Activities, Camping, Hiking, National Parks & Monuments, State Parks, Things, United States, Waterfalls, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Caldera Tales – Day 7: Norris Geyser Basin, Ice Lake, & Little Gibbon Falls

September 12, 2021

Sadly my last full day in Yellowstone was here. To make up for the sunrise dud the day before at West Thumb, I was greeted with a spectacular sunrise as I made my way from my campsite at Canyon towards Norris Geyser Basin in the early morning hours.

A peek of what was to come from my campsite

Seriously, I made it about a mile before I was stopped and taking photos of the sunrise and soaking it in. I parked at a pullout and walked to get the best angles. As I was walking back, a car on the road stopped, rolled down their window and asked, “What do you see? What are you taking a photo of?” Kind of shocked that the people who were driving towards the amazing sunrise had to ask the question, I replied “The sunrise!” I got very disappointed looks and the car continued on.

Oh tourists!

Yellowstone has the cutest ravens with the biggest personalities, I swear!
BAM! My spectacular sunrise!
Throwing in a Fozzy photo for good measure
I love the dainty layer of fog that was in the area

As I approached Norris I descended into thick fog. Since the lighting and fog was magical, I decided to go past Norris to the west a bit to check out the Chocolate Pots and Gibbon Meadows.

The fog got crazy thick!
Chocolate Pot doing chocolate pot things!
Gibbon Meadows being foggy and awesome
I wish early mornings in Yellowstone could last forever

I say every geyser basin is my favorite, but I do really enjoy Norris a lot. Norris is the oldest and hottest thermal area in Yellowstone, and nearly all the features are at boiling temperate or above, and most are acidic as well. In fact, the hottest temperature recorded at Yellowstone was here! On top of this, the area can change daily and undergo “disturbances” which can dramatically change the look and activity over the course of the year. And, to top it off, Steamboat Geyser is located here, which is the tallest active geyser in the world.

The ever present warning sign at the Norris parking lot

My early morning start meant easy parking (it gets crazy in late morning with long lines and parking lot rage) and plenty of time to take things slowly and soak it all in. It was cold when I set out, and I was wearing my puffy jacket and thermal layers. I decided to explore in the opposite direction of how I did in 2020, starting with Steamboat and working my way around Back Basin before Porcelain Basin. The boardwalks heading down to Steamboat were covered in a layer of thin ice, making things a bit spicy as I shuffled along in my Chacos, gripping the handrail in hopes I wouldn’t go sliding down into a hot springs. It was legit that icy, and I really wish I had microspikes with me!

A moody morning Emerald Pool
Dr. Allen’s Paint Pots

I arrived to find Steamboat Geyser in a minor eruption after it erupted the previous morning after a bit of slumber. Though not anything like a major eruption that can shoot more than 300 feet into the air, the minor eruption was still a sight to see, especially in the foggy conditions. I slightly grumbled about what could be happening to my car’s paint in the parking lot, but that’s life in the Norris Geyser Basin parking lot. But overall I was still happy to be catching Steamboat doing something, even though I’ve never seen a major eruption (despite being in the park during such an event).

This kinda has an apocalyptic mood to it, this photo
Steamboat Geyser in minor eruption
Gotta get a selfie, right? As a side note, make sure to quickly clean any lenses, phones, glasses, etc as the minerals can etch them. Even a minor eruption will get you quite soggy if you hang around enough.

Probably cooler than Steamboat itself (at least in minor eruption mode) to me is Cistern Spring. Steamboat Geyser and Cistern Spring are linked underground, and after a major eruption, Cistern Spring will completely drain. When I was here in 2020, Cistern was completely full, so it was beyond cool to see the change! Also, seeing a drained spring is a good lesson in why you don’t get close to them as the thin crust becomes quite apparent (as if the boiling water wasn’t a big enough deterrent).

Next I meandered through the Back Basin and then onto Porcelain Basin, keeping my eyes peeled for geysers and features I missed in 2020. These are not separate geyser basins, but they “separated” into two areas by a figure 8 of boardwalks and paths. I decided to first check out Back Basin clockwise, which was nice as I noticed things I didn’t see on my last trip because I was walking towards them this time. As the sun got higher, the fog burned off and temps rose (and icy boardwalks melted!).

Norris is a cobwebby place in the early morning hours
Not done with Steamboat yet, with a view from below its runoff channel (which will flood over the boardwalk during a major eruption)
Heading towards Black Pit and Echinus Geyser
Crater Spring playing a little bit. Steamboat is in the background.
Arch Steam Vent
NBBNN025. I like the three different colors
Mystic Spring
Puff-n-Stuff Geyser puffing and stuffing
Black Hermit Caldron
Green Dragon Spring and Gray Lakes.
There are many many many hot springs off the boardwalk at Norris, which are closed to public entry. Also, the mountains were out today!
Yellow Funnel Spring acting more like a steam vent
I was a bit amused with these little lumpy things
Vixen Geyser began playing in the distance!
Porkchop Geyser, which blew itself to pieces in 1989
One of the many springs that are off the boardwalk
Vixen Geyser’s cone
Corporal Geyser
Veteran Geyser
Fearless Geyser on the right. I heckled this geyser back in 2020, so it has a special place in my heart.
The spouters of Norris Sinks
Minute Geyser
You’re not forgotten to me, Forgotten Fumarole!!

