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Boiling River – a Hidden Gem of Yellowstone National Park

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Boiling River – a Hidden Gem of Yellowstone National Park

Boiling River in Yellowstone is one of the less known places of America’s oldest National Park. Tucked in the far north corner of the park it’s a true hidden gem of Yellowstone NP.

We had never heard of the Boiling River when planning our trip to Yellowstone National Park and it was a complete coincidence that we discovered it (read about it below).

We mentioned this discovery among our suggestions of the best things to do in Yellowstone with kids and after a while, the emails and the questions started coming in… So many of our readers told me that our blog inspired them to visit Boiling River in Yellowstone and that it became one of the highlights of their trip.

This inspired me to write this guide for visiting Boiling River in Yellowstone. What is the Boiling River? Where to find it? How hot is the Boiling River? What to expect… You can find all the answers to these questions and practical information below… But first, as promised, our story of how we discovered the Boiling River in the first place.

How we found out about the Boiling River in Yellowstone

The evening before we would arrive in Yellowstone, we were having dinner at a cozy hamburger restaurant in Jackson, WY. It was the peak summer season and the place was crowded. We were seated at a long table where you brush elbows with strangers and inevitably end up listening to other people’s conversations.

It didn’t take long for people around us to start asking where we were from. After all, we were the only non-English-speaking family at the restaurant…

We ended up chatting with a family from Montana. They had just spent a few days in Yellowstone and were willingly sharing their experiences. Most places they mentioned were, of course, familiar to us; after all, we have done so much research for our trip to Yellowstone in advance. But then we asked them what were their absolute favorite places and they mentioned Lamar Valley and Boiling River.

Boiling what?

We had read tens of blog posts, travel guides, and consulted the official website of Yellowstone National Park in search of the best experiences in Yellowstone when planning our Yellowstone trip itinerary. We researched and booked our Yellowstone accommodation a year in advance… Yet we hadn’t seen Boiling River mentioned anywhere.

Not once had we read anything about one of the coolest places in Yellowstone…

So it was thanks to the friendly strangers at a restaurant that we found out about Boiling River in Yellowstone National Park. This post is just my way of giving back because some places are just too good to keep it to yourself. Read on!

Boiling river in Yellowstone with kids
You can see Boiling River bathing area in the distance

What is Boiling River

Boiling River in Yellowstone is a sort of a natural hot tub where a large hot spring enters the cold waters of Gardner mountain river. The cold and hot water mingle and makes the water temperature comfortable enough to bathe in.

Boiling River is one of the few legal thermal soaking areas in Yellowstone (the other popular place is Firehole River, but it’s much better known and therefore much busier).

It’s a wonderful place to start or end your day in Yellowstone. What can be better than a soak in a warm river after a long day exploring the highlights of the park… If you have more time, you can even pack a picnic and make a whole day trip of it.

Bathing in the Boiling River in Yellowstone with kids
Bathing in Yellowstone’s best natural hot tub

How to get to the Boiling River + Map

Boiling River is located next to the main road 89, between Mammoth Hot Springs and the North Entrance of Yellowstone, just at the border between Wyoming and Montana (see the map below for the precise location).

It’s about 5 minutes drive from Mammoth, 1h from Canyon Village, and about 1,5h drive from the Old Faithful area.

There is a bathroom and a small parking area at the start of the short trail leading to the hot spring. If you are coming from the south, it’s on the right side of the road just before crossing Gardner river; and if you are coming from the north, it’s on your left just after you cross the river.

Keep in mind that Boiling River parking area is very small, so it quickly fills up. Many people park next to the road, but in general, it shouldn’t be a problem to find a parking spot as people come and go all the time. We visited at the end of July and while we were not alone, it wasn’t overly busy at the hot spring either.

How to Use This Map: Use your computer mouse (or fingers) to zoom in or out. Click on the icons to get more information about each place. Click the arrow on the left top corner for the index. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view the saved map on your smartphone or PC, open Google Maps, click the menu button, and go to ‘Your Places’/’Maps’.


Hiking to the Boiling River

Boiling River bathing area is located about half a mile (0,8km) upstream from the car park.

A flat dirt path is an easy scenic walk along the river and can’t even be called a hike; it shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes. Most people walk here in their flip flops.

