by Matt, July 2022
West Thumb is one of the more popular geyser areas in Yellowstone National Park, and nearby Grant Village offers places to stay, eat, and play.
With Lake Yellowstone and plenty of wildlife nearby, you’ll definitely want to consider putting West Thumb on your Yellowstone itinerary!
In this article, I’ll cover all you need to know about West Thumb, Grant Village, and the south end of Yellowstone!
What is West Thumb?
West Thumb actually refers to three things:
- a section of Yellowstone Lake
- a geyser basin
- a road junction
West Thumb is the part of Yellowstone Lake that juts westward from the main body. This part of the lake was formed by Yellowstone’s most recent volcanic eruption, about 150,000 years ago.
The leftover is the westward lake area as well as geysers and hot springs along the edge of the lake as well as inside the lake!
So, West Thumb also refers to the geyser basin area – a wonderful place to visit that is covered below.
Finally, since the Grand Loop Road meets the South Entrance Road very close to the geyser basin, the junction is also referred to as West Thumb.
What to See at West Thumb Geyser Basin
West Thumb is a small but delightful place to go for a short walk and see some of the best variety that Yellowstone has to offer: geysers, lakes, forests, and green meadows.
The geyser basin is the highlight here. A boardwalk laid out in a flattened figure 8 will take you to mud pots, gorgeous blue hot springs, and a lovely stroll along Yellowstone Lake.
The most interesting features are Abyss Pool and Black Pool. Both are deep blue hot springs that allow you to stare down into them.
Don’t miss the boardwalk along the lake, where you can see a few geysers in the water, including Fishing Cone. Stories abound of fishermen catching a fish and boiling it in the spring.
Watch this 1-minute video for a better visual overview of West Thumb.
How to walk West Thumb. The best way to see this is to turn right when you reach the main boardwalk and walk along the outside of the boardwalk down by the lake, ending at Abyss Pool and Black Pool. Once here, take a moment to enjoy the pools and the elevated view of the lakefront. Then, if you’re up for it, take the middle boardwalk path through many murky pools before turning right and retracing a few steps back to the parking lot.
Far less popular than the geyser basin, this hike gives you a chance to get away from the crowd and overlook Yellowstone Lake.
The hike is an easy 1.7-mile loop, though it requires a gradual climb to the overlook. It departs from the same parking lot as the geyser basin.
The trailhead is located on the south side of the West Thumb parking lot, and the trail requires crossing the South Entrance Road, which can be busy, so be careful!
Pro tip! The trail map is deceiving because it makes it look like you’ll go counterclockwise around the loop. But in actuality, if you stay straight on the path, you’ll go clockwise. I didn’t get lost, but I was a little confused for a moment because I didn’t notice the fork (which actually requires a hard right turn to go counterclockwise).
NOTE: This is a bear area. Carry bear spray and know how to use it!
I think this might be even less traveled than the Overlook Hike, though the hike to Duck Lake is a little shorter.
The hike to Duck Lake is only .4 miles one-way. It isn’t a very scenic hike, as it goes through the pine trees the entire way.
The trailhead is located on the west side of the West Thumb parking lot, and like the Overlook hike, it also requires crossing a major road – the Grand Loop Road.
At the end of the hike, you’re greeted by Duck Lake. It has a large beach area you can walk along. I didn’t see another person the entire time, but judging by the makeshift creation I saw on the beach, people must have been there at some point.
Officially, Yellowstone only allows you to swim at two places in the park: Boiling River and Firehole River. But I don’t see any reason why one couldn’t hop in the water here at Duck Lake IF you can deal with the cold water temperatures.
Of the two hikes, Overlook is much nicer.
You can also see Duck Lake from the main road as you’re arriving in West Thumb from Old Faithful.
Grant Village was conceived and constructed during the post-World War II era, a time when visitorship to the national parks exploded exponentially.
Yellowstone needed more lodging, camping, and restaurants to accommodate the increasing number of visitors. Yet this was also a time when the national park service was shifting its focus on preserving nature over making parks more accessible to the public.
So after decades of debate, they finally built Grant Village and named it after President Ulysses S. Grant, who signed the 1872 bill that created Yellowstone as the world’s first national park.
What it’s Like to Visit Grant Village
Grant Village feels very much removed from the rest of the park. Wildlife such as elk and bears frequent the area. It’s a short distance to the edge of Yellowstone Lake.
Though most of it is located among pine trees, it’s possible to camp, lodge, or eat in places where you can see the lake.
However, it’s kind of a sprawling village. It’s not a place where you can walk between the general stores, restaurants, lodging, and marina. For the most part, you’ll drive to get from building to building.
Where to Stay in Grant Village
There is one place to stay in Grant Village, and they just call it Grant Village (not Grant Village lodge, hotel, cabins, etc.)!
It’s a series of buildings that all offer a similar room design: 2 Double (full size) beds or 1 Queen bed, either a full bathroom or bathroom with shower only, telephone, mini-refrigerator, heat, coffee maker, hairdryer, alarm clock, and fan.
Note that there is no air conditioning, TV, or radio, and neither pets nor cooking are allowed. Upper floor rooms are accessible by stairs only. All rooms are non-smoking/non-vaping.
Because it is newer construction, it doesn’t really have the charm of some other places in Yellowstone, like the Lake Hotel or the Old Faithful Inn.
Rooms range from approximately $230-$350 per night.
To book a room, visit Xanterra’s Yellowstone Lodging website.
Where to Camp in Grant Village
The Grant Village Campground is the only campground in Grant Village.
I have camped here before and it’s nice to be able to walk to Yellowstone Lake. We also saw a huge elk come through the campground and heard coyotes howling in the night.
