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The Boiling River is one of only a few hot springs in Yellowstone National Park for swimming. Here’s how you find the Boiling River and everything you need to know to enjoy your time swimming in Yellowstone.
The Boiling River Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is known for its hot waters. Geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots are what prompted early white explorers to want to protect this area. One could reason that Yellowstone’s hot springs led to the creation of National Parks. The Boiling River in Yellowstone is one of the few places in Yellowstone National Park that you can immerse yourself in these hot waters.
Yellowstone National Park sits atop a large (dormant) volcano that fuels the geothermal features that draw four million visitors each year. The plume of magma below the volcano is what makes Yellowstone so wondrous.
That magma plume also fuels a hot spring which forms the Boiling River. The Boiling hot springs then flows into the Gardner River.
What Is The Boiling River?
The Boiling River is a six-foot wide stream of hot water pouring over a travertine ledge into the Gardner River. Users have piled rocks to create a soaking area where the 140-degree water mixes with the cold river. It is the quintessential Yellowstone hot springs swimming experience. It is our favorite Yellowstone swimming hole.
This is one of the hikes in my “20 Family-Friendly Hikes in Yellowstone” guidebook. Check out the other 19.
Why Visit The Boiling River?
The Boiling River should be on your “Yellowstone must see” list along with the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Old Faithful Geyser. It’s not as dramatic as either of these, but it is one of two front country places to swim in Yellowstone in a hot spring. (The other place is the Firehole Swimming Area and it’s not very warm.)
** Note: Hot springs are really dangerous. People die in them in horrible ways. Do not go looking for your own hot spring to soak in – stick to the park-designated hot pots.
After a long day hiking or cross-country skiing—or sometimes in lieu of a day on the trails—nothing quite hits the spot like soaking in a hot spring. For my family, a soak in the Boiling River is part of a perfect day in Yellowstone.
Summer brings crowds who want to go swimming in Yellowstone. It also brings trailside flowers and easy transitions in and out of the water. (It’s a lot easier to strip down to your swimsuit when it is 80 degrees F than during a cold Yellowstone winter.)
In winter, ice floats past, just inches away and you often have the river all to yourself if you time it right. This is when we like to soak in the Boiling River, but whenever you can you swim in Yellowstone hot springs is a good time to go.
Year round, dippers bounce on the rocks getting ready for their underwater flights and elk graze on the hillside. Our kids throw rocks into the river and lean back on us like we are pool lounge chairs. It’s family bonding at its best.
The Gardner Canyon Yellowstone, where the best of Yellowstone hot springs is located, is also a good place to look for bighorn sheep. Just be sure to pull all the way off the winding road for your wildlife watching.
How To Visit The Boiling River Yellowstone
First, know there are no changing rooms or bathrooms at the soaking spot and swimsuits are required. You’ll need to change in the single pit toilet at the trailhead or under a towel.
The half-mile Boiling River trail is flat and obvious. Walk to the benches where you can leave your stuff (nothing valuable, of course) and step into the river.
There are a couple choices. When our kids were small we liked to snag the first pool, which only requires a few steps down stone stairs. It’s easy in and easy out, plus there is virtually no current and kids can wade around with ease. It’s not always as hot as I like, though.
More adventurous folks can make their way down the Gardner River to a series of alcoves and hot water cascades. It’s a little trickier getting in and out—you have to navigate the line between burning and freezing water while walking over slippery rocks. But, once you find the sweet spot, sit down, and feel every muscle relax, it’s well worth the effort.
When is the Boiling River Yellowstone Open?
The Boiling River is open during daylight hours. It is busiest in the summer between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The Boiling River is closed in spring and early summer because the water in the Gardner River is high and hazardous. Plus, the hot springs runoff is under so much cold water, you wouldn’t want to soak in it anyway.
Call 307.344.7381 to find out is the Boiling River open.
Where To Stay Near The Boiling River When You Visit Yellowstone
There are a lot of places to stay in Yellowstone. The closest to the Boiling River and inside the Yellowstone National Park boundaries is the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.
If you are looking for places to stay near Yellowstone, just outside the park, your best bet for Boiling River access is a hotel in Gardiner, Montana. Gardiner is at the North Entrance to Yellowstone through the Roosevelt Arch. It’s a cute town and you will have more walkable dining options if you stay there rather than in the park.
If you are into Yellowstone camping, the Mammoth Campground is right across the road, and over a hill, from the Boiling River. A trail connects the campground and your Yellowstone hot spring bathing experience.
Boiling River Yellowstone Temperature
The Boiling River is about 140 degrees F at its source.
In 2015, the water was hotter than ever and soakers were moving farther out into the river to keep from being boiled alive. As with all the hot springs in the park, the Boiling River Hot Springs are dynamic and the temperature changes regularly.
Before swimming in Yellowstone National Park, you can check the Boiling River temperature on the USGS website.
How To Get To The Boiling River Wyoming
You won’t need a National Parks map to find the Boiling River, but if you have one for other hikes, you can find the hot spring on it. You’ll find the hot springs near Gardiner Montana and Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming.
Trailhead: The parking lot and trailhead are almost three miles south of Gardiner and two miles north of Mammoth Hot Springs, just north of the Montana/Wyoming border. The trailhead is in the lot on the east side of the road, but you can also park across the street.
Distance: 1 mile round trip
Insider Tip: Go as early as you can to minimize the number of people you share the river with. We try to get there no later than 10:00 am, but earlier is better. Bring water shoes for the walk down the river.
Read about other hot springs near Yellowstone National Park
More Hot Springs Posts
- 25 Hot Springs in Montana (developed and undeveloped)
- Hot Springs in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana
- The Boiling River, Yellowstone National Park
- Chico Hot Springs, Pray, Montana
- Elkhorn Hot Springs, Polaris, Montana
- Quinn’s Hot Spring Resort, Paradise, Montana
- The Spa Motel, White Sulphur Springs, Montana