Hike Sentinel Meadows to Fairy Falls and Imperial Geyser

Fountain Flats Drive, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States

  • Activities:

    Chillin, Photography, Swimming, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    10.5 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    500 Feet

Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Hot Springs

This flat, 10.5 mile loop hike will take you past dozens of hot springs and a beautiful, 197-foot waterfall, while dodging Yellowstone crowds.  If you're lucky, you'll see some buffalo. 

This hike starts on a long, straight, wide and flat path due south from the trailhead.  After about a half a mile, you will come to the "Ojo Caliente" spring and a bridge crossing the Firehole River.  If you go down below either side of the bridge, you'll see dozens of bird's nests.  Right after the bridge, take a right, and follow this mostly flat trail around a few hills and into spacious views of meadows and some springs in the distance.  

You will come across a few hot springs of different shapes and sizes at your feet just after mile 3.  Be very careful here -- the signage needed at Ojo Caliente is not present at these, even though it is clear that the crust is quite thin.  Make sure to stay in places where you see other footprints.  Remember, any thin, tan and crusty ground are the remnants of dead heat-loving bacteria, meaning there was once hot water either flowing across that ground or rising in that very spot.  Be careful.  

The trail gets marshy in places and you will need to keep your eyes open for orange markers on trees labeling the continuation of the trail.

You will reach an intersection at almost four miles.  If you wish to cut your hike short and head back to your car, you can take a left and then another left several hundred yards later, following the initial wide path you started on.  But really you should turn right and follow this trail through more meadows and hot spring areas.  The area almost immediately on the left after your right turn has solid ground to walk on near the bubbling springs.

After 6 miles, take the right to Imperial Geyser .3 miles away.  Make sure you take an ambiguous fork in the trail to the right.  Follow this to what you might think is imperial geyser, when really if you bear left and follow the orange-bacteria covered creek up a hill you'll reach the actual Imperial Geyser.

Enjoy the geyser for however long you choose, then double back the way you came and fork right again to get to Fairy Falls, which is a fun place to sit on a few fallen logs or take a dip in the pool beneath the falls.  

** nowhere else should you or are you allowed to be swimming, you don't know how hot some of this water might be**

The trail continues on the east side of the falls and ensuing creek, and unfortunately the last four or so miles of the hike are less eventful than the first seven.  First the trail will pass through dense flat forest and then you'll turn left back onto the long flat trail you started on and walk along and equally flat but less spring-filled gravel road for two and a half miles.  When I did this hike, the trail up to the Grand Prismatic viewpoint was closed for maintenance, but you may have better luck.  

This hike can be extended by checking out Twin Buttes, which is beyond Imperial Geyser, or going up Fountain Flats trail to the Grand Prismatic viewpoint or beyond.   

Pack List

  • Camera
  • Water & snacks
  • Waterproof footwear for marshy areas
  • Sandals, if you wish to dip in the Fairy Falls pool
  • Layers appropriate for the forecast
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Overall rating: 

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One of our favorite hikes in the park! The biked the first half of this trek which was nice in the summer time as most of the Meadows section is very sun exposed. Imperial Geyser is fantastic, budget time to stay a while!

8 months ago
8 months ago

There was not very many tourists/people on this trail in general, which made it very enjoyable. The hike was gorgeous and peaceful -- well worth it. The falls themselves were great - a relaxing place to sit & soak in the sunshine or a great place to eat a sack lunch. Easy to get to the water and lots of cool logs and fallen trees to climb on as well!

11 months ago
11 months ago

We are so glad we took this longer hike and were surprised how quickly the crowds disappeared. We were actually by ourselves on the trail the majority of the time which was great. The trail is well marked and the falls gave us a great place to relax and eat a packed lunch. Take water!

about 1 year ago
about 1 year ago

Justin Appleby

Engineering student at Stanford. Part-time adventurer.

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