Place

Black Sand Basin Trailhead

Deep milky blue steaming pool surrounded by shallow water on orange bacterial mats
Dead trees and milky blue pool

Quick Facts

Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits, Information Kiosk/Bulletin Board, Wheelchair Accessible

1 mile (1.6 km) walk to Black Sand Basin from Daisy Geyser or 1 mile (1.6 km) drive northwest of Old Faithful along the main road.

Named for sand derived from black volcanic glass (obsidian), this basin features some of the most splendid hot springs in Yellowstone.

Hydrothermal features here:

  • Emerald Pool
  • Rainbow Pool
  • Sunset Lake (actually a geyser, but its eruptions are infrequent and seldom noticed because of the heavy steam over the water)
  • Cliff Geyser, on the edge of Iron Spring Creek. Erupts every few minutes, sometimes to 40 feet (12 m)

Upper Geyser Basin

The majority of world’s active geysers are in the Upper Geyser Basin, including Old Faithful. Only four other places in the world have large concentrations of hydrothermal features: Russia (Kamchatka), Chile, New Zealand, and Iceland.

The heat for the hydrothermal features comes from Yellowstone’s volcano. Molten rock or magma may be as close as 3-8 miles (5-13 km) underground. Rain and snow supply water that seeps downs several thousand feet (more than a kilometer) below the surface where it is heated.

Underground cracks form a natural plumbing system. Hot water rises through the plumbing to produce hot springs and geysers.

Hot Springs

Hot springs are the most common hydrothermal features in Yellowstone. Their plumbing has no constrictions.

Superheated water cools as it reaches the surface, sinks, and is replaced by hotter water from below.

This circulation prevents water from reaching the temperature needed to set off an eruption.

Color and Heat Lovers

Hydrothermal features are also habitats in which microscopic organisms survive and thrive. They are called thermophiles: "thermo" for heat and "phile" for lover.

Although they are too small to be seen with the naked eye, trillions are grouped together and appear as masses of color. They are nourished by energy and chemical building blocks.

Colorless and yellow thermophiles grow in the hottest water.

Orange, brown, and green thermophiles grow in cooler waters.

Imagine living in near-boiling temperatures, in hydrothermal features with the alkalinity of baking soda, or in water so acidic that it can burn holes in clothing. Microorganisms in Yellowstone need these extremes to survive.

Geysers

Geysers have constrictions in their plumbing systems that prevent water from moving freely to the surface where heat would escape. Water beneath the constrictions creates a buildup of steam. Eventually the steam pushes water past the constrictions and the geyser erupts.

 

Accessibility

There are a few steep sections on the boardwalk.

Use Caution in Hydrothermal Areas

  • Stay on boardwalks and designated trails.
  • Hydrothermal water can severely burn you.
  • Never run, push, or shove.
  • Supervise children at all times.
  • Do not scratch hydrothermal mats.

You are responsible for your safety.

Think safety, act safely. Yellowstone is a dangerous place.

Yellowstone National Park

Last updated: March 24, 2022