WATCH: Yellowstone National Park Visitors Treated to Rare Steamboat Geyser Eruption

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by Tracey Patterson via Getty Images)

For centuries, Yellowstone National Park has beaconed visitors with its lush forests, breathtaking waterfalls, captivating wildlife, and endless opportunities for adventure. One of Yellowstone’s biggest draws, however, is what sets it apart from the rest of the country’s gorgeous national parks: its geysers.

Yellowstone National Park is home to the highest concentration of geothermal features on earth. Everywhere you look, the ground is smoking, bubbling, and hissing, enormous columns of water occasionally erupting from beneath the surface.

Yellowstone’s most famous geyser is undoubtedly Old Faithful, which erupts 20 times a day like clockwork. It’s so reliable, in fact, that its eruptions can be predicted with a 90 percent confidence rate.

Because of its popularity, it’s easy to assume that Old Faithful is the strongest geyser in the park, but this is not the case. Make no mistake – Old Faithful is incredibly powerful. It shoots anywhere from 4,000 to 8,000 gallons of boiling water between 100 and 200 feet in the air.

The true powerhouse of Yellowstone, however, is actually Steamboat Geyser. The world’s tallest currently-active geyser, Steamboat’s eruptions often reach heights of more than 300 feet.

Unlike Old Faithful, its eruptions are far less frequent. To catch a Steamboat eruption is pure luck, and a recent group of visitors to the park got really lucky. They not only caught a Steamboat Geyser eruption but did so while a rainbow served as the backdrop!

Yellowstone National Park’s Steamboat Geyser is Going Quiet

For the last four years, Steamboat Geyser has served as one of the main attractions of Yellowstone National Park. Since 2018, it’s been in a steady active phase with 157 major eruptions. In the nearly 30 years before that, it erupted only 12 times, sometimes with close to a decade in between eruptions.

And according to geophysicist Michael Poland, it could be approaching another long period of dormancy. “Most geysers don’t work like Old Faithful, which, like its name implies, is pretty reliable when it erupts, which is around every 94 minutes,” he explained to Cowboy State Daily.

“A lot of geysers have these phases where they go on and off, and Steamboat is a classic example in where it goes decades with very little activity and then suddenly springs to life.”

Since 2018, Steamboat has erupted with relative regularity, sometimes multiple times a month. The most recent eruption, however, came after more than two months of inactivity.

“I think the best word to describe these geysers is ‘dynamic,’ because they’re always changing,” Poland continued. “Weather events, climate changes, and earthquakes can all have an impact on geysers. My predecessor at this job was here for 15 years and saw maybe six Steamboat eruptions. I’ve been here since 2017, and I’ve seen 200. So how lucky am I?”