Swimming in Yellowstone

WyoJones Geyser Pages



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Drawing above from the Despina Volcano Page.

I am often asked some form of the question, can I swim in a geyser in Yellowstone?

No, Swimming in Yellowstones thermal features is illegal.  Anyway geysers are much too hot for swimming. One would be parboiled. You would not be smiling like the guy in the drawing above. Thermal burns are reportedly very painful. One should never touch the water in a geyser pool. There are pools in the geyser basins that are cool enough but swimming in them  or their outflow channels is foolhardy. The pools can change temps and burn or kill people who thought they were experienced "hot potters" (people who swim illegally in thermal pools). Examples of these dangers are outlined in the book, Death In Yellowstone, by Lee Whittlesey. (See my geyser safety page). Besides  being dangerous, and foolhardy and illegal swimming in Yellowstone's' thermal features can be a health hazard. Some bacteria in certain springs could cause illness. Also even If the water is not hot enough to burn you, swimming in these features could damage the spring and the bacteria mats around and in them them. Outflow or runoff channels are considered part of the thermal feature and are off limits. However Swimming is permitted in rivers where hot outflow channels enter the cold rivers.

There is one area within Yellowstone where swimming is usually permitted where one can enjoy safely the warm thermal waters. That is the Boiling River north of Mammoth Hot Springs. The short hike to this magical spot isn't so much a secret as it is advertised by some. It doesn't appear on the maps or in the pamphlet of day hikes you get at the visitor's center, but if you ask, a ranger can tell you how to find it. The parking area is right at the 45th parallel -- halfway between the equator and the north pole. In spite of being unadvertised, a sign at the parking area will inform you that this spot is used by as many as 2000 people a day!  Believed  to be part of the underground outflow of Mammoth Hot Springs, this famous hot stream has probably never been hot enough to deserve its official name. The stream emerges from beneath a travertine ledge and rushes for only 145 yards before emptying over a small water fall into the Gardiner River. There are 2 rules to remember if you go there.boilingrvrt.jpg (6376 bytes)

1- It is illegal to swim in the Boiling River. But you can swim in the "pool" with in the Gardiner River where the Boiling River falls in to the much colder Gardiner River. You must enter above or below the pool by entering the cold river and making your way to the hot water. It is a weird feeling standing with one foot in 130 degree water and the other in icy mountain stream water.
2- If sign say the area is closed, don't enter! You will be caught and fined. The park service does close it from time to time in the summer to protect it and to allow the vegetation to grow. The crowds sometimes get so large the area just can't handle it.

The area is popular even in the dead of winter. 2 years ago I watched people strip to swim-wear and swim on New Years Eve in 15 degree weather( wind chill below 0).
boilingr2t.jpg (4166 bytes) For more info go to the Detroit Free Press Yellowstone article which has a picture of the swimming area or Ackemann's boiling river page.

Outside the park are 2 developed swimming areas that are in or use hot spring waters which I highly recommend. The first is CHICO HOT SPRINGS to the north Mammoth Hot Springs and Gardiner. It is reportedly a favorite haunt of Hollywood stars. Featuring a casual atmosphere, with a gourmet restaurant and lodging facilities. They can be reached at (406)333-4933. For more info see the Chico Hot Springs home page or Disney's family travel page.

The second area is Thermopolis Hot Springs which is located about 100 miles from the East Entrance of the park south of Cody Wyoming. Thermopolis offers hot mineral pools, steam rooms, Jacuzzis, saunas, massages, and soaking tubs filled with mineral water. For more info see the Chamber of Commerce site at http://www.thermopolis.com/index.html. Look at the Hot Springs State Park page at http://www.thermopolis.com/statepark.html. This thermal area is not geologically related to Yellowstone. It has no geysers, cooler water than Yellowstone but it is  a good place to swim.

In the back country outside of Yellowstone, especially north of the Park are some warm springs that are good for soaking tired feet. Outfitters or locals in the Gardiner area could help you find them.

Be safe and protect the thermal features of Yellowstone.

Comments: wyojones@wyojones.com

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1999 Gregory L. Jones. All rights reserved.
Revised: March 13, 2006.