Thursday, May 9, 2019

Boiling River - Yellowstone National Park

After a while it can be pretty boring to just look at hot spring after hot spring after hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. If you are looking to enhance your hot spring experience then plan a visit to Boiling River. Soaking in the mix of hot spring runoff water and the Gardener River is a good way to experience Yellowstone as more than just an idle spectator.

Location: The parking area for Boiling River is located 2 miles north of the Visitor Center in Mammoth Hot Springs. There aren't any signs for Boiling River, but the parking area is just south of the signs designating the 45th parallel.

Hiking Distance and Time: From the parking lot you'll have to walk half a mile on a wide, flat trail to reach Boiling River. Time is going to depend on how long you want to spend in the water.  Plan for at least an hour.

Open Season: Water conditions in the Gardener River will often close this area through late June.  Check with the Visitor Center or the current conditions page to see if it is open. The area is open from 5:00 am to 9:00 pm.

Date of Visit: Friday July 14, 2017

In the summer of 2017 I received a job with Xanterra Parks and Resorts in Yellowstone National Park. I moved there with my husband and our four young children. We lived in a 25 foot RV and spent all our free time exploring the park. This is one of many posts that I will write about specific features within Yellowstone National Park. Be sure to check out my other posts for more tips for your Yellowstone visit.

Most of the hot springs in Yellowstone have signs posted nearby with strict warnings to remind people to stay on the boardwalk and out of the water.  But there is one place in Yellowstone where you are allowed to get in the water from a hot spring.

You can't get into the actual hot spring - because that would severely injure your body.  Instead you can soak in the spot where the hot spring water mixes with the Gardener River.

Information about Boiling River is a bit on the down low.  Locals and employees know about the area, but it's not listed on the map given out to visitors when they enter the park.  Nor have I ever read anything about it in the park newspaper. There isn't even a sign on the road indicating where to turn for parking. About the only place the river is mentioned by the NPS is on the website.

Even through the area isn't mentioned much it still can get very crowded in the summer.  The parking lot isn't very big. You can park in the side of the road, but be careful not to park on vegetation.

The trail starts out at a dirt parking lot about 2 miles north of Mammoth Hot Springs and just a few yards south of the Wyoming/Montana boarder.  There is a sign indicating you are passing the 45th parallel, but there aren't any signs letting you know that this is the parking area for Boiling River.

There is a single stall vault toilet here. If you haven't changed into a swimming suit yet, this building is your last structural chance to do that.

After passing the bathroom the trail follows the Gardener River for half a mile.  The trail is wide and level. 
Even if you aren't interested in soaking in the water, this is still a pretty trail and a nice way to see the river up close. 
As we got closer to the Boiling River we could see the run off channel snaking alongside the Gardener River.
 The trail wraps around the spot where the spring comes out of the ground. Be careful through here, you can see where the some of the rocks have collapsed.
 Rules are posted to keep people in line. Basically stay out of the run off, and wear appropriate clothing.
When we reached the water we found some beaches and a post fence where we could place our stuff.
Then we walked down some steps and into the water.  We were surprised by how cold the river water was.  This was the middle of July, but the water felt icy.
There is usually a small rock wall of sorts that blocks most of the current from the Gardener River.  We arrived on one of the first days the river was open after the spring run off supsided.  A lady who frequently visited the area worked to erect the wall again. She said the wall helped the water from Boiling River mix better with the cold river water. 
Everyone just kind of found a spot in the water where the temperatures mixed well.  It was a little tricky to find a good spot.  Some areas were too hot, others were too cold.  The rocks were slippery so that also made finding a good spot a little tricky.  Eventually we found a good place.
The water coming off of the hot spring is not boiling, but it is very hot.  No one is allowed to actually sit in the run off channel.
We spent a long time in the water. My younger two kids didn't really like sitting in near the hot spring water but they did like wading in the shallow area near the rock wall. The older two spent some time with me in the hot water, but they also spent time in the shallow area.  They even helped build up the rock wall a little bit.

As we were getting ready to leave, a whole herd of elk entered the water down stream from where we were.  It was really cool to see them.
Seeing the Elk was almost as cool as soaking in the river.
On our way back down the trail we were surprised by a family of elk in the bushes next to the trail.  I made sure to keep my kids as far as possible from the Elk.

Recommendation: If you want a fun story to tell your friends about your visit to Yellowstone then plan to spend some time soaking in the Boiling River. Make sure you check to see if the area is open first.

Directions: The toughest thing about finding Boiling River is finding the parking lot.  Like I've said, the parking area is just a little to the south of the signs indicating the 45th Parallel.  The main parking lot is on the east side of the North Entrance Road. The parking area is down a little dirt road.  There is also an overflow parking lot on the west side of the North Entrance Road.  Be careful and watch out for cars as you cross the North Entrance Road.

Places Nearby:  The town of Gardener is just 3 miles up the road from Boiling Spring.  There are restaurants and other businesses here.  Just understand that the line back into the park can stretch pretty far down the road during peak tourist times.  If you are visiting in the summer only leave the park if you aren't planning to quickly re-enter the park.

Want more Yellowstone Vacation Ideas? Visit my list of Things you can't miss and hidden gems along the way.

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I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?


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