The Boiling River in Montana is so-called due to an unusual but natural phenomenon that occurs within its waters. The relatively shallow river is close to the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park and flows into the vicinity of hydro-thermal Mammoth Hot Springs.
The main feature of this river is that it contains mixed currents of hot water from the springs and cold water from the Gardiner River, which for many results in a wondrous soak.
This long-held ‘in-the-know’ Yellowstone spot is not on park maps, but you might even be surprised to find that these days it may even be a little crowded.
The secret is out, but many believe the Boiling River should be an experience on your ‘must-do’ list when you visit Yellowstone.
Guide to the Boiling River
The Main Features of the Boiling River
Although the river features on a few maps it is still well worth stopping off at. There are two parking lots nearby with extra parking on the west side of the road (opposite the entrance).
It is a reasonably easy wander to the designated entrance where, upon having passed through, you will be walking pretty much on rocks in the river. Some kinds of river shoes are thus highly recommended for anyone venturing into the river, as they can be uncomfortable and slippery otherwise.
The main purpose of heading into the vicinity for most people is to sit in the shallow waters and experience both the cool and the hot water flowing around them.
It is also worth considering that soaking is largely prohibited throughout the park and that the Boiling River stretch is one of the few designated areas where it is deemed safe. That said, there are still plenty of safety considerations as with all ‘hot spots’ in the park.
There are of course obvious dangers and safety considerations when getting anywhere near hydro-thermic features. There are many more deaths involving springs and other hot areas than people may be aware of.
You only have to witness the heat that is produced this spring to feel its awesome and fearful power. For many though it creates an interesting and ever-changing mix of cold and hot water around their body which, at the right temperatures, can undoubtedly be invigorating.
The thing to bear in mind is that you need to be able to find a spot where you won’t get swept away by the current, freeze to death, or burn to death. If you can get that bit right you should be in for a highly-enjoyable and invigorating experience!
Navigating the Boiling River
Once you are in through the entrance point to the river you may begin to notice the pools, and some of the rocks can be very slippery—another reason for the river shoes.
A bit further along sits a much bigger spring, and the rocks get slightly less slick the more you head into the river. Finding the right balance of hot and cold water is the real key to a successful soak in this stretch of river in Yellowstone Park.
That said, extreme caution still needs to be exercised by remembering that this is not just a river!
The spot generally used for bathing along the river is the confluence, where tremendously cold water mixes with flows from the hot springs. Walking in the water definitely calls for some kind of water shoes for comfort and footing, and it isn’t that difficult to find a spot or two with just the right mix of hot and cold.
It does change quickly though according to the natural flow of the water. The two crucial things to bear in mind are that the river flows quickly and the hot springs are very hot.
The Hike to the Boiling River
The hike to the river’s bathing spot from the access point is short and easy enough for most visitors. The terrain is flat and although it is not that well-marked, you can get accurate directions from the Hot Springs’ visitor center.
The parking is limited and is often full and overflowing in the peak season of summer between 10 am and 6 pm. The only amenities available at the starting point consist of a vault toilet at the parking lot.
Seasonal Access and Regulations
The main location closes at dark, and the access is seasonal. It can also be closed when waters are evident or other dangerous conditions look likely.
At the time of writing the Boiling River Swim Area is CLOSED until further notice due to flood damage. Anyone considering checking it out should first consult the river’s status on the current conditions page HERE.
Accessing the Boiling River
To access the Boiling River bathing spot visitors will first need to get close to the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park Gardiner. This is very close to Chico Hot Springs Day Spa & Resort and the Sage Resort.
From a parking lot along the road between the North Entrance and Mammoth Hot Springs, a half-mile walk along the Gardner River leads to a designated soaking/swimming area where the waters from these two rivers mix.
The Bottom Line
The Boiling River in Montana’s Yellowstone region provides a quite fascinating experience and field of study or observation.
The two hot and cold rivers that intersect are like nature’s hot tub, and many visitors find it very relaxing and therapeutic.
It just needs to be kept in mind that the rocks are very slippery and the current is not to be messed with nor are the extremes of temperature on either side.
But once you find the sweet spot where the cold and hot waters mix perfectly, you can enjoy an unforgettable Yellowstone experience.