Post Summary: How To Visit The Boiling River In Yellowstone In The Winter
One of the few legal hot springs to enjoy at Yellowstone National Park, the Boiling River is enjoyed by locals and adventure-seekers alike. It’s also one of the least known but arguably one of the best places in Yellowstone!
If you are planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park and want a unique way to experience these geothermal pools, consider checking out the Boiling River!
Berty and I came to the Boiling River in the winter and it was a striking experience of hot and cold, ice and fire. We loved the stark contrast and found it to be a super fun way to experience Yellowstone in the winter.
In this post, we’re sharing everything you need to know about how to plan your own trip to the Boiling River in Yellowstone, with a big focus on visiting in the wintertime!
Grab your coat and swimsuit, let’s get soaking.
How To Visit The Boiling River In Yellowstone National Park
A few things:
This post contains affiliate links to things we think might be useful to you on your Boiling River Trip. We also visited the Boiling River in winter, but these tips can apply to your Yellowstone trip regardless of what season you come!
What Is The Boiling River AND Where is the Boiling River in Yellowstone?
The Boiling River is a natural hot spring in Wyoming, located in Yellowstone National Park.
This section of the Gardner River combines with the ultra-heated water of the underground geothermal features in North Yellowstone. Here, the super hot water and cold river water mix together to create a curiously comfortable soak for the average human being.
Previous soakers have created these rock-lined pools down along the river’s edge that traps the perfect combination of hot and cold water for a super customizable soak. Take some time to try out the pools and see which one is right for you!
Yellowstone Boiling River Facts:
- The Boiling River in Wyoming (the part that you can’t enter, right before it combines with the Gardner River), stretches 145 yards long, six to eight feet wide, and around two feet deep.
- Don’t try and touch the actual Boiling River (the water in the stream). It averages 140-degree temperatures, which can cause third-degree burns (AKA 9-1-1 level burns. Really, don’t test it).
- The National Park Service protects this area for future enjoyment. They’ve posted interpretive signs along the Boiling River trail and even interactive features to get people to participate in conservation here.
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History of The Boiling River Hot Springs
You’re probably familiar with Yellowstone’s bubbling pots, colorful geothermal pools, and huge geysers. You probably also know that nearly every single one has warning signs that say “don’t touch!” because these features are too hot and too dangerous for human interaction.
Luckily, the Boiling River in Yellowstone is one of the few hot springs in the park that won’t kill you. (Seriously, don’t try to take a dip in just any Yellowstone geothermal pool!) Another much less-known Yellowstone hot spring for human use is on the Firehole River, but that’s another post for another day.
The hot water that sources the Boiling River comes from an underground source, likely connected to the larger Yellowstone Caldera or nearby Mammoth Hot Springs.
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Boiling River Directions
The Boiling River in Yellowstone is just south of the Montana-Wyoming border, located in the northern part of Yellowstone National Park. It’s directly off of Highway 89 between Mammoth Hot Springs and the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, to the east side of the road.
Coming from Gardiner, Montana (Or even Bozeman, MT): Cross into Yellowstone National Park (paying the entrance fee), passing the Roosevelt Arch, and drive about three miles south. Immediately after the second bridge, look for a small driveway on the left that leads to the small parking lot for the Boiling River.
Here are the distances to the Boiling River Parking Lot from popular nearby locations:
- Mammoth Hot Springs to Boiling River: 6-minute drive, 1.7 miles.
- Gardiner, MT to Boiling River Yellowstone: 9-minute drive, 6.8 miles.
- Old Faithful to Boiling River Hot Springs: 1.5-hour drive
- Canyon Village to Boiling River: 1-hour drive, 40 miles.
- Jackson Hole to The Boiling River: Depends on the time of year. Summertime, you can reach it in ~2 hours. Winter, you’ll have to drive around, making the trip 4-5 hours.
*Note: If you’re visiting the Boiling River in Yellowstone in winter, remember that it’s only accessible by the north Yellowstone entrance.
To make it even easier for you, we’ve created a Yellowstone Boiling River Map so you know exactly where to go when searching for this amazing Wyoming hot springs.
Boiling River Trailhead And Parking Information
The Boiling River parking lot is open for visitors year-round – however, the parking lot itself is extremely small. The parking lot only holds about 10-15 vehicles at any given time.
Come early in the day to get a parking spot in the Boiling River parking lot, or park next to the road (but fully OFF the road) and then walk down to the parking lot to begin the trail.
