Two hikers at Cistern Spring, Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Two Hikers at Cistern Spring, Yellowstone National Park - stock photo

Federica Grassi/Getty

Back Basin

Yellowstone National Park

Two miles of boardwalks and gentle trails snake through Norris' forested Back Basin. The main show here is Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser, which infrequently skyrockets to an awesome 380ft (over twice as high as Old Faithful). The geyser was dormant for half a century until 1961 and quiet again for most of the 1990s, but it burst back into life in 2018, erupting every eight days or so during spring. Rangers give a talk here several times a day.

As you exit the tiny Norris Museum from Porcelain Basin, take the right-hand path into Back Basin. Emerald Spring combines reflected blue light with yellow sulfur deposits to create a striking blue-green color. For a shorter loop, take the right branch at Cistern Springs; otherwise, continue clockwise around the basin.

Near Steamboat Geyser, yellow-and-green Cistern Spring is linked to Steamboat through underground channels and empties for a day or two following Steamboat’s eruptions. The spring is slowly drowning its surroundings in geyserite deposits.

Past the eroded runoff channel of Steamboat Geyser you'll come to dramatic Echinus Geyser, the park’s largest acidic geyser. It erupted every couple of hours until fairly recently, with spouts reaching up to 60ft and sometimes continuing for more than an hour, but these days it’s pretty quiet. You can get closer to the action here than at almost any of the park’s other geysers, and if you sit in the grandstand, you may well get wet during an eruption (kids love it). Furious bubbling signals an imminent eruption. Echinus (e-ki-nuss) is named for its spiny geyserite deposits (echinoderms include sea urchins), characteristic of acidic solutions.

After deposits sealed its tiny, 2in-wide vent, Porkchop Geyser exploded in 1989, blowing huge lumps of geyserite 200ft away (you can see a lump of Porkchop in the Old Faithful Visitor Center). Recent rises in the ground temperature forced the park service to reroute the boardwalk around the back of Porkchop Geyser for safety purposes. The geyser once had the excellent name of Dr Morey's Porkchop Geyser.

Nearby Pearl Geyser is one of the park’s prettiest. Punsters love the British pronunciation of Veteran Geyser – ‘Veteran Geezer.’ Minute Geyser is a victim of early visitor vandalism and sadly no longer erupts every 60 seconds, despite its constant bubbling.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Yellowstone National Park attractions

1. Norris Museum

0.27 MILES

This tiny museum was the park's first, opening in 1930. Displays focus on the underground plumbing that makes Yellowstone's thermal features so unique.

2. Norris Geyser Basin

0.28 MILES

Norris Geyser Basin comprises Porcelain Basin and Back Basin, accessed through two connecting loops. If the world's tallest geyser, Steamboat Geyser, isn…

3. Porcelain Basin

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One mile of boardwalks loop through Porcelain Basin, the park’s hottest exposed basin. (The name comes from the area’s milky deposits of sinter, also…

4. Museum of the National Park Ranger

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5. Artist Paint Pots

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The multicolored springs and fountains along a pleasant 1-mile loop hike southwest of Norris are interesting, but it's the ill-mannered belching and…

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