Back Basin wrapped up, I followed the dirt path through the trees and popped out by the Norris Museum and Porcelain Basin. The part of Norris is legit one of my favorite places on Earth as it is so otherworldly!

The view from the hill. These colors!
Unique cone
Ledge Geyser played several time, soaking me a bit.

And now we take a trip to the surface of Jupiter!!!

I stared at this scene for a good 20-30 minutes, leading to someone asking “what are you looking at out there?!” I’m looking at all the things!!!
Selfies like this are why I will never been a good social media influencer or travel blogger
I spent a lot of times searching for these “baby volcanoes”
I spied this geyser off in the distance, and I feel like it must be pretty big since I could see it from so far away. This is a 300mm telephoto from the Porcelain Springs overlook. It played for quite awhile. I cannot seem to find a name for it since it is quite a ways off of the boardwalk.

Okayyyyy we’ll go back to Earth now.

Heading towards Crackling Lake
Crackling Lake
Looking back towards the geysers and vents on the hill
Pinwheel Geyser
Runoff from Whirligig Geyser
Cerulean Pool in foreground, Sunday Geyser in background
A final look! I’m still blown away by this scenery.

I stopped into the bookstore to get my passport stamps, and then ran back to my car to ditch my puffy jacket, layers, and grabbed the Adventure Dinos before heading back to Steamboat to see what was going on. The boardwalk was no longer icy and the crowds thickened, but I found room on the bench to eat my tuna and a muffin before posing my dinosaurs as adults looked on amusingly.

You’d think I was sponsored by Bumble Bee, but I swear I’m not!
The Adventures Dinos and the world’s tallest geyser (which was even shorter than a few hours earlier)
A sunny look at Emerald Pool
Heading back to the car and enjoying these amazing mountain views

After wrapping up hours at Norris, it was time to see what else I could do the rest of the day. I swung onto the one-way road to Virginia Cascades, and found a beautiful little spot along the creek where I sat and soaked in the nature.

A perfect fall scene on the Gibbon River

I still had plenty of time in the day, so I decided to check out Ice Lake, which is a short and easy one mile hike round trip through the forest to the western side of the lake. You can also do extended hikes in this area, including looping all the way around to Little Gibbon Falls.

Its been a long day without a fluffy cow!
Ice Lake Trailhead and the big trail network in the area
Worn sign on the trail. Campsite 4D3 is one of the few accessible designated backcountry campsites in Yellowstone
This area was burned in fires, so lots of new growth trees
First peak at Ice Lake
Behold, Ice Lake! It was hard to get to the shore due to lots of fallen trees
Ice Lake

I knew it was a shorter to reach Little Gibbon Falls from the Wolf Lake Trailhead, so I cut my Ice Lake hike short and headed back to the car to waterfall chase. In one of the hiking guide books I had it made it seem like Little Gibbon Falls was a hard hike, with wayfinding and potential to get lost so I had scratched it from my plans, especially after a “bear in area” warning was put out at NPS. However, I learned the bear had moved on, and decided to give the hike a try – boy am I glad I did! It turns out this was a totally easy hike with a well worn trail to follow, and only a couple of miles round trip. I parked at the pullout, and crossed the highway to follow the Wolf Lake Trail.

There is a large pullout for parking, and then just a very short walk to the east to get to the Wolf Lake Trailhead to begin the hike to Little Gibbon Falls
Wolf Lake Trailhead map
Enjoying some meadows on my final Yellowstone hike
This face makes me look like I’m up to no good!

There was a group at Little Gibbon Falls, but they left shortly after I arrived, so I had the view of the falls to myself. I sat down and enjoyed a snack and a beer to toast my final day in Yellowstone.

Little Gibbon Falls
There is an impressive crack the waterfall flows into at the bottom of the falls.
Enjoying a huckleberry hefeweizen beer at Little Gibbon Falls
Heading back to the car
The last journey for my dusty hiking boots this trip!

Hiking complete, it was early afternoon and I decided it was just time to relax, read in the hammock, and just enjoy one final day of no worries of work, texts, emails, the world. I had a new neighbor moving in, a solo gal with the best doggo in the world named Annie. Doggo came over to see me a few times with her stuffed moose, which was adorable.

I deem this doggo the World’s Very Best Girl
Afternoon reading and hammocking

I popped down to call my parents as I didn’t not have service at my campsite (but Canyon Village has amazing Verizon cell service near the stores/visitor center), and then went back up to cook my final dinner and go back to reading in the hammock. I chatted with my neighbor for about an hour or more, swapping travel and life stories before heading to the tent to get settled in for the night.

One of my faves, packet of mashed potatoes with a can of Dinty Moore to top it off!

Gosh, in 24 hours I’d be heading to bed on a real mattress with sheets… what a weird concept!

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