What is special about Norris Geyser Basin? First, it is the hottest of all in Yellowstone, more heat than anywhere else escapes from this Yellowstone hot spot. The geysers are hot enough to release boiling water. Secondly, heat is not the only thing Norris Geyser Basin has to offer, it is also packed with toxins like arsenic and mercury.
So why is it that Norris Geyser Basin it so hot? It is all due to its location. The area is located near the northwestern corner of Yellowstone National Park – where it sits on top of several cracks in the earth crust. Basically the heat from Yellowstone’s hot spot has found a shortcut to the surface via Norris Geyser Basin.
Heat and poison is not all you will find here. Norris Geyser Basin can also brag about having the tallest geyser, not only in Yellowstone but in the world. Steamboat Geyser erupts over 300 feet (90 m) into the air. In comparison the more famous geyser of Yellowstone, Old Faithful, erupts 185 feet (56 m). But you have to be patient to see Steamboat erupt, it can be a year between each time she erupts. If you want to catch an eruption you’ll have better luck with Old Faithful.
You might also be interested in: Yellowstone – Old Faithful
How long does it take to do Norris Geyser Basin?
Norris Geyser Basin is a large area and I would recommend planning the day here. If you have small kids you should probably choose a short route. Or if it is a very warm day be aware that there is little shade to hide in. You might want to consider which areas you would like to prioritise.
What to see at Norris Geyser Basin? Map and attractions.
The basin basically consists of two areas: Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin. The map below from National Park Service gives you an indication of the layout. I´ll give you a guided photographic tour of some of the highlights in both sections below and hopefully it will help you plan your trip. And if needed – help prioritise what you want to experience.
Photographic tour of Norris Porcelain Basin
Porcelain Basin is the shorter of the two loops of Norris Geyser Basin. The area has woodway crossing larger and smaller colourful pools and springs. Some of the pools and springs are named and others not. And the area changes a bit from year to year. I found all the colours fascinating and beautiful.
Crackling Lake is one of the most colourful features of Porcelain Basin. The name of this thermal feature comes from popping sounds from springs on its southern shore. On its far side some spouting activity of Crackling Spring can be observed.
Porcelain Springs is located all the way to the north-east of Porcelain Basin, but well worth the walk to get there. Structures within Porcelain Springs are changing very quickly because emitted hot water precipitates a lot of minerals in a short time. The minerals together with thermophilic bacteria generate deposites in gorgeous colors.
Photographic tour of Norris Back Basin
The Back Basin is the longer route with its 2.7 km (1.7 mile). First stop along the Norris Back Basin is Emerald Spring, a lovely blue-green hot spring. You can immediately understand why it was named Emerald. It is mostly a calm pool and usually only has a few bubbles rising to the surface.
Steamboat Geyser is the world’s tallest currently-active geyser. Steamboat does not erupt on a predictable schedule, so I would not stop and wait for an eruption. However since it emits steam you’ll still have a good chance getting a smoking, hot photo.
Cistern Spring also has a lovely greenish colour with yellow sulfur lining.
One of the other very colourful features along the Back Basin boardwalk is Echinus Geyser. Echinus is very close to the boardwalk, which allows you to get very close to the feature. The waters in Echinus Geyser are acidic (verging on a pH of 3.3 to 3.6), which is an extreme rarity in the world of erupting thermal features. Nowadays Echinus Geyser is an irregular spouter and most of the time its waters stand idle.
Pearl Geyser really makes an impression with its colourful waters in contrast to the white deposits surrounding it.
At the end of the loop you’ll find Branch Spring and Minute Geyser.
Hope you enjoyed this colourful tour around Norris Geyser Basin, and if you are planning to visit Yellowstone – that it was helpful for getting the most out of your trip.