Depending on the outside temperature, you can see the large steam clouds from far. Where the path intersects with the river, you’ll find a small area with a wooden fence and signs indicating where it’s safe to swim. This is also the only place where you should swim!!!

Kids walking on the Boiling River trail in Yellowstone
Boiling River trail

How hot is the Boiling River and can you swim in it

Boiling River is not called ‘boiling’ for nothing! Discharge of hot water from an underground source flows out of the ground and is then mixed with the cold waters of Gardner river, turning a small piece of wild mountain river into a sheltered relaxing hot tub in the most spectacular setting. The water temperatures can vary from around 100 to 140 degrees (38-54°C), so you have to look for a perfect temperature for you.

This area of the Gardner river is just deep enough to sit in and is somewhat sheltered, making it comfortable and safe to bathe. Still, you should be cautious as to where exactly you sit as water temperatures change all the time. Obey the signs and don’t go too close to the source! You really don’t want to risk getting burned.

It takes some time to find a place where the temperature feels just right for you. Our kids loved looking for a spot where they could feel the hot water on one side and ice-cold water on the other side of their body at the same time. You can sit or lay in the river here, but you can’t actually swim – it’s not deep enough.

When you find that perfect mix of hot and cold water, it’s a wonderful place to relax. We have been to many hot springs all over the world, but Boiling River beats them all. It’s a place like no other, a unique wonder of nature.

I made a short video, it will give you an idea of how bathing in Boiling River looks like… Take a look!


Is it safe to swim in Boiling River in Yellowstone

Water temperature. As long as you are careful not to go too close to the stream, you can find perfect water temperatures that are comfortable and enjoyable for bathing.

Disease-causing microorganisms. Thermal waters contain organisms that can cause serious skin rashes, infections, etc. There are signs at the Boiling River that inform you about all possible dangers and warn to avoid submerging your head under water or inhaling thermal steam.

You have to remember that it’s a natural phenomenon, conditions change all the time, and your body can react differently than somebody else’s. So be careful and in case you experience any symptoms, get out of the water immediately and seek medical assistance.

We never experienced any issues and hundreds of people bathe at the Boiling River every day, so I don’t think you have to worry much. Just be aware of the potential dangers and understand that you’re bathing at your own risk.

Stream. The designated bathing area is quite sheltered and when the area is open, it means that the stream here normally isn’t dangerous. Once again, it’s nature and the situation can change quickly.

Boiling River with kids

Boiling River can easily be visited with kids. The walk to get there is short and easy, the water warm and not deep, and every child will love it!

As you can see in the video above, we took our boys bathing in the Boiling River and they had the time of their lives. Playing in water, building river dams… We spent over an hour in the water and they didn’t want to leave…

Of course, you have to be careful, just like anywhere else. If you are planning to bathe here with toddlers, it might be wise to look for a very secluded place with calm water and use swim arm bands.

Is Boiling River open right now?

Boiling River is usually open from late summer till the end of winter. It is closed to the public in spring and early summer when the river water is too high and too wild due to the melting snow. The Boiling River Trail can also be too muddy making the area inaccessible before mid-summer.

Boiling River is usually closed from mid March till mid July. In general, you should expect Boiling River to be open from mid July, but it varies year to year. That being said, Boiling River is also usually open in autumn and in winter… Can you imagine a better hot tub in the winter months?!

TIP: If you are planning on visiting Boiling River, it’s best to check current conditions on the official website of National Park Services.

Practical information for visiting Boiling River in Yellowstone

  • Boiling River swimming area is open during the day till it gets dark (it used to be open 10 am to 6 pm, but it’s not clear if there are any official opening hours at the moment and the official website doesn’t list them either.
  • Car parking is very small and gets filled quickly, so you may have to wait a while till a spot frees up. Many people park next to the road as well.
  • Bathing suits are required. The only place where you can change clothes is in a single vault toilet at the car parking.
  • It’s forbidden to drink or eat in the river. You may bring a picnic, but no alcohol.
  • There are no lifeguards and swimming in the Boiling River is at your own risk.
  • Water shoes are recommended. We had flip flops and our kids were wearing crocs and I ended up chasing one of their shoes down the stream in the river. I can tell you, it’s not fun and can actually be quite dangerous. It’s much safer to wear water shoes.
  • The area has no shade, so if you come in summer, make sure you have and use sun protection. UV t-shirts and sun hats are definitely a good idea if you are planning on staying in the water for longer than 5 minutes.
  • For more tips, check our Yellowstone summer packing list.

