Visiting Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone national park

Old Faithful might just be the most popular site to see within the entire national park. So much so that when I was little, I had heard of Old Faithful and I had heard of Yellowstone, but I had no idea that the two of them had anything to do with each other!

I also thought the John Hancock building in Chicago was the “Giant Hancock,” so I had a bit of an imagination.

But back to Old Faithful – It’s situated at the Southwestern corner of Yellowstone, so it’s pretty close if you’re coming in through the Southern or Western entrances. However, it’s a bit of a drive if you’re driving in from the North.

A little bit of history…

The geysers and other thermal features in Yellowstone are caused by volcanic activity underground (read more about that here). This heats up surface water that has seeped into the ground, gradually building pressure. Eventually, this pressure needs to be released which involves spraying hundreds of gallons of water into the air.

Old Faithful was discovered back in 1870 and was aptly named for its frequent and predictable eruptions.

The geyser erupts about every 90 minutes, but the interval can range anywhere from 60-110 minutes. You can check the visitor center or the Yellowstone app for eruption prediction times. Just make sure to arrive at least 10 minutes before the predicted time as there is a 10-minute buffer window.

Everything in Yellowstone is constantly changing. In the past 30 years, the time in between geyser eruptions has increased about 30 minutes. It’s possible that Old Faithful will stop erupting altogether one day, so get there while you can!

Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone national park

What to Expect

The Old Faithful area is one of the biggest in the park. You’ll be pleased to find a HUGE parking lot (something you’ll learn to be grateful for after your Yellowstone trip).

You’ll follow the signs to the viewing platform where there are a number of benches to sit and wait for the show. Chances are, if there are a ton of people sitting around, the eruption will happen soon. If that’s the case, then I’d take a seat and wait a bit to avoid missing all the action.

The water isn’t going to shoot out at its maximum height right away (although, that would be pretty cool). It’ll gradually start to bubble out of the geyser and then grow taller and taller until it reaches anywhere from 106-184 feet.

Viewing platform at Old Faithful

The Best Time of Year for Visiting Old Faithful

Yellowstone is typically very crowded with tourists during the summer months (June-August). I always like to travel on the shoulder months for this reason. In this case, that would be May or September.

At the very least, you’ll want to plan on visiting Old Faithful sometime between April and November, as that’s when the roads are actually open within Yellowstone. There’s only one road that’s open year-round which is the the road from the North entrance to the Northeast entrance.

There is an exception to this – if you come in via snowmobile. Learn more about that here.

The dates that the roads open and close change yearly, so you can check this link to find the most updated information.

Regardless of when you choose to come to Yellowstone, as long as the roads are open, you’ll get to see Old Faithful erupt.

My parents visited the park in early May of 2019 and they said it was still cold enough that the water that erupted into the air came floating down as snow. Now that’s pretty cool!

The Best Time of Day for Visiting Old Faithful

I made a huge mistake my first day of Yellowstone – I got there WAY too early! My first stop was the Grand Prismatic Spring and I couldn’t see anything because it was so cold in the morning. It was about 40 degrees fahrenheit and there was steam/fog everywhere coming from the hot water in the geysers and springs. This made for a very uneventful morning, to say the least.

Head to this post and watch the embedded video to see exactly what I mean!

I decided to leave the Grand Prismatic Spring (with the intent of coming back) and head to Old Faithful. To my surprise, it was erupting right as I was approaching. However, I didn’t know what Old Faithful looked like when it wasn’t erupting, so I didn’t even know it was happening until it stopped! “Oh,” I thought, “I guess I should stay another round to actually take a video.”

Because of this, I was able to watch the geyser erupt twice – once around 8:20am and once around 10:00am. And they were drastically different.

The eruption at 8:20am simply looked like steam shooting out of the ground. This was because it was still so cold out that the hot water was emitting steam as it was rising, so you couldn’t actually see the water!

By the time 10:00am rolled around, it had warmed up a bit and you could actually see the water coming out of the ground.

So, I’d highly recommend planning to see Old Faithful anytime from 10:00am until it gets dark (around 8pm when I was there).

Bison in Yellowstone national park

What to See and Do Around Old Faithful

Remember how I said I stayed for two eruptions? Well, they only last a couple of minutes, so I had about an hour and a half to kill while I was waiting. If you find yourself in a similar situation, there are a few other things to do around the area. I recommend checking these out if you have a good chunk of time before the eruption or if you don’t, save them for after.

Old Faithful Inn

The Old Faithful Inn is the lodge right next to the Old Faithful viewing platform. It was built in the early 1900’s and is entirely made out of wood. Inside, you’ll find a dining hall, souvenir shops, nice bathrooms (take advantage!), and a breathtaking lobby.

You can opt for visiting the Old Faithful Inn, or you can even book a stay here!

