Yellowstone Mudpots: 3 Excellent Places to Discover Mudpots in Yellowstone
Written by Nick on May 25, 2023
Yellowstone Mudpots: Nature’s Double Boilers
They may not be glamorous, but Yellowstone mudpots are among the most unique — and odorous — geological features visitors can see in the world’s first national park.
These mudpots don’t see the same volume of foot traffic as other areas such as Old Faithful geyser or Grand Prismatic Spring, and for those looking to avoid crowds in Yellowstone, that may actually be one of the best reasons to check out Yellowstone mudpots.
There are only a few places you can find mudpots in Yellowstone, but they aren’t difficult to access. This type of hydrothermal feature is one of the most distinct things about Yellowstone, so these sites are well worth a visit.
But before you head out to discover Yellowstone mudpots, we’ll tell you what they are and where to find them.
What Are Mudpots?
Think of Yellowstone mudpots as nature’s double boiler. They’re one of the park’s defining geothermal features.
The creation of a mudpot begins with a shallow impression that’s impermeable, preventing water from seeping through the ground, typically due to a clay lining. Water collects in this impression — just a small pit, really — where it remains, unconnected to flowing water underground.
That thermal water underneath the mudpot sends steam rising up through the ground. This steam heats the water in the impression, or pit.
Additionally, the presence of hydrogen sulfide gas contributes to the generation of sulfuric acid. It’s this sulfuric acid that breaks down rocks into minute particules such as clay and silica, which in turn mix with the heated water to form the mud in Yellowstone mudpots.
As for the smell, we can thank the hydrogen sulfide gas. As you near Yellowstone mudpots, you’ll smell them long before you see them.
If you visit Yellowstone mudpots during different seasons, you’ll notice some changes. For example, precipitation in the spring can make the mud thinner and “soupier,” or dry summer heat can give them a cracked and baked appearance.
You’ll hear the term “paint pots” used to describe Yellowstone mudpots. This is due to the minerals that provide these sites, along with other Yellowstone hydrothermal features, with their compelling coloration.
Remember, as with other natural features in Yellowstone, you’re responsible for your own safety. Follow the National Park Service’s rules for safely viewing mud pots, geysers, and other hydrothermal sites to avoid ending up like this guy.
Where to Find Yellowstone Mudpots
There are three places to find mudpots in Yellowstone:
- Artist Paint Pots
- Fountain Paint Pots
- Mud Volcano
Let’s discuss each of these sites and what makes them unique.
A short distance south of Norris Geyser Basin, you’ll find Artist Paint Pots close to the park’s Grand Loop Road. It’s about a half-mile walk from the parking area down to the Paint Pots.
Climb up Paintpot Hill to see the most compelling aspects of Artist Paint Pots. In all, this area contains more than 50 mud pots, vents, geysers, and springs with different colors and textures.
Next, we have Fountain Paint Pots. This area is located a little over eight miles south of Madison Junction on the Grand Loop Road, near the exit of Firehole Lake Drive.
This area is home to a number of distinct geothermal features including Silex Spring and Leather Pool. The Fountain Paint Pots themselves can be seen from all angles thanks to the extensive network of boardwalks.
Nearby, you’ll find Fountain Geyser, Clepsydra Geyser, and Morning Geyser, which are all worth a stop.
Finally, you’ll find Mud Volcano north of Yellowstone Lake in the Hayden Valley as you drive from Fishing Bridge to Canyon Village.
Despite its current shape, Mud Volcano used to be a big dome, but erupted to form the site we see today. In 1870, Nathaniel Langford of the Washburn Expedition described Mud Volcano as the “greatest marvel we have yet met with.”
Nearby, you’ll find Sulphur Cauldron and Dragon’s Mouth Spring. Yellowstone mudpots are just a small part of all the hydrothermal features the park has to offer and, in all honesty, you could spend your entire trip just exploring these incredible sites.
Considering hiking through Yellowstone to discover hydrothermal features, wildlife, and more? Check out our list of helpful Yellowstone hiking tips.