Hiking To The Boiling River
The Boiling River is located 0.5 miles away from the area designated for entry. This means you’ll be hiking a total of 1 mile there and back. You’ll follow a wide, smooth, and flat dirt path along the Gardner River, going upstream. It’s very easy to reach and we wouldn’t really call this a hike – we walked to the entrance in our slippers!
The elevation gain on the trail is 50 feet, so there is very little incline or decline. Berty and I visited Yellowstone in the winter, and the path was still well-trodden and the snow was packed down.
This made the Boiling River trail a little bit icy, so watch your step. Maybe even consider putting a pair of microspikes on your boots to keep your balance!
As you reach the end of the short trail to the Boiling River, you’ll start to notice steam coming from the Gardner River up ahead. This is where you’ll enter the springs!
Getting Into The Boiling River
You’ll know you’re getting close to the Boiling River when you reach the wooden fence that lines the river’s edge. Follow the fence as it winds around the Boiling River. You’ll notice it does a U-turn, guiding you around the hot water to a safe place to enter the pools. There are two sets of stairs that are safe entry points.
Please be mindful of these boundaries as you make your way to the end. The fences are there to protect you from the entry points where the water is too hot and dangerous for humans. There are two entry points to safely get in the Boiling River. DO NOT enter anywhere else!
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To get into the Boiling River in the winter, it’s important to have a game plan. Know where you’ll be leaving your clothes so that you have easy access to them as you exit. Take a few minutes to scope out the entrances, and plan where you’ll be soaking.
We actually went around to both entrances and tested the water with our fingers. We noticed that one entrance (the one at the farthest end) had a more comfortable ratio of hot water to cold water, so we determined the far entrance would be where we would soak that day.
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It takes time to find a place in the Boiling River that’s the perfect mix of hot and cold. To make matters a little more difficult, you’re attempting to do this in ever-changing conditions! Be prepared to move around and try out different pools until you find one that’s a comfortable temperature for you.
Boiling River Yellowstone Safety Tips
Just like any other time you experience the outdoors, there are some important tips on keeping you and your party safe. This is important to remember while enjoying the Boiling River in Yellowstone. Here are a few to keep in mind:
- Don’t attempt to touch the geothermal spring water. It’s extremely hot and WILL burn you.
- Consider packing water shoes. This will help protect your feet from the slippery/sharp rocks and allow you to move more freely in the water.
- Only enter the water in designated areas where the river and the spring water mix.
- Alcohol is prohibited, for obvious reasons. This is an inherently dangerous place to be, so it’s important that you have a clear mind to make responsible decisions.
- Skinny dipping is not allowed. Being located in National Park land, be aware that families will be coming and going from the Boiling River. Keep your booty for private places, like some of these backcountry hot springs in Idaho!
- Pack proper sun protection (hat or sunscreen), enough water, and small snacks. Pack out any trash you bring with you.
- Follow Leave No Trace Principles. Leave this location just as you found it for future enjoyment!
- There’s a small chance you may have a reaction to microorganisms in the water. This is a living, changing area, and everybody reacts differently. Avoid submerging your head in the water, and if you have a reaction or experience symptoms, get out and seek medical attention.
Tips To Enjoying Your Time In The Boiling River In Yellowstone In Winter
Okay, you’ve gotten this far in the blog post. Chances are, you’re crazy enough to go in the dead of winter like us, so here are some tricks to make it as enjoyable as possible!
#1. Wear Your Swimsuit Under Your Clothes.
Basically, there is no privacy around the entrance to the Boiling River. Save yourself the awkwardness of changing on location (bathing suits are required BTW) and reduce your exposure to the cold by putting your bathing suit on at home.
#2. Wear as little layers as possible, but the warmest layers possible.
The last thing you want to do when you get out of the Boiling River is fiddle with multiple, clumsy layers. Wear your biggest, warmest jacket (and maybe another easy layer) and a pair of cozy sweatpants.
#3. Get in and out as fast as possible.
Come with a plan. Know where you’ll be setting your clothes, and even consider laying them out for maximum efficiency when getting out of the water, so you reduce your time standing in a cold suit in the freezing weather.
#4. Wear water shoes and bring slippers.
The rocks in the Gardner River are sharp and slippery. You’ll have a much easier time navigating the water with water shoes/sandals. We swear by our tried and true Teva sandals.
#5. Bring two towels.
This is all about preference, but we liked having a towel for drying off, and one to put your feet on as you get in and out of your warm layers. We own these ones from Nomadix, and we love the quick-dry properties of it, and the fact that they are super lightweight!
