Yellowstone’s Delightfully Strange And Interactive Hot Spring
Of all the gems at Yellowstone National Park, and there are thousands of them, Boiling River is one of the few you can climb into.
As such, it’s one of the park’s most popular. But don’t use that as an excuse not to check it out – swimming in the Boiling River is a strange and amazing experience.
Located in the north of the park near Mammoth Hot Springs, the Boiling River is a natural confluence of piping hot underground spring water with the ice-cold Gardner River. A 1.25 mile trail, which follows the Gardner River, takes you to a swimming hole where you can easily climb down into the river and sit in the blended hot and cold water. And it’s an easy hike – one you can do in swim trunks and flip-flops.
Years of visitors have made swimming hole itself pretty accommodating. A line of rocks built near the main channel of the Gardner gives a rough indication of where the hot water peters out and the cold water really takes over.
Coming from the north, the trailhead is found three miles south of the Roosevelt Arch, the north entrance of the park. A road sign will point to a pullout on the left and parking lot with a restroom. From the south, drive two miles past Mammoth Hot Springs and look for the Boiling River sign on your right.
One thing to be aware of, Boiling River is often closed in the spring when the Gardner River is running high with spring runoff. So if you’re in the park before mid-summer, check with the park ranger at Mammoth Hot Springs before heading to the trailhead. Otherwise, Boiling River is open for swimming daily during daylight hours. It’s also open for visiting and swimming in the fall and winter.
I need a backup Boiling River experience
Maybe you’re closer to the southern end of the park and don’t feel liking fighting the traffic and crowds to get up to Mammoth, or maybe Boiling River is just closed for the day. Never fear, you have options.
Near the West Entrance is the Firehole River, which sits in the bottom of the small Firehole Canyon. Like Boiling River, Firehole is an icy cold stream that’s fed by an underground hot spring and it includes a small swimming hole. The differences in temperature aren’t as dramatic as those found at Boiling River but the location is more picturesque and less populated.
To get to the trailhead, drive 14 miles east from the park’s West Entrance until the road ends at a T intersection. Turn right (or south) onto Grand Loop Road, following the signs to Old Faithful. After about a mile, you’ll see road signs on the right directing you to Firehole Canyon Drive. Turn right and follow the road to the parking lot.
Coming from Old Faithful, it’s about a 15 mile drive north and the sign for Firehole Canyon will direct you to turn left onto Firehole Canyon Drive.