More tips for your trip to Yellowstone:

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Saturday 25th of July 2020

Early in your article, you mention you heard about the Boiling River in a "cozy hamburger joint in Jackson, WY". We are headed there after Yellowstone & love a good hamburger! Can you share your favorite hamburger joints in Yellowstone as well as Jackson? Thank you!!!!


Sunday 26th of July 2020

Hi Kat, I had to dig deep into my memory and also the map to find it. I think it was Liberty Burger in Jackson. In Yellowstone, there are many restaurants, but they are all run by the National Park. The food is ok, but it's not any special and all the restaurants are so big and busy... We had hamburgers at the Canyon Village and it was ok. We weren't that impressed with the Old Faithful Inn dining room either (we had lunch and breakfast there). Hope this helps you a bit.


Wednesday 8th of January 2020

I have planned our Yellowstone / Grand Tetons / Badlands / Mt Rushmore road trip for June 2020. And I mean, I researched it to from A to Z - National park websites, travel forums, people's blogs, discussion posts... countless days and nights spent planning and mapping everything. And nowhere, NOWHERE did I see a mention of Boiling River! Crazy! Also, I am originally from Latvia (hello, neighbor!), living in the U.S. now and traveling with my 2 little boys (and husband drags along too:-) ), and keeping a blog about it, so I am very happy I have found yours!


Thursday 9th of January 2020

Hi Liene, it's indeed a somewhat lesser-known place, but still busy... I see that you'll be traveling in June and it's usually closed in that period (see the post for more info). If that's the case and you want to try swimming in a hot river, you can try the Firehole river swimming area instead (if it's open). However, that area is even more busy, there's pretty much no space to park and the whole roadside is basically filled with parked cars... So if you're going there, you'll probably have to get there very early in the morning or maybe late in the afternoon... Enjoy your trip!


Sunday 29th of December 2019

It would be nice if people would not blog about quiet secluded places like this. Since the moment you do it destroys that and turns it into a major tourist trap just for you can get your likes up.


Tuesday 31st of December 2019

Hi Deb, I understand your concern and we also try not to share any really secluded locations on social media just for the likes, as you say it. Blogs are very different though because only people researching their trips and looking to explore deeper actually read blogs. Someone looking for information about the Boiling River in Yellowstone already knows they want to visit... So I rather give them the info and help them visit responsibly. Look at it this way - it's the same as reading travel guides where we all used to find our travel inspiration and information in the past (and many people, myself included, still read them now and find some incredible 'hidden' gems in there). But somehow nobody sends angry letters to the Lonely Planet telling them not to write about places... Btw, if you think that Boiling River is a secluded place, it really isn't. I think there were over 100 people in the water on the day when we visited and the car parking was full... That was long before this blog post was written...


Sunday 25th of August 2019

The hours you list here are no longer accurate, and the link is broken. Please do not use sunscreen, per - no substances like that are to be used.


Thursday 29th of August 2019

Hi Alex, thanks for letting me know - I removed the link and changed the text in regards to opening times. Although, I have to say, it's really unclear now. I guess, it's safest to just go during the day... And thanks for the tips about the sunscreen. We usually just use UV t-shirts in the water - so much easier and no worries about any harmful products. Happy travels!


Sunday 23rd of June 2019

Hello, I'm planning to visit Yellowstone in the Winter and won't have a car. Do you think it's feasible to walk to the boiling River from Mammoth hot springs hotel ?


Tuesday 25th of June 2019

I honestly have no idea. How are you getting to Mammoth springs to start with? Google maps show that it would take about an hour just to get to the Boiling River parking (see map). This doesn't take into account winter conditions of course. North entrance is the only one that's open in winter for cars and the Boiling River parking is located just next to that road. So maybe you could get a ride from someone? I'm also not sure if Boiling River is always open in winter. In spring, they usually close it to prevent damage due to melting water, but I don't know when it closes exactly. I think it's best to ask at the hotel when you are there.

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