With over 400 campsites, this is one of the larger campgrounds in the park. It has pay showers and laundry facilities. It can accommodate RVs up to 50 feet.
RV size is a major issue when visiting Yellowstone, so if you’re thinking about camping in Yellowstone, make sure to read my more comprehensive Guide to Camping in Yellowstone so you know your options!
To book a campsite, visit Xanterra’s Yellowstone Camping website.
Where to Eat in Grant Village
There are three restaurants in Grant Village, two grocery stores, a gas station, and a picnic area. So you’ve got plenty of food options!
Lake House Restaurant
This is located right on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. This offers incredible ambiance and doesn’t even require reservations! But go into it with low expectations regarding the food. Most people say Yellowstone’s food is not good.
I haven’t eaten here, but my experience with food in Yellowstone: it depends on where you go.
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Grant Village Dining Room
Grant Village Dining Room is located within walking distance of Lake House, but it’s perched higher on the hill and provides a beautiful overlook of Yellowstone Lake.
The outside of the building looks pedestrian, but the inside is beautiful.
Reservations are required for dinner only. See Xanterra’s website for more.
Nature’s Grill & Ice Cream
This is located inside the larger general store (there are two general stores). It serves simple stuff like burgers and fries.
While the food in Yellowstone is known for being mediocre, its ice cream comes from two great companies in Montana.
Definitely treat yourself to ice cream at some point during your vacation. Huckleberry is the specialty!
Grant Village Visitor Center
Yellowstone has many visitor centers, and they’re all mediocre. Unlike other national parks, Yellowstone does not have a big must-see visitor center with an introductory movie.
That’s because the park is huge and has 5 entrances, so it decided early on to create little visitor centers and interpretive displays all over the park.
The Grant Village Visitor Center offers nice views of Yellowstone Lake, a nice big fireplace, and a display of Yellowstone’s Fires of 1988, which I cover in my audio guide.
Grant Village Gas Station
Grant Village Gas Station is one of 7 gas stations inside Yellowstone National Park. It also offers towing and RV/auto repair!
The gas station has snacks, bathrooms, and a smaller general store right next to the gas station.
Driving in Yellowstone is one of the biggest concerns of first-time visitors. So we’ve covered 10 things you need to know about driving in Yellowstone.
Grant Village General Stores
There are actually two general stores here, and they are across the street from each other.
The main general store has a large gift shop, along with groceries. Nature’s Grill is also located inside.
The small general store is connected to the gas station.
- Let us help you find Where are the best places to eat in Yellowstone? and Where to Get Groceries and Eat Picnics In and Around Yellowstone.
Grant Village Marina
Grant Village has a marina in which you can boat or kayak on the lake! I believe you can bring your own kayaks, but I’m certain you can hire guides
All kayak tours go from Grant Village Marina to West Thumb Geyser basin and take about 4-5 hours.
If you want to boat on Yellowstone Lake, you must visit Bridge Bay Marina, from which you can do scenic cruises, guided fishing excursions, and more. You can also kayak in Bridge Bay.
Here are all the guided kayak tours from Grant Village. (These are all the ones I found; if you run a tour not included here, please email me).
|Yellowstone Hiking Guides||$155||4 hours||Morning|
|Shurr Adventures Yellowstone||~$120||3.5 hours||Morning & sunset|
|Prismatic Tours||$160||4-5 hours||Lunch included|
Morning, afternoon, private
|Geyser Kayak Tours||$200 ($175 tandem)||5 hours||Morning|
|Jackson Hole Kayak School||$310||Full day||Yellowstone Lake & Lewis Lake|
See Yellowstone’s website for more information about park-authorized guides.
Other Activities Near West Thumb and Grant Village
There really aren’t many accessible things to do near West Thumb and Grant Village.
Old Faithful to West Thumb
When driving from Old Faithful to West Thumb, you’ll mostly encounter lodgepole pine trees. It’s considered a very “boring” part of Yellowstone.
Here are some lesser-known and some backcountry hikes in this area. I have not hiked any of these.
- DeLacy Creek Trail (5.8-miles, leads to Shoshone Lake)
- Spring Creek Trail (8-mile that follows an old stagecoach route)
- Divide Trail (3.4-mile trail to a fire lookout)
Keep an eye out for this viewpoint, as it is the only viewpoint in Yellowstone from which you can see the Grand Tetons in the distance! On a clear day, that is!
This is a backcountry lake. The only way to get there is to hike or kayak from Lewis Lake (and then hike back). It also has a geyser basin nearby, so they don’t recommend hiking around the lake without an experienced guide. I’ve never been to Shoshone Lake.
There are multiple picnic areas during this stretch.
South Entrance to West Thumb
There are a few roadside stops along South Entrance Road, though none of them are major attractions.
Lewis Lake offers camping, fishing, and kayaking. Lewis Falls is a popular roadside stop with a short trail to the falls. Moose Falls is also a roadside stop.
Riddle Lake Trail is a secluded 4.8-mile out-and-back trail to Riddle Lake. It departs from the main road.
NOTE: If hiking in this area, carry bear spray and know how to use it!
For more about this area, see our article all about the South Entrance.
Lake Area to West Thumb
The drive between Lake Area and West Thumb is almost entirely along the edge of Yellowstone Lake, with beautiful views.
There are multiple pullouts for views, as well as picnic areas and vault toilets. But no attractions or hikes to speak of.
Visiting Yellowstone and Need a Plan?
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My 15-20 minute stories will tell you all about the bears, bison, and wolves of Yellowstone. You’ll learn about how it became a national park, how a guy survived alone in the park for 37 days, and about the dumb things people do in Yellowstone!
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