Hiking Yellowstone National Park – Rabbit Creek Hot Springs

Rabbit Creek Hot Springs is an off-trail hike across meadows and through woodland, to a backcountry thermal area around the upper end of a short, east-side tributary of the Firehole River. About 40 major hot springs, of varying colors and activity levels, are in the area.

Lisa saw a post on Facebook about an amazing hot spring called Tomato Soup Spring. Upon investigating where this spring was, we discovered that there are a few of these tomato soup-colored pools in the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park near Rabbit Creek Hot Springs.

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The Hike

Researching this area of the park I couldn’t find a lot of information about the hike. The information I did find was to start across the road from the Fairy Falls Trailhead. This information ended up being wrong. Taking the trail near where we parked across from Fairy Falls Trailhead we were headed Southeast instead of Northeast toward the basin. We ended up having to do some cross-country routing through a very dense forest to get back heading toward the hot springs.

Where we should have parked and started the hike is a pull-out between Grand Prismatic and Fairy Falls Trailhead, on the east side of the road just north of Rabbit Creek, on the outside of a big curve, overlooking the Firehole River, within sight of steam plumes from distant geysers.

Parking

Once through the forest and back on track, we made it to the first spring on our list of stops. MRCHSGNN170

MRCHSGNN170

After checking out MRCHSGNN170 for a bit we followed Rabbit Creek East. We ran into another couple and they told us they started the hike on the North side of Rabbit Creek. It would have made things much easier! There is no trail to the springs, though they may be reached simply enough, by walking up the creek starting where it is crossed by the Grand Loop Road, between the Fairy Falls and Grand Prismatic Spring parking areas.

Follow Rabbit Creek east of the highway approximately one mile uphill to its source, a shining blue pool, named Olympic Pool (formerly called Rabbit Creek Source Pool). It is one of the largest hot springs in Yellowstone. As you cross the area there are many colorful hot springs, paint pots, and a few geysers.

Olympic Pool (Rabbit Creek Source Pool)

Some of the ground is boggy but most is firm, and it is easy to approach, and view, the springs from a safe distance. The only difficulty comes in locating some of the features in the upper basin, in particular the Tomato Soup Pools, as the trees hide them until close up, and there are no landmarks to aid in navigation. I found the coordinates of the pools in the area on Yellowstone National Park Research Coordination Network and plugged them into our GPS.

I looked up and programmed into my GPS five separate thermal features in the Rabbit Creek area that we wanted to see. There are many more in this area and you could spend a good part of the day seeing them all.

Not on our list but an interesting geyser we came across and I looked up later was Rabbit Creek Geyser. This deep hole in the ground breathing like a dragon in its cave.

Rabbit Creek Geyser

Our next stop was the Scaffolding Pool, one of my favorites on this hike. This beautiful blue pool with crisscrossing logs was amazing!

Scaffolding Pool

The diversity of the different pools and springs in this area was really interesting to me. After Scaffolding Pool we came upon MRCHSGNN235 a greenish pool with some sort of algae growing on top of it.

MRCHSGNN235

Following MRCHSGNN235 we marked our next waypoint for Tomato Soup Spring. On the route there we came upon a couple of interesting pools right next to each other. These pools were on the same level only feet apart but had totally different colors. At first, we thought the red pool was Tomato Soup Spring but our GPS showed we were still a few hundred feet away.

Heading South from these two pools we finally arrived at the real Tomato Soup Spring.
Tomato Soup Spring

Following Tomato Soup Spring we plugged our final waypoint into the GPS and made tracks to MNN022 another Tomato Soup-colored pool before heading back down the hill to Scaffolding Spring where it is easier to navigate back to Rabbit Creek and back to the highway.

MNN022

Northwest of Olympic Pool the hot spring MNN016 attracts attention because of frequent superheated boiling. Springs like this are sometimes classified as “bubble-shower springs”.

The walk back along the North side of Rabbit Creek was much easier than the trek through the woods that started our journey. The sights along the creek are as amazing as the thermal areas we saw this day. We came out to the highway about 1/2 mile from where we parked across from Fairy Falls Trailhead. After a short hike back to the Jeep we headed home to rest.

Hiking Safety

As with all hikes in Yellowstone National Park Dogs are not allowed on the trails. Everywhere in Yellowstone is bear country. While you shouldn’t let fear keep you from hiking, it is important to know what the best practices are for hiking in bear country. Always be bear aware and carry bear spray with you on all hikes in the park.

Note: Even though the area is close to the highway, this is an off-trail backcountry hike lacking safeguarding equipment such as designated routes or warning signs. Moreover, it is known to be one of the more dangerous spots due to overhanging rims of hot springs and deceiving crust. You should only enter the area if you are familiar with safety rules and regulations for backcountry thermal areas.

Other Yellowstone Hikes We’ve Done

Conclusion

This hike is now on our list of favorites. The Rabbit Creek Hot Springs area has such a diverse group of thermal features each distinctly different than the last.

What are your favorite hikes in and around Yellowstone? We’re always looking for neat out-of-the-way places to put on our list of must-sees. Thank you for reading our article. If you have any comments or questions we’d love to hear from you below.

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