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Mallard Creek, Mallard Lake, and the Upper Geyser Basin (Old Faithful)
The Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park contains the most famous hydrothermal feature in the park, Old Faithful. Surrounding this iconic geyser are a vast array of spring, pools, and geysers. I hiked up from Mallard Creek to nearby Mallard Lake, then dropped down to the basin and explored around, including a visit to the Morning Glory Pool. From there, I closed the loop along the uninteresting Powerline Trail.
The hike up to Mallard Lake via the Mallard Creek Trail is a hike through a hall of lodgepole pines. Limited views along a steep trail don’t lend itself to repeating. The gnarled landscape, formed by volcanic rock has you going mostly up, but many little sections of downhill as you climb over these “knuckles” of rock. I followed the dried up Mallard Creek with the company of nesting Ospreys and the “eep” of American Pikas. As I gained elevation, Grand Prismatic Spring far in the distance came into view which was a cool view of this famous landmark.
Occasional rock formations lining the creek bed help make things interesting. As I gained more elevation, I encountered some older stands of trees. The highlight was a high, rock outcropping overlooking Mallard Lake and the beginning of the Mallard Creek drainage. I spotted a deer, had lunch, then headed down to the lake.
The lake is a lovely lake with a few great campsites. It’s amazing that such a secluded camping spot lies next to the notoriously busy Old Faithful area. After enjoying some birds and the water, I headed down the Mallard Lake Trail to Old Faithful. This trail begins in a pleasant, mature stand of trees and crosses through a sort of “gate” of rocks the breaks out into a boulder lined drainage that was really interesting. From there, I bounced between varying stands of trees and meadows and got a nice vantage of the Old Faithful Area.
Eventually, I crossed a little stream and descended into the trees, passing few hydrothermal features until I reached the Firehole River. From there, I crossed the river on a bridge to a housing area. This area was under repairs, so I had to go around a fenced area to get to the busy Old Faithful Area. I followed a paved path around the famous Old Faithful Geyser, crossed the Firehole River once again and took the trail up to Observation Point. This bird’s eye view of the Upper Geyser Basin is a fun look with some great rock formations along the way.
From there, I took the side trail to the beautiful Solitary Geyser which was an old spring that was tapped for hot water. It then erupted and has frequently erupted, albeit small, since. I then descended back to the pavement.
The combination of paved paths, bridges, and boardwalks in this area had me walking past a mind-blowing array of hydrothermal formations. Clear pools, red pools, bubbling pools, steaming cones, gurgling geysers, etc all dazzled the senses (including the persistent sulphur smell). I was fortunate enough to happen upon Old Faithful erupting as I was seeing it from a different angle than I’d seen in the spring which was fun.
Further along, as the sun began to get low, I happened upon the Riverside Geyser erupting which was amazing. This geyser sits at the edge of the Firehole River and blows high in the air. The setting sun turned it pink making it a special delight.
Walking along the Firehole River at sunset is a moving experience. It’s beauty takes your breath away as golden rays light up steam coming off the water. Pink clouds reflected in the river and surrounding pools double their beauty. I finally reached Morning Glory Pool, a couple more springs and then descended into the trees along the Powerline Trail as the sun set. This little section as light fades is a little unnerving, so I was eager to get to my car and relieved when I did. Even in the light, however, it is anything but remarkable.
Overall, I’d probably avoid the Mallard Creek Trail, but the hike up to Mallard Lake was quite pleasant and a great way to get away from folks if you’re staying in the Old Faithful area. The Upper Geyser Basin itself needs to be explored by every visitor to Yellowstone National Park as it has a huge collections of hydrothermal features that help make the park incredibly special.