The Short List of Must-See Hot Springs and Pools At Yellowstone!

hot springs in yellowstone

You can tell a lot about an individual based upon their vacation preferences. A thrill-seeker will often select a destination that offers adrenaline-inducing attractions, often with a rollercoaster thrown in for good measure. History buffs will travel to those sites which offer unique, rare looks into the windows of the world past, seeking unparalleled looks at the Pyramids, Roman ruins, and Aztec temples of ages past. Those traveling with families will locate attractions that will allow the entire family to capitalize on a good time, often in the form of a cruise, an all-in-one vacation package, or an easy hiking getaway.

Then, there are the nature-lovers, those individuals who, no matter the odds or the difficulty, will succeed in gazing upon the sights and sounds given to us by the glories of nature. For those individuals, there are perhaps no better locations for naturalistic thrills early and often, than the hot springs and the pools of Yellowstone National Park. Interestingly, many of these hot springs and pools are more than just beauties to gaze upon; they are attractions that are fully hands-on! Many Yellowstone hot springs are open to locals and to visitors alike and are the perfect method to relax and unwind after a lengthy, productive day of sightseeing in the immediate and the extended region.

Established as a national park in 1872 as part of an initiative to preserve those spaces most valuable as American wildlife, Yellowstone National Park soon became known as much for its hot springs and its scattered pools, as it was for its Old Faithful geyser and its diversified wildlife. Soon after its inception, Yellowstone National Park has fielded visitors from often lengthy distances, eager to call themselves both witnesses and participants in the hot springs and the pools which characterize the Yellowstone area, both within and surrounding the national park itself.

Should you decide to have a vacation here, consider some of the best pet-friendly cabins or vacation rentals for your accommodation needs. Then read on to discover the best hot springs and pools in Yellowstone National Park!

Boiling River

Boiling River
Source: Photo by Flickr user spurekar used under CC BY 2.0

Begin your Yellowstone geothermal experience at an American classic: the Boiling River, located within Yellowstone itself! This location is wildly popular with regard to the seasonal bathing preferences of so many of its visitors, who enjoy the specific point at which naturally heated waters flow into colder temperatures, for a unique, refreshing sensation.

Bathing here is legally sanctioned by the state, so you’re out of excuses as to why you can’t make Yellowstone’s Boiling River your next “spa” getaway. Located in northern Yellowstone and open from the late summer season through winter times, Boiling River is located firmly between Mammoth’s own Hot Springs, and the official Northern Entrance of the park itself. It is only closed once rising water levels make the region dangerous for continued bathing.

Those who are looking to venture to Yellowstone’s Boiling River will first have to traverse a short, easily maneuverable path, where at the conclusion you will likely find a collection of other eager travelers, already enjoying the hot springs’ unique features. The trail itself is only 1.25 miles (2 km) round-trip, making for an easy excursion to an end result well worth the hike. Notably, hikers are encouraged not to dip their toes in the streams leading up to the Boiling River itself; these runoff rivers are not sanctioned for swimmers, and range in temperatures from 113° to 140° Fahrenheit (45° to 60° Celsius). Also, although the feeling is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, where one side of your body feels hot while the other side is freezing, visitors are encouraged not to dip their heads under the water. Yellowstone’s hot springs are characterized by organisms, which can cause rashes, infections, or other skin irritations. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for the perfect way to kick off your Yellowstone hot springs and pools experience, there isn’t a better introduction that Yellowstone’s own Boiling River!

Firehole River

Firehole River - Yellowstone National Park - panoramio
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Pavel Špindler used under CC BY 3.0

First and foremost, it is worthy of note that Yellowstone’s Firehole River is entirely more of a pool, and less of a hot spring. Visitors who regularly frequent this destination will describe the temperature as that of an unheated pool, so you can’t expect to experience the warm sensations of hot water on your skin. However, as far as swimming opportunities go in Yellowstone National Park, there is perhaps no better outlet for your aquatic exploration needs than Firehole River!

Characterized by its frequent twists and turns, Yellowstone’s Firehole River, one of the gems of northwestern Wyoming, has interestingly been known to shown signs of geothermal influence. Temperatures here have been recorded has high as 86° Fahrenheit (30° Celsius), although those who visit Firehole Wiver cannot expect such temperatures upon arrival, especially during slightly cooler periods of the year. Closed during winters and during periods of the spring where high water levels make swimming here dangerous, Firehole River is as classic a Yellowstone water immersion destination as any; it empties into three major waterfalls, and can easily transform your vacation into an unrivaled experience!

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, Yellowstone 2011
Source: Photo by Flickr user Don Graham used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Though Mammoth Hot Springs only allows visitors to swim in a small section of the overall spectacle, it is nevertheless well worth the visit. Mammoth Hot Springs, formulated over thousands and thousands of years, facilitated by the constant flow of water, and a result of slow erosion, is now one of the finest spectacles that Yellowstone National Park has to offer those who visit. Interestingly, the water source which effectively feeds the hot springs themselves is barely visible to the naked eye, given that it runs beneath the surface of the earth, courtesy of a timely fault line.

Mammoth Hot Springs is such an extensive arrangement of hot springs, and of general geothermal activity, that is it actually split into distinctive segments. For example, there’s Terrace Mountain, the largest carbonate-depositing spring in the entire world. If you can catch a lucky view of the summit of Terrace Mountain, you will notice that it is marked by what is called glacial till, which is essentially raw glacial remnants, deposited after a glacier passed through the region. This series of deposits exists as evidence of the sheer age of the Mammoth Hot Springs.

