Why Do the Yellowstone Geysers Smell?

If you’ve never been to Yellowstone National Park, you are in for a treat. The park spans nearly 3,500 square miles and resides mostly in Wyoming; though it does spread out into Montana and Idaho, too. This vast wilderness area is probably best known for two things: the abundant wildlife within the park’s boundaries and the raucous Yellowstone geysers that steal the show with their billowing plumes of pressurized steam.

You’ll likely never forget the sights of Old Faithful, Steamboat, Castle Geyser, or Riverside Geyser – or any of the other 150 or so active geysers in Yellowstone Park. But while these memories are certain to stick with you for a lifetime, there is one byproduct of all of this geothermal activity that simply cannot be ignored – the smell.


Ancient explorers commonly referred to the odor of geysers as the “Smell of Hell.” Doesn’t sound like much of a ringing endorsement for visiting the famous geysers of Yellowstone does it? This may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but geysers do emit a bit of a stench due to the elevated levels of sulfuric acid and hydrogen sulfide gas contained within the geysers themselves. You’ll smell this “skunk-like” odor as you approach the geyser basins of Yellowstone, but the visual grandeur of these incredible sites is well worth the slightly pungent sulfur smell.


According to recent research by scientists at Duke university and the University of Albany, humans are quite adept at smelling sulfuric odors. This is due to the fact that we have naturally occurring copper in our sensory systems and can pick up the littlest scent of sulfur, which explains why the Yellowstone geysers can be a bit off-putting.


This is a trick question, as ALL of the geysers in Yellowstone offer an incredibly unique and breathtaking experience. That said, there are several “must-sees” for those visiting this amazing National Park:

Old Faithful

Yes, this is the most “touristy” of the Yellowstone geysers, but that is partially because Old Faithful erupts on a fairly regular schedule (every 60-90 minutes), and is easy to reach right next to the visitor’s center.

Steamboat Geyser

This geyser in Yellowstone is located at Norris Geyser Basin and holds the distinction as being the world’s tallest geyser. Eruptions can reach heights of up to 300 feet, and the geyser will often aggressively vent steam for up to 48 hours after a massive release of steam.

Castle Geyser

Located in the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park, the Castle Geyser looks just like a stone castle with a billowing, high-pressure plume of water and steam that erupts approximately every 10-12 hours and can reach a height of 90 feet. The spray of this geyser in Yellowstone Park persists for up to 20 minutes.

Yes, Yellowstone geysers can have a bit of an odor, but that shouldn’t keep you from witnessing one of nature’s most incredible displays of raw, unbridled power. For more information about Yellowstone National Park and available tours in the area, visit www.brushbucktours.com, or contact us at 307-200-2355.

Adam Lackner - BrushBuck Wildlife Tour Guide
The backcountry is a place of enjoyment for this outdoorsman. Adam spent five years in the Marine Corps before heading for seasonal guiding positions in Alaska, Montana, Colorado, Idaho, Arizona, Mexico, and now Wyoming. “Being where the mountains are big keeps the complaints small!”

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