What is the Boiling River in Yellowstone (And Can You Swim in It)?

Written by August Buck
Published: July 6, 2022
Image Credit goodluz/Shutterstock.com
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There are a number of popular activities to do in just about any National Park, but what can you expect out of a visit to the Boiling River in Yellowstone? Are there any reliable swimming spots in Yellowstone National Park, and is the Boiling River one of them? Plus, why is it called the Boiling River anyway!?

In this article, we will address everything you need to know about the Boiling River in Yellowstone, including whether or not you can swim in it. We will also go over what makes the Boiling River so special, where it is located in the park, and when the best time of year might be to visit it. Let’s get started!

What is the Boiling River in Yellowstone?

boiling river yellowstone
Located where the Gardner River meets the Boiling River Hot Spring, the Boiling River is safe enough to swim in.

Colton Stiffler/Shutterstock.com

The Boiling River is one of very few legal swimming and soaking locations in Yellowstone National Park- but it still requires plenty of caution and care. Located where the Gardner River meets the Boiling River Hot Spring, the Boiling River is safe enough to swim in. However, there are a number of reasons why the Boiling River is special, and a location that deserves respect.

There are hydrothermal features throughout Yellowstone, including more geysers than anywhere else in the world. The Boiling River is where fresh water meets hot spring water, and you can no doubt guess that this has some interesting effects. This is because any thermal water in Yellowstone contains numerous bacterias and organisms, some of which are dangerous when ingested.

But this doesn’t exactly answer the question: can you swim in the Boiling River?

Can You Swim in the Boiling River in Yellowstone?

boiling river yellowstone
The Boiling River is where fresh water meets hot spring water, and you can no doubt guess that this has some interesting effects.

goodluz/Shutterstock.com

Yes, swimming in the Boiling River in Yellowstone National Park is possible, in very specific designated areas. Swimming in the nearby Gardner River can be dangerous, due to the severely cold temperatures as well as the swift currents. On the flipside, swimming in the Boiling River Hot Springs is illegal, given the delicate nature of all of Yellowstone’s hot springs, and the fact that it can be dangerous. 

Given the high temperatures and potential bacteria, swimming in undesignated areas throughout Yellowstone is prohibited. That’s why the point where the Gardner River meets the Boiling Hot Spring is the perfect place to have a soak or a swim, when the Boiling River swimming area is open, that is!

As of now, the Boiling River is closed, likely for the entire year. The reason why appears unclear, but it likely has to do with the delicateness of the hydrothermal springs and rivers in Yellowstone. If any part of Yellowstone National Park is closed, it likely has to do with your own safety and security! While you may not be able to swim in the Boiling River at the moment, it might be an option for a future trip.

Where is the Boiling River in Yellowstone?

boiling river yellowstone
Given that the Boiling River is located so close to the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park, you likely can access the location year round.

Michael Hinkle/Shutterstock.com

The Boiling River is located on the border of Wyoming and Montana, less than 20 miles from the northernmost entrance to the park. It is easy to access via vehicle, as there is a limited parking area at the river itself. You can also hike to the Boiling River swim area along the Boiling River Trail or the Lava Creek Trail, which meets up with the Boiling River Trail after a brief amount of time.

Given that the Boiling River is located so close to the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park, you likely can access the location year round. However, it is only safe to swim in the Boiling River when it is open, and these times of year are limited to the months of July and August, more often than not. Always check out the park website before planning your visit!

When is the Best Time of Year to Visit the Boiling River in Yellowstone?

boiling river yellowstone
You may find that swimming in the Boiling River is nearly impossible, given the crowds that typically flock to it on a hot summer day.

Cody Linde/Shutterstock.com

Given the fact that Yellowstone National Park remains frigid for most of the year, one of the best times to visit the Boiling River is in the summertime, specifically the months of July, August, and perhaps September. You may find that visiting during an off-season time for swimming still brings you joy, but just know that you can’t swim in Yellowstone year-round!

Something important to note about visiting Yellowstone in the summertime is the fact that this is when the park is at its busiest. You may find that swimming in the Boiling River is nearly impossible, given the crowds that typically flock to it on a hot summer day. In fact, parking and bathroom facilities are so limited at this location that many Yellowstone Park Rangers do not recommend visiting unless you plan on arriving early!

The Boiling River is just one of many fascinating locations throughout Yellowstone National Park. Whether you want to swim or simply want to witness where a fast-moving snow melt river meets a hot spring, the Boiling River is just one of the countless wonders to explore while on a trip to Yellowstone!

boiling river yellowstone

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About the Author

I am a non-binary freelance writer working full-time in Oregon. Graduating Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre and a specialization in creative writing, I have an invested interest in a variety of topics, particularly Pacific Northwest history. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping along the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my home kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast iron skillet.

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