Many of those who visit Mammoth Hot Springs are already set on seeing Minerva Terrace, which is easily the most recognizable feature of the location itself. The Terrace itself actually exists as a series of smaller terraces, which combine to form one holistic piece. Formed of travertine, a limestone of light hue, the Minerva Terrace collectively functions as a picture-perfect structure that highlights the Mammoth Hot Springs, characteristic of beauty only nature could ever create. Notably, recent earthquake activity in the area has majorly shifted the vent of the spring itself, making for dry terraces.

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring 2013
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user James St. John fr... used under CC BY 2.0

If you’re looking for a true spectrum of visible hot spring majesty, search no further than the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, the gem of Yellowstone’s own Midway Geyser Basin. You wouldn’t want to find yourself bathing in this hot spring; temperatures reach an average of 199° Fahrenheit (93° Celsius) in Yellowstone geysers, rending viewing from a comfortable distance easily the best way to enjoy these sights.

Welcome to the most-photographed feature of Yellowstone National Park: the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring! Each grandiose dimension of this sensational site is another reason why you need t make the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring a staple on your next Yellowstone trip! With a depth roughly equal to that of a ten-story building, this hot spring is sourced from quite a distance below the surface. Additionally, this hot spring’s size is good enough to make it the third-largest hot spring in the entire world! Larger than a football field in total size, it’s well worth your extended attention.

Size isn’t the only attribute that separates the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring from the rest of Yellowstone; the sheer spectrum of light and color easily distances the spring from other sights and sounds. Vibrant shades of orange, yellow and greens border a large middle of blue, each color distinctively defined by the next’s beginnings. The steam which the hot spring emits provides the entire atmosphere with an eerie environment, one tantalizing enough to photograph and to remember forever.

Turquoise and Opal Pools

Not far from the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring are two more fabulous examples of top-tier Yellowstone nature: Turquoise and Opal Pool! Each respective water deposit is unique in its own right, not only for the well-established reputation of each, but also for their distinctive natural differences.

To the immediate east of the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring is Opal Pool, which although considered to be a hot pool, is in reality a rarely-erupting geyser. Following visible disturbances in the pool, Opal Pool can erupt, wowing spectators as much for its spectrum as for its unpredictable nature. Sporting a temperature of 132° Fahrenheit (56° Celsius), Yellowstone’s Opal Pool is both a visible wonder and a smaller, more intimate hot spring setting.

To the southwest of Opal Pool sits Yellowstone’s Turquoise Pool, which, along with the Excelsior Geyser and the aforementioned Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, comprises the entirety of the Midway Geyser Basin. Originally discovered during the Hayden Expedition of 1878, the Turquoise Pool has ranked among the favorite Yellowstone sights since it first opened to the public. The pool itself is usually typified by a temperature ranging from 142° to 160° Fahrenheit (61° and 71° Celsius), and was quite obviously named after the hue which dominant characterizes the water itself. A crystal clear reflecting pool and the perfect location for that winning vacation photo, Turquoise Pool is bordered by much of the wildlife for which so many thousands of witnesses visit Yellowstone each year.

Excelsior Geyser

Excelsior Geyser, Yellowstone NP
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Supercarwaar used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Rounding out the Midway Geyser Basin is the geyser itself: Excelsior Geyser, only a short distance from the other dominant features of the Midway Geyser Basin. Discovered and named seven years before the discovery of Opal Pool, Excelsior Geyser serves as the official tributary of the aforementioned Firehole River. As much as 5,000 gallons (17,000 liters) is discharged into the river every minute from Excelsior Geyser. Once an active geyser which would erupt much more frequently, the Excelsior Geyser is today often a hot spring, one which convulses and erupts at regular, if less frequent, intervals. In recent years, Excelsior has briefly returned to its state as a geyser, if only for brief stints. In 1985, eruptions only 30 feet (9.1 meters) in total height characterized the space from September 14 to September 16, though Excelsior quickly returned to its placid state soon thereafter.

With a stunning visual array of hot springs and pool, Yellowstone National Park has more than solidified its reputation as one of the foremost national parks within the entire United States. More intimate water spaces like Opal and Turquoise Pool are not easily overshadowed by massive attractions like the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, where together, large and small hot springs and pools combine to create a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Before you visit

Visitors to Yellowstone National Park are encouraged to pack their bathings suits and sunscreen among their other provisions. However, those same visitors are also encouraged to research beforehand those locations within the park where swimming is legally sanctioned, and to stick to those guidelines, The hefty fines for trespassing on scenic, off-limits spaces are massive, and are often accompanied by legal issues.

However, those pools are also not open to the public because their temperatures, or other characteristics, make them too dangerous for public indulgence. It is highly recommended that you adhere to local stipulations, and that when you are entering a hot spring or a pool, you only enter to a point at which you feel comfortable. Swiftly changing water temperatures, as well as alternating water depths, can quickly put even the experienced swimmer out of their comfort zone, given the novel nature of a hot spring. Ensure that you swim with a buddy, and more importantly, ensure that you don’t leave Yellowstone National Park without counting yourself a personal witness to all of the above hot springs and pools!

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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John Gallagher is a digital marketing consultant and writer from San Diego, California. When he isn't thoroughly enjoying the writing process or pretending he thoroughly enjoys the revision...Read more

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