Norris Geyser Basin is a place of superlatives. It contains Yellowstone’s hottest hydrothermals. It is the oldest geyser basin in the park. It houses the world’s tallest geyser. And it also has the most changeable landscape.
Below the surface of Norris Geyser Basin, temperatures reach 459 degrees. By the time water exits the earth into geysers, hot springs, and steam vents, it has cooled only to boiling (199 degrees). In some places, only a fragile thin crust covers the deadly water below.
To orient yourself, stop at the historic Norris Geyser Basin Museum. Exhibits provide an introduction to this extreme and fast-changing environment, and rangers guide walks. Then, tackle the trails and boardwalks of less than 3 miles total to circle the two basins.
The beauty of Porcelain Basin belies the wicked heat below ground. Devoid of trees, the landscape pours steam from vents, streams, and pools. Listen to the noise coming from Black Growler and Hurricane vents. Enjoy smaller geysers such as Whirligig, Little Whirligig, and Pinwheel. Soak up rich color from milky blue pools and green or orange thermophiles.
Tucked into the trees in Back Basin, two geysers get most of the attention. Steamboat ranks as the world’s tallest geyser, but it rarely erupts from its cone. Echinus, a fountain geyser, can spout water for up to an hour. Eruptions dwindled in the past two decades, but renewed activity in October 2017 perhaps heralds a return. Even if you can’t see these two geysers, Back Basin contains smaller hydrothermals. Other frequent geyser eruptions come from Fan, Minute, Pearl, Vixen, and Porkchop.