Upper Geyser Basin

Upper Geyser Basin should be toured no matter what – either before or after you watch Old Faithful do her thing. This Geyser Basin is located directly behind Old Faithful if you’re standing at the viewing platform.

You’ll find smaller geysers in this area along with other geothermal features like pools and hot springs. There are a ton of things to see here, so don’t stress about seeing them all, but one that you might want to walk to is the popular Morning Glory pool.

From this area, you can also take a short hike to an overlook if you’d like to see Old Faithful erupt from above.

Upper Geyser Basin near Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful Visitor Center

Visiting the Old Faithful Visitor Center will be fun and informative for all ages. There are exhibits that teach why the geothermal features in the area act the way they do (hint: supervolcano). There are also park rangers in this area that can help answer any questions you might have.

Hiking Trails

There are plenty of hiking trails around the area if you have the time to spend a half day or a whole day near Old Faithful. Check out this site to see several day hikes in the area!

There you have it…

Everything you need to know about visiting Old Faithful! This geyser is definitely a must-see in Yellowstone and if you have the time, so are its surrounding activities.

Have you been to Old Faithful yet? What was your favorite part about your trip? Tell me in the comments below!

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The Comments

  • Kay
    September 2, 2020

    I wish I could have stopped by the visitor center but I went in August and it was WAYYYYY too busy! I second visiting in September if possible!

    • saraharnstein
      > Kay
      September 2, 2020

      Oh that’s too bad! You’ll just have to make another trip out here!

  • Sarah
    September 2, 2020

    My husband and I said yeaaars ago that we wanted to come here!!! It looks like such a neat place to visit and the colours are unreal. I’d love to check out some of the hiking trails too!

    • saraharnstein
      > Sarah
      September 2, 2020

      That was the coolest part for me – the fact that all the colors you see are 100% natural!

  • Ildiko
    September 2, 2020

    I have never been to Yellowstone but would love to go. I think it would be cool to start at the visitor center to gain an understanding of why and how it erupts. A better understanding of the geothermal event would add to my experience. Then certainly watching the eruption would be awesome. Thanks for the tips. Nice post!

    • saraharnstein
      > Ildiko
      September 4, 2020

      That’s a good idea! I love reading books from places I’m traveling before I go for similar reasons!

  • Ashley
    September 4, 2020

    I just visited Yellowstone for the first time in July! This would have been great information to have before hand.

    • saraharnstein
      > Ashley
      September 4, 2020

      Oh, awesome! I bet you had an amazing time 🙂

  • Shany
    September 6, 2020

    Great guide! I can’t wait to visit Yellowstone. I was supposed to visit this week but it got cancelled 🙁 I’m hopping to visit next summer. Thank you for sharing this

    • saraharnstein
      > Shany
      September 6, 2020

      Aww bummer! You’ll have so much fun seeing it next summer!

  • Cecilie
    September 7, 2020

    Wow. Yellowstone is definitely on my bucket list.
    I love exploring places on earth that are surreal such as geothermal areas.
    Great guide!

    • saraharnstein
      > Cecilie
      September 7, 2020

      Thank you! And agreed – places like that just make me awe-struck!

  • Catherine
    September 8, 2020

    Oh wow this is so cool, what great photos!! I think you just put yellowstone on my list 😀

    • saraharnstein
      > Catherine
      September 8, 2020

      Ahh good! It’s seriously amazing and you won’t regret it!

  • Amy
    September 9, 2020

    This looks like such a. beautiful place, I’ve always wanted to visit a big american national park!

    • saraharnstein
      > Amy
      September 9, 2020

      If you do, this is the park to visit! It is seriously so beautiful!

  • Cristina
    September 9, 2020

    Your post and pictures are great! I would love to visit Yellowstone National Park and many other US National Parks, you guys are so lucky to have places like this one 🙂

    • saraharnstein
      > Cristina
      September 9, 2020

      Thank you! I’m trying to make my way across all the major national parks, too!

  • Michele
    September 9, 2020

    Yellowstone is high on my wish list. We were scheduled to visit this year but our trip was cancelled. Hoping for next year. Pinning this for then!

    • saraharnstein
      > Michele
      September 10, 2020

      Aww bummer! You’ll still have a ton of fun next year, though 🙂

  • binny
    September 10, 2020

    One of my favorite national parks. High on the list to visit again in winter this year.

    • saraharnstein
      > binny
      September 10, 2020

      Same! We plan on returning in the winter this year, too!

  • Ilene Modica
    September 14, 2020

    Love the information, saving for my trip! Thanks for sharing.

  • Alex Kidd
    September 14, 2020

    Great article. There is nothing like that in the UK. I’d love to visit

    • saraharnstein
      > Alex Kidd
      September 15, 2020

      Thank you! I highly recommend seeing it on a trip to the US!