#6. Try A Polar Plunge (If You Dare).
If you feel up for experiencing the extremes between the river temperature and the hot springs, try stepping out of a pool to feel the icy sting of the Gardner River water, and hop right back in to warm up and feel the stark difference.
Remember though, the river’s current can be strong. Try hanging on to the rocks, hopping out into the river water next to your pool, and hopping right back in. We don’t advise you to try and swim across the river, it’s too dangerous.
Additionally, people with heart conditions should not attempt this!
#7. Expect To Meet Others!
While this place may seem like a remote location, the Boiling River in Yellowstone is actually a pretty popular place for locals to soak.
Don’t expect an isolated location, but rather a family-friendly place where people can enjoy Yellowstone in a fun and unique way!
Boiling River Yellowstone Winter Packing List
Swimsuit: Pick a cute one-piece suit (like this one from Patagonia) one that will stay in place as you move around the river. Personally, we’d avoid a white suit, as it may react with the chemicals in the water and turn unwanted colors.
Huge Warm Coat: The bigger the better! Choose a super warm parka to keep in your body heat during those frigid trips to the Boiling River in Yellowstone in winter.
Water Bottle: The hot water of the Yellowstone Boiling River can actually be dehydrating for your body. Make sure to have cool, fresh water in an insulated water bottle for a quick refresh every now and then.
Sunscreen or Sun Protection (Hat): Protection from the sun is always a good idea. On sunny days make sure to bring sunscreen and a bucket hat (like this one from Outdoor Research) or wear a beanie when visiting the Boiling River in winter.
FAQ’s About The Boiling River Yellowstone
Are There Bathrooms Available at The Boiling River?
Yes, there is a bathroom available at the Boiling River parking lot. It’s a pit toilet, with one stall.
Do I Have To Pay To Use The Boiling River?
You do not have to pay an entrance fee for the Boiling River itself, but you DO have to pay an entrance fee to enter Yellowstone National Park, where it resides. Daily entrance fees are $30, or you can choose to purchase an annual pass for $80. Want more info on park passes? Read our park pass guide here.
When Does The Boiling River Open?
You may be asking, “Is the Boiling River open right now?” and that depends on what time of year you are reading our post!
The Boiling River’s opening hours are from sunrise to sunset daily. More specifically, here are the current opening hours:
- Summer: 6:00 am to 8:00 pm beginning typically early July until September 15.
- Fall/Spring/Winter: 7:00 am to 6:00 pm from September 16th until water levels rise (late April to May)
Boiling River swimming at night is forbidden.
Why is the Boiling River Closed In The Late Spring? During times that the river levels are high, soaking is prohibited for the safety of the swimmers. This is because the high water levels wash out the pools and create super muddy/unsafe hiking conditions. If you’re visiting The Boiling River in Yellowstone during the spring, call ahead to see if it’s open. It is typically closed from May through Mid-July. Call ahead to the Albright Visitors Center to confirm opening times.
How Hot Is The Boiling River? Is It Safe To Swim In The Boiling River?
The Boiling River is an ever-changing, unpredictable hot spring. The temperatures can range anywhere from 110 degrees to scalding water at 140 degrees or more. However, people have created these little pools downstream of the Gardner River that combine a perfect mix of cold river water and hot spring water for a relaxing soak.
Enter from the two stairways that go into the water, and walk alongside the river to choose the pool that’s right for you. This is also a ‘swim at your own risk’ site, so always tell people where you are going, when you’ll be back, and make sure to go soaking with a buddy.
The pools where the river and underground spring mix is the only place that’s comfortable for human use! Therefore, it’s important to come prepared (water shoes like we talked about earlier) and make sure you are able to move and shift around as the Boiling River temperature moves too.
Can I Visit The Boiling River With Kids?
Absolutely! The Boiling River with kids is a fun way to introduce them to a little adventure and a new way to experience nature.
Keep in mind though that this is a river with a constantly moving stream, so it’s imperative that children are supervised at all times. Consider packing things like arm floaties, brightly colored suits (to spot them easily), and consider a pool with calmer waters.
So there you have it! The complete guide to visiting the Boiling River in winter, in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. If you’re looking for a cool place to visit in Yellowstone, we hope this post could inspire you to take a trip out to the Boiling River. We hope that you feel equipped and ready for an exciting adventure ahead.
Whether you’re visiting the Boiling River in the winter or summer, we hope these tips can help you maximize your enjoyment. Have fun!