The Dye Clan
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  • TR: Jul 2011

Artist's Paint Pots

Zac, Tara, and Bryce on a boardwalk overlook on the Artist's Paint Pots trail.

The Artist's Paint Pots trail is an easy hike to several geothermal features in Yellowstone National Park. From the boardwalk, you can see several springs, the Artist's Paint Pots, and a couple of geysers.

Trip Report: July 12, 2011


Artist's Paint Pots at EveryTrail

The Artists Paint Pots trailhead is located 3.8 miles south of Norris Geyser Basin. There is a parking lot at the end of a short side road. Although the parking lot is quite large, it often fills up on busy summer days.

Take the boardwalk path to the south as it crosses through a section of forest burned in 1988.

Artist's Paint Pots
Artist's Paint Pots

After about 0.3 miles, you will reach the start of the loop around the hot pools. Ahead of you (to the south) is Paintpot Hill. Turn right. The Artist's Paint Pots trail is not as developed as many of the more-traveled trails in Yellowstone, and many of the geothermal features do not have names.

Montana State University maintains a database of geothermal features in Yellowstone National Park, which is where I learned that the following pictures is of Feature GAPNN021. I didn't bother looking most of the rest up.

Artist's Paint Pots

As you continue around the boardwalk, you will see several milky-blue pools. The milky blue color comes from silica that is suspensded in the water.

Artist's Paint Pots
Artist's Paint Pots

Next are various smaller vents as the trail climbs a short distance up the hill though new growth lodgepole pine trees. Much of this area was burned in the 1988 fire.

Artist's Paint Pots
Artist's Paint Pots

At the top of the hill on the right are perhaps the most unusual features in the area - Artist's Paint Pots. The mud is composed of clay minerals and fine particles of silica. In this area the rock is rhyolite, which is composed primarily of quartz and feldspar. Acids in the steam and water break down the feldspar into a clay mineral called kaolinite. As the boiling mud is squirted over the brims of the mudpot, a sort of mini-volcano of mud starts to build up.

The Artist' Paintpots themselves are a pair of mud pots located up the hillside, somewhat separated from the other hot springs. Although restricted to just two small basins, they tend to be very active and at one point in 2006 forced a temporarty colsure of the trail. At times, the gray mud is tossed as high as 20 feet. Despite their proximity to one another, the two sets of mud pots are always of different thickness, and the one to the west sometimes dries completely during the summer season.

Artist's Paint Pots
Artist's Paint Pots
Artist's Paint Pots

Also on the hillside are several perpetual spouters, "frying pans," and steam vents-springs typical of acid thermal areas. Just past the paint pots, we found this little boiling puddle. It looked to us like this feature hasn't been around for very long because the boardwalk didn't have very much mud splashed onto it.

Artist's Paint Pots

There's a small mud volcano on the right of the boardwalk.

The fumarole that you can't quite see in the picture below is Feature GAPNN047.

Artist's Paint Pots

This part of the path is high enough to overlook many square miles of the surrounding area, from the hot pools below, across the Gibbon River Valley toward more distant active areas on the far side of Gibbon Meadows.

Artist's Paint Pots

The hillside has several small pools and steam vents.

Artist's Paint Pots
Artist's Paint Pots

Visible from the eastern portion of the trail is Blood Geyser. Blood Geysers plays from a shallow basin at the east end of the group. Possibly the spring named "Red Geyser" in 1878, it was described as a perpetual spouter in 1882, and, indeed, it only briefly and infrequently pauses its play. Most quiet intervals last less than 1 minute, and they apparently can be as long as several hours apart. The bursting reaches up to 6 feet high.

The water discharge of this one spring amounts to 150 gallons per minute, about half that of the entire group. The small alcove surrounding the spring is highly colored by iron oxide, and, in fact, the water contains a large amount of iron in solution. A sample, allowed to cool and sit quietly, will develop a precipitate of reddish iron oxide within a few minutes. This is what let to the name Blood Geyser. The only other Yellowstone springwater known to do this comes from the Chocolate Pots, elsewhere in the Gibbon Basin.

Artist's Paint Pots
Artist's Paint Pots
Artist's Paint Pots

The imporant springs of clear water, including two geysers, are located at the base of the Paintpot Hill. Several other springs in the area appear to be geysers but actually are not. Their spouting is perpetual and largely a result of the evolution of carbon dioxide in water cooler than boiling. The best-known of these is Flash Spring, immediately next to the easternmost point of the trail at the base of the hillside.

Artist's Paint Pots

The end of the loop section of the trail is reached in another 250 feet, after a few other equally steamy pools. Adjacent to this area are three other off-trail, backcountry thermal areas: Sylvan Springs, Gibbon Hill Geyser Basin, and Geyser Creek Thermal area. These areas are fragile, dangerous, and difficult to get to; travel without knowledgeable personnel is discouraged.

Artist's Paint Pots

Return to your car the way you came.