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Splitboarding Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail

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Story and photos by John Layshock EBS Contributor

The largest hot spring in the world, Grand Prismatic Spring, is one of Mother Nature’s most brilliant treasures. 

In Yellowstone National Park’s Midway Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic has flowing hot water that drains into the Firehole River and also sits next to another feature called the Excelsior Geyser Crater. The Excelsior Geyser historically erupted 300 to 400 feet high until pressure caused it to explode in the 1890s, leaving the hot spring found there now. The Grand Prismatic is one of Yellowstone’s most recognizable and famous features.  

Construction on a new overlook trail began last summer and the trail will open next summer. It starts from the Fairy Falls trailhead and crosses the bridge over the Firehole River. It’s less than 1 mile to the overlook and gains about 300 to 400 feet in elevation. Since the 1988 fires cleared the nearby ridgelines of dense forests, the open terrain was a natural lure for people to climb for a better view.  

Splitboarder Dave Jessup skins through cold snow and long shadows in Yellowstone National Park.

Splitboarder Dave Jessup skins through cold snow and long shadows in Yellowstone National Park.

At least a dozen “social” trails were created as visitation and popularity has grown. These trails were not safe for the general public and caused a lot of added erosion. As the re-growth of the forest continues and the volume of summer visitors increases, this trail is a big improvement and benefits all visitors with safe and easy access.  

The summer parking situation for this trailhead is not large enough for the volume of visitors hoping to use this new overlook trail. While there is always a flow of traffic that continually moves, I always choose to go very early, or very late in the day.  

Winter visitation is another story, and the parking lot only experiences a tiny fraction of the vehicle volume that summer has. It’s like another world in winter with harsh and beautiful contrasts: hot and cold, life and death.  

My friend Dave Jessup and I had about half a day to enjoy this latest trail opening. We immediately noticed two huge wolf tracks walking the old Fountain Freight Road along the Fairy Falls Trail. It’s territory for the Canyon wolf pack, but we didn’t see any of them to make proper identifications. 

Using skis and a splitboard, we climbed another 200 to 300 feet to the top of the Yellowstone Caldera rim with fresh, light powder and bluebird skies. The only tracks to be seen were from bison, wolves and other animals. The moderate ascent delivered up to a dozen turns on the way down before you hit the trailhead at the bottom.

Remember: always follow the federal park rules and stay on boardwalks and designated trails in the thermal basins, and be aware of where you are at all times. 

We didn’t have enough time to continue to Fairy Falls, but that is also a great cross-country ski of about 2 to 3 miles one way. The trail to Fairy Falls is good for beginners, with a very slight elevation change.  

Most visitation here during the winter requires a guide. Many tour companies offer limited opportunities for skiing and snowshoeing during public tours, but private tours can organize their own day with the company and a guide. A small group of friends and/or family (five to 12) can book a private tour all day together.

John Layshock is a guide and photographer in Island Park, Idaho, and West Yellowstone, Montana, and works for Yellowstone Alpen Guides. Contact them at (406) 646-9591 or visit for more information. Visit to see Layshock’s photographs and videos, or contact him at

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