What exactly is a paint pot anyways? You may have never heard this term before, that is, until you start planning a visit to Yellowstone National Park! Once there, you will quickly realize that this unique geothermal environment includes multiple trails and areas of paint pots! Before I give away the secret to what exactly a paint pot is, and why you need to witness them in person, let’s get to know one of the best trails for catching paint pots in action, the Fountain Paint Pot Trail in Yellowstone National Park!
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Table of Contents
Guide to the Fountain Paint Pot Trail in Yellowstone National Park
This guide to the Fountain Paint Pot Trail includes:
- Background on the Paint Pots in Yellowstone
- Safety Precautions around the Paint Pots in Yellowstone
- What to Know Before You Go
- Helpful Distances
- Quick Overview of the Fountain Paint Pot Trail
- Full Report on the Fountain Paint Pot Trail
- Other Attractions Near the Fountain Paint Pot Trail
Background on Paint Pots in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park presides over a heat infused volcanic caldera. While it may not be apparent everywhere on the surface, this heat is searching for ways out. After you spend time exploring Yellowstone National Park, this escaping heat will become more apparent. After all, Yellowstone sits on top of a still active volcano!
Pressurized water and gasses escape up through the ground, creating the bubbling action you see in Yellowstone’s paint pots (also known as mud pots). The amount of bubbling action can vary throughout the year, due to factors like rain, snow melt, etc. In some pots, where the mud is thicker, escaping pressure can even through gurgling spray over the rails of some boardwalk trails!
So what’s the difference between paint pots, mud pots, geysers, and hot springs? Basically, the amount of water! All of these geothermal occurrences are happening due to pressure, but the various pots around Yellowstone have limited water, while geysers and hot springs have more water!
Safety Precautions Around the Paint Pots in Yellowstone
As you may imagine at this point, it is very important to maintain certain safety standards when hiking on the Fountain Paint Pot Trail, or any trail near active geothermal activity in Yellowstone.
- ALWAYS stay on boardwalks, behind railings, and on designated trails!
- NEVER attempt to touch pools, springs, vents, pots, geysers, etc.!
- Do NOT run on these trails!
- Be mindful of others and do not push or shove.
- Supervise children at all times, and NEVER allow them to break any of these rules!
- Do NOT hoist children above railings!
- Do NOT bring pets on these trails!
- Do NOT attempt to pick up items that may have dropped near geothermal activity.
What to Know Before You Go
Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Entrance Fees: $35 per vehicle, good for 7 consecutive days
Hours: Yellowstone National Park is open daily (much of the park closes for the winter season, from fall – mid spring).
Nearest Town: West Yellowstone (Google Map)
Nearest Airport: the closest regional airport is West Yellowstone Airport, and the closest international airports are Bozeman International Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport
Pet Policy: pets are NOT allowed on hiking trails in Yellowstone National Park, including the Fountain Paint Pot Trail.
Best Time to Visit: Late Spring – Early Fall
- Yellowstone National Park West Entrance to Fountain Paint Pot Trail: 30 minutes
- Fountain Paint Pot Trail to Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone: 1 hour
- Fountain Paint Pot Trail to Norris Geyser Basin: 35 minutes
- Fountain Paint Pot Trail to Midway Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic Springs: 5 minutes
- Fountain Paint Pot Trail to Old Faithful: 15 minutes
*Note that these times are estimated, and may be longer depending on traffic and how busy the roads in Yellowstone are during peak visiting seasons, weekends, or times of the day
Quick Overview of the Fountain Paint Pot Trail in Yellowstone
Location of the Fountain Paint Pot Trailhead: The Fountain Paint Pot Trail is located on Highway 191/89, south of the west entrance. From the west entrance, follow Highway 191 east, until it splits, taking the right split to continue south. There are roadside signs for the Fountain Paint Pot Trail. If you pass the Midway Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic Springs, you have gone too far south on Highway 191.
Length: 0.6 mile roundtrip loop
Rating: Easy – this is a short boardwalk trail with very little elevation gain. There is a short grade after Silex Spring at the beginning of the trail.
Estimated Time to Complete: 15 – 20 minutes
Elevation Gain: 22 feet
Parking: there is parking at the trailhead, though it fills up quickly during peak seasons, days, and hours. Arrive early to secure the best chance at immediate parking without a wait.
Facilities: there are bathroom facilities at the Fountain Paint Pot Trailhead.
Full Report on the Fountain Paint Pot Trail
The Fountain Paint Pot Trail is a great hike for solo travelers, couples, and families alike. It is suitable for all ages and all abilities. It is the perfect length to enjoy the sights of Yellowstone, while still leaving plenty of time in the day for the rest of the activities on your Yellowstone itinerary.
