Easily accessible areas of Gibbon Geyser Basin
, a few miles southwest of the larger and more famous Norris Geyser Basin, are limited to Artist Paint Pots
, Monument Geyser Basin
and several viewpoints along the main road, but other sections can be explored by careful off-trail hiking. The thermal features of the basin are quite spread out, extending 3 miles from the very active and rather dangerous Geyser Springs in the east, to the more tranquil Sylvan Springs
in the west, along the edge of Gibbon Meadows. These may be reached by walking 2 miles, mostly through grassland, and consist of one main group plus several others.
Features are a typical mix of bubbling springs, warm pools, fumaroles and mud pots, without any true geysers though some of the springs are constantly boiling, sometimes sending water several feet into the air. The active areas are located near the edge of the section of forest burnt in 1988, resulting in some parts of the surroundings being covered both by a convoluted lattice of fallen trees and groves of closely spaced new growth pines, making cross country travel difficult, but the main region, centered on a large pool known as Dante's Inferno, is relatively easy to access.
All visitors need to be familiar with the park regulations
concerning off-trail travel in the vicinity of backcountry thermal regions.
Parking for the Sylvan Springs hike is along the Grand Loop Road towards the north end of Gibbon Canyon, start point of the one mile trail to Monument Geyser Basin
. This location is on the west side of the road, beside a bridge over the Gibbon River, within sight of steam plumes from several nearby hot Springs.
The first part of the route is along the Monument Geyser Basin Trail for half a mile, through woods alongside the river, then continuing straight when the path bends back south, uphill. The land soon descends to the river bank; after following this northwest a short distance the trees give way to the wide, wet grassland of Gibbon Meadows. The thermal basin lies just over a mile west, and the hike is mostly along the edge of the meadows - through long grass, across marshy sections and over fallen trees - and sometimes past open, bushy woodland. Many tiny creeks flow down from the hills to the south, their waters spreading out to create wide, boggy corridors. Traffic noise is audible most of way, and the road is in view, on the far side of the Gibbon River. There are a few signs of bison, but the animals would seem not to be common hereabouts. Moist areas have a good selection of wildflowers such as Wyoming Indian paintbrush
and Rocky Mountain fringed gentian
The first hot pool is out in the meadows, small and isolated, but walking uphill from here, through a narrow open belt between the trees, reaches a patch of white earth containing several large springs of which one has an official name (Bridge Pool). A stream runs past just beyond, lined by tiny vents and colorful sinter deposits. Further west is a slightly larger valley, a low ridge and then the main part of the basin, about a third of a mile across, including two named springs (Dante's Inferno and Evening Primrose Spring), together with many smaller bubbling pools, some large mud pots, a sulphurous area containing numerous fierce fumaroles, and a few more tranquil pools, in clearings in the forest a bit further north. These include Coffin Spring, occupying an angular shaped depression with a powerful vent at one side. Sulphur is much in evidence in the main basin - some of the fumaroles are lined with delicate yellow crystals, and other places have red and orange sulphate deposits. Another, more dispersed thermal area is found a half mile northwest, but the land is steeper and very densely covered with young pines, so is difficult to cross. Most springs here are dormant and dry but a few downstream are quite active. In general the pools of Sylvan Springs are not especially pretty, generally lacking any intricate depositional features, but this region is still interesting to explore, rarely visited and quite pristine.