Yellowstone’s Southeast Side: Yellowstone Lake


The southeastern side of Yellowstone National Park’s figure-8 loop road spends a lot of time along the shores of Yellowstone Lake.  As soon as you turn from the southern entrance road onto the loop road, you’re driving alongside West Thumb, an appendage of the lake.  The road follows the shoreline all the way to Fishing Bridge, which is the lake’s only outlet.

There are plenty of picnic areas and parking spots along the edge of Yellowstone Lake, where you can look down into the sparkling clear water.  I decided this gravel sandbar at the top of West Thumb was a good place to stop.

Arnica Creek flows into this smaller body of water on the right-hand side of the sandbar.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any big mountains towering over Yellowstone Lake, which makes it a little less interesting for photographers. In other spots, though, you will find some geothermal activity, where geysers and springs empty directly into the lake (some can also be found underneath the lake’s surface).

The most interesting thing about Yellowstone Lake is what’s happening below the surface.  Most of the lake lies within the boundaries of the Yellowstone Caldera–a large volcano that scientists believe erupted some 600,000 years ago.    In 2003, a new sonar map showed a bulge on the lake’s floor, about 2,000 feet long and 100 feet wide.  Also, between 1923 and 1985, a dome underneath the lake was rising (although since then it has dropped).  Scientists believe the caldera’s previous eruptions have all been roughly 600,000 years apart, which has led many to worry that the Yellowstone caldera’s time has come again.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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