The Fountain Paint Pot Trail is mesmerizing from the start, where you will pass a small grove of dead lodgepole pines, sticking out of the watery mud, looking starkly out of place in this thermal environment.
If you follow the loop counterclockwise, you will next encounter the “bacteria mats” and their colorful ribbons of blues, greens, and orange. Next is Silas Spring, where hot water escapes the surface to form a hot spring.
From this point, you will likely be able to hear your next landmark, the Red Spouter. The Red Spouter is a large and very vocal mud pot, spouting its reddish brown mud feet in the air! In the early spring and summer, when there is more water, the Red Spouter takes on more geyser like qualities, throwing reddish water into the air.
Continuing along on the Fountain Paint Pot Trail, you will pass several more geothermal spots up close, like the colorful Leather Pool, before arriving at the expansive landscape known as the Volcanic Tableland. After seeing numerous formations up close to the boardwalk, it is an awe inspiring view to see them from this perspective, spread out over miles! From this vantage point stretching far over the horizon, you can witness multiple steam vents rising towards the sky, and even the possibility of multiple geysers erupting in the distance.
Twig Geyser, one of the most regularly erupting geysers on the Fountain Paint Pot Trail, is immediately next and close to the boardwalk trail. When it does erupt, expect a geyser several feet in height! Another potential eruption can come from the Jet Geyser, a few feet up from Twig Geyser, on the left side of the boardwalk trail. It can produce a geyser that is up to 20 feet tall!
A handful of other geysers populate the rest of the Fountain Paint Pot Trail, including Morning Geyser, Spasm Geyser, and Jelly Geyser. The boardwalk trail then begins to take a curve back towards the trailhead, passing one last sight, the Celestine Pool, before arriving back at the trailhead for the Fountain Paint Pot Trail.
As you can tell, though this may be a short trail, it is packed with sights and sounds, really providing the most for your time!
Other Attractions Near the Fountain Paint Pot Trail in Yellowstone National Park
Get the full picture of what’s going on in Yellowstone, with stops at these additional, exciting attractions near the Fountain Paint Pot Trail in Yellowstone National Park!
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
As the name suggests, this region of Yellowstone National Park contains a thunderous waterfall that cascades through a deep gorge in the earth, much like its namesake sibling in Arizona (minus the gigantic waterfall)!
These scenic area is home to multiple hiking trails and overlooks, all with one thing in common. They are all centered around the outstanding views here in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Norris Geyser Basin
The Norris Geyser Basin is brimming with geothermal activity. There is literally a surprise around every turn of this boardwalk trail. Geysers, steam vents, colorful pools and streams, paint pots, and more, all abound here. In fact, unknown to many, Old Faithful is not the tallest geyser in the park. That title belongs to Steamboat Geyser, found here in the Norris Geyser Basin.
Artists Paint Pot Trail
The Artist Paint Pot Trail is similar to the Fountain Paint Pot Trail, in that it is a great hike to check out more bubbling and gurgling pots in the earth’s crust.
Gibbon Falls is an easy, convenient, roadside attraction, with a short, easy overlook trail. Gibbon Falls may not be the tallest waterfall in the park, but it is nonetheless stunning and graceful!
Harlequin Lake is a seriously underrated spot in Yellowstone’s west entrance region, as it is one of my favorite places to take a break from the often busyness and crowds of Yellowstone, and enjoy the deafening silence, solitude, and peacefulness of this thickly wooded trail and serene, still, lake.
Midway Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic Springs
Easily one of the most photographed and visited destinations in Yellowstone National Park, you can’t miss out on the iconic colors of the Midway Geyser Basin and the Grand Prismatic Springs!
Another iconic attraction in Yellowstone is the timely Old Faithful geyser. And while you are there, make sure to visit the historic Old Faithful Inn.
West Yellowstone Town
The town of West Yellowstone itself is a destination all its own. Shops, restaurants, museums, lodging, and other amenities make it worth the stop. And then there is my favorite attraction within West Yellowstone itself, the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.
Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
Want to see Yellowstone’s wildlife up close and personal, while learning more about them and their environment? Then put the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center on your list. Pay a visit to this center’s resident bears, and watch them forage for food hidden in rocks and under logs by guests. Then check out the wolf pack, including some striking, snowy white wolves! There are other native animals here too, including several birds of prey, a prairie dog town, and fish and otters!
All of these top attractions near the Fountain Paint Pot Trail, are also all conveniently congregated near the west entrance of Yellowstone. Combine all of these unbeatable spots in the park on this perfect 3 day Yellowstone itinerary from the west entrance!
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