In the northwestern area of Yellowstone we find one of the many wonders that this park has to offer its visitors. This is Mammoth Hot Springs, a series of petrified terraces with amazing colors and shapes, petrified waterfalls carved with a chisel by Mother Nature. Visiting them is not difficult but without due organization, the visit can be much more tiring. Here are some tips to enjoy them at their best: what to do, how to get there, where to park, how long to spend, the best time to visit, etc.
- Where is and how to get to Mammoth Hot Springs
- Best time to visit Mammoth Hot Springs
- How long to spend at Mammoth Hot Springs?
- Things to do in Mammoth Hot Springs and tips for visiting
- Photo Gallery
- Fort Yellowstone Historic District
- Where to Stay near Mammoth Hot Springs
Where is and how to get to Mammoth Hot Springs
The site is divided into 2 areas, the Upper Terraces, and the Lower Terraces. The Upper Terraces are visible from the car on a short circular route, the Lower Terraces require a walk on the wooden walkways. Both are worth a visit but the most interesting are undoubtedly the latter. My advice is to see the upper part first and then the lower part.
The travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Spring are located in the northwest area of the park, about 10 minutes from the North Entrance in Gardiner, Montana; however, they are also accessible from 2 other entrances:
- West Yellowstone, approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes. Take 191 towards the park and turn left onto 89 at Madison Junction. Leave Norris Geyser Basin behind and continue on the road for about 20 miles until you notice a small parking lot on your left with a road at the end. This is the Upper Terrace Loop Drive. There are also more parking lots further along the loop drive. Along the way you will pass through the scenic Golden Gate Canyon.
- Cooke City, about 1.5 hours. Drive on 212 through the Lamar Valley until you reach the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District, turn left at the Albright Visitor Center and you will reach the Lower Terraces Area.
The reference information point is the Albright Visitor Center, where you can pick up a booklet with a map for $1 and check out the small museum set up inside.
Best time to visit Mammoth Hot Springs
The colorful Mammoth Hot Springs are changing all the time, so each moment can be unique to visit them. If you are looking for a slightly cooler temperature, the best time of year to visit Mammoth Hot Springs may be early summer or early fall. The site is open all year round, but in winter the Loop Drive that allows you to visit the Upper Terraces is closed and the walkways are not maintained. If you plan to visit the area in the winter, read this information.
How long to spend at Mammoth Hot Springs?
The Upper Terrace Drive is very short, taking about 10 minutes by car. The path that crosses the Lower Terrace area, marked by wooden walkways, takes a little longer, at least half an hour, but if you want to enjoy it, stopping to take pictures, you could spend twice as long there. The walk is not a long one, but it can be very hot and there are many stairs, so equip yourself accordingly.
Things to do in Mammoth Hot Springs and tips for visiting
Mammoth Hot Springs Parking
Mammoth Hot Springs is a very popular destination (though not as crowded as the Old Faithful area) and there aren’t that many parking lots: you can find 2 small near the Upper Terraces and another 5 at the Lower Terraces (see map below). My advice is to go first to the upper part and look for parking near the loop. If you don’t find any right away you can do a few laps of the loop drive admiring the travertine terraces in the hope that a parking place will free up. From there, once the loop is done, you can start the descent to the beautiful Lower Terraces, get to the bottom, and then climb back up.
If you have no luck and there are no seats available at the Upper Terraces, you’ll have to go back to the lower area, go up to visit the Lower Terraces, and then go back down. If you can’t find a spot here either, there are still other parking lots at the Mammoth Terrace Grill and the Mammoth Hotel, about 400 meters from Mammoth Hot Springs. In the map above you will find an overview of useful parking lots.
How to see the best in a short time
If you don’t want to go all the way, you can enjoy the best of this natural wonder while saving time and effort, by following this itinerary:
- Park in the Upper Terraces (you can do the loop drive now or later)
- Take the walkway down to Canary Spring and walk back up to your starting point
- Pick up your car, park near the Lower Terraces, and enjoy Palette Spring
Mammoth Hot Springs Trail Map
Above the official Mammoth Hot Spring Trail Map distributed by Yellowstone National Park.
What to see at Mammoth Hot Springs? The main terraces
There are many terraces you’ll encounter along the way, but the most fascinating are the following:
- Canary Spring
- Palette Spring
- Minerva Terrace
- Angel Terrace
- New Highland Terrace
- Orange Spring Mound
Can you swim in Mammoth Hot Springs?
Soaking or swimming is not allowed in any of the Yellowstone’s hot springs because it is dangerous for visitors, as well as damaging the hot springs.
Taking a few photos of these natural masterpieces makes you realize how difficult it is to render their beauty through a camera lens. As hard as we tried, expect much more than what you see below.
Fort Yellowstone Historic District
Not many people know this, but just a short walk from the site is Fort Yellowstone Historic District, an area that saw 32 years of U.S. Army deployment, called upon to defend the park’s natural resources from poachers and hunters from 1886 to 1918. A walk through the historic district takes about 45 minutes. The buildings on the outside have been preserved in their original appearance, but much of it cannot be visited inside as it is used as residences for District employees. At the Albright Visitor Center you can pick up a map of the buildings, included in the Historic District Walking Tour booklet for $1.
Where to Stay near Mammoth Hot Springs
If you are looking for lodging near Mammoth Hot Springs, I recommend reading our recommendations for this area at these 2 links:
- How to stay inside the park near Mammoth Hot Springs
- How to stay outside the park near Mammoth Hot Springs
However, if you are visiting Yellowstone Park it is very likely that you will choose another area for accommodation. In our article on where to stay in Yellowstone you will find an overview of all the possibilities, while in my Yellowstone itinerary you will find a detailed route to visit the park with the areas where I recommend to stay overnight.