Hike to Fairy Falls through Imperial Meadows

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Added by Marilla Havens

Rarely seen backcountry thermal featuresA stunning and popular waterfallOptions of short side trips to Imperial Geyser and Grand Prismatic SpringLots of wildlifeWildflowers for daysVery few people

This is a seldom-used and incredibly underrated trail that takes an alternate, 10.5 mile route to the popular Fairy Falls through some backcountry thermal areas and some stunning meadows filled with wildflowers. If you're lucky, you might run into a few bears as well. Note that it's closed for bear management until Memorial Day.

The trail begins at the end of Fountain Flats Drive, south of Madison Campground. Park in the parking lot and walk along the blocked-off dirt road for a little to get to the trailhead. You can do this loop trail in either direction with no added difficulty. Take the bridge across the Firehole River and take a right at the trailhead. The trail will take you through a series of meadows, past some thermal features. At the beginning there's a few small hills that give great views of some backcountry hot springs.

A couple miles in, the trail turns sharply to the right into Fairy Meadows--this turn is well marked with some signs on a tree, but easy to miss if you're not paying attention as it appears to also keep going straight. Take the right into the meadow to stay on track. This part of the trail can be a little damp, but it shouldn't be too bad. If you look towards the south, you can see Fairy Falls in a little chunk cut out of the mountains. Pick your way through a few thermal areas (be careful to stay on the trail!) and hop a couple small creeks and you'll hit the junction with the Fairy Falls Trail. When you're crossing through the hot springs, look for footprints where others have stepped and try to stay in the shallowest areas. There was a pretty large one around three miles in that I couldn't find a way to get around and ended up just walking through carefully.

Fairy Falls trail is heavily used and well-marked. You'll start heading towards the waterfall, and there will come a point where it seems like you're going the wrong way, but eventually the trail heads back in the right direction. Cross a marshy area on some nailed together wooden boards, then you'll reach the junction towards Imperial Geyser. If you've got a few minutes, this is a very short and definitely worthwhile side trip. Imperial Geyser erupts from a bright blue hot spring and can reach 60 feet in height.

Once you're back on the Fairy Falls Trail, follow it until you reach the waterfall, which flows delicately 197 feet down a rock face. This waterfall's extremely popular, so you're likely to see other people there. Once you've taken in the view, follow the Fairy Falls Trail through a young forest until you reach a gravel road (Fountain Freight Road, but there's no sign). You can take a right on this road if you want to see Grand Prismatic Spring--walk a few minutes and scramble up the hill to your right for a birds-eye view.

To finish out the loop, take a left at the road and follow it along the Firehole RIver for around 3 miles until you reach the trailhead. This is probably the least scenic section of the hike, but you do pass a few lakes. In my experience, though, this was a really long three miles.

You could also do this trail as a shuttle and leave a vehicle at the Fairy Falls trailhead. In this case you'd take a right and Fountain Freight Road and walk 1 miles to the trailhead. Be aware that the Fairy Falls trailhead is extremely busy and it can be hard to find parking.

You also have the option of doing this as an overnighter, as there's three campsites you'll pass along the way.

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