wide. What makes it so spectacular is its colors (hence the name “Prismatic,” for the colors of the prism). Its deep blue center is surrounded by yellow, orange, and red bands of bacteria.
You can see Grand Prismatic Spring by walking along it side, or by walking to an overlook to view it from above. For more, see our guide to seeing Grand Prismatic Spring.
There is a nearby feature named Excelsior Geyser Crater. This is as large as Grand Prismatic Spring, and it was once the most remarkable geyser in the entire world.
But it blew itself apart, and now it’s a crater, not a geyser. It still steams and empties boiling water into the Firehole River, but it doesn’t erupt anymore.
Lower Geyser Basin
Though not as popular as the others, Lower Geyser Basin offers better variety than the other basins.
Here, you can get a good look at the four main geothermal features in the park: geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and steam vents.
The Fountain Paint Pot trail allows you to see all four of these features at their finest, including a guaranteed sighting of a geyser erupting! Clepsydra Geyser started erupting during the 1959 Earthquake, and hasn’t stopped since!
Lower Geyser Basin has its own headliner: Great Fountain Geyser. This is one of the most popular geysers in the park and has a large seating area around it.
It is located on Firehole Lake Drive, which is a scenic little drive that goes past many different geyser formations. You may get lucky and see one of these erupt as you drive.
Where to Stay Near Old Faithful
The only lodging in the area is right by Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin.
There are NO campgrounds in any of the basins, and no lodging in the Lower & Midway Geyser Basins.
There are THREE places to stay near Old Faithful:
- Old Faithful Inn
- Old Faithful Lodge
- Old Faithful Snow Lodge
All of these have rooms that range from about $270-$500 per night. All of them are open during the summer, but only the Snow Lodge is open in winter.
ALL lodging in Yellowstone is considered rustic. There is no TV, air conditioning (though AC isn’t needed), or internet. The Snow Lodge is the newest of the buildings and typically more expensive.
Where to Eat Near Old Faithful
Similarly, there are NO restaurants in the Lower and Midway Geyser Basins — only in the Upper Geyser Basin near Old Faithful.
You have plenty of options here! The park concessionaire, Xanterra, lists NINE places to get food here:
- Old Faithful Lodge Cafeteria
- Old Faithful Lodge Bake Shop
- Old Faithful Lodge Ice Cream Shop
- Old Faithful Lodge Gift Shop
- Old Faithful Snow Lodge Obsidian Dining Room
- Old Faithful Snow Lodge Geyser Grill
- Old Faithful Snow Lodge Fireside Room
- Old Faithful Inn Bear Paw Deli
- Old Faithful Inn Dining Room
For opening and closing times, see Xanterra’s dining page.
Food in Yellowstone is generally considered average or below average. For more about eating in Yellowstone, see our guide to Yellowstone dining.
You can also shop at the local market and pack a picnic. Read about your options in Where to Get Groceries and Eat Picnics In and Around Yellowstone.
Need Help Planning Your Itinerary?
If you really want to make planning your trip a breeze, download our must-have Yellowstone Itinerary. It contains detailed information about Yellowstone and how to see it in a very effective manner. It even comes with three hours of audio to help you learn fascinating information about the park.
Yellowstone Resources to Read
- Ultimate Guide to Yellowstone
- 21 Tips for Visiting Yellowstone
- Driving in Yellowstone: 8 things you need to know
- The ultimate packing guide for Yellowstone & Grand Teton
- When is the best time to visit Yellowstone?
- Where should you stay when visiting Yellowstone?
- Where are the best places to eat in Yellowstone? We’ve Got You Covered
- Where to Get Groceries and Eat Picnics In and Around Yellowstone & Grand Teton