Way up upon the Boiling River

At first, when I dip my toes into the frigid waters of the Boiling River, I think that there’s no truth in advertising these days.  As I struggle to maintain my balance and work my way downstream to where I can see the mists rising from a roiling make shift hot tub, my impression deepens.  From the river bank, boiling hot water issuing from fissures in the rock and upstream geothermal caverns merges with ice-cold water from the mountain streams so that at times one shaky leg is freezing and the other is nearly scalding.  Soon, though, I am able to just ease myself down into a warm water confluence and slip downstream far enough to find myself enjoying a hot mineral bath courtesy of Father Nature along with my new best friends, a couple from Whitefish, Montana, another from Marseilles, France, and a gaggle of teenage girls from parts unknown.  I spend the next hour just relaxing in the hot embrace of these soothing waters while enjoying the splendor and beauty that is Yellowstone National Park all around me.

. To get here, you will want to enter the park from the north entrance.  That usually means flying into Bozeman, Montana, renting a car, and driving down to Gardiner (1.5 hours), where you’ll spend the night before striking out on your explorations the next day.  Come in winter, as I did, and you’ll nearly have the place to yourself.  I’d spend the early morning hours driving through the Lamar Valley, known as the Serengeti of Yellowstone.  If you can rise from bed before dawn, you will see the Park’s predators going about their deadly daily business: a pack of coyotes devouring the carcass of a dead Buffalo, a fox diving into the snow for his morning meal of field mice, and a lone wolf stalking i know not what.  It’s easy to find these animals in action because they’re the stars for a dozen professional photographers standing on the side of the rode capturing their every movement.

At first, when I dip my toes into the frigid waters of the Boiling River, I think that there’s no truth in advertising these days.  As I struggle to maintain my balance and work my way downstream to where I can see the mists rising from a roiling make shift hot tub, my impression deepens.  From the river bank, boiling hot water issuing from fissures in the rock and upstream geothermal caverns merges with ice-cold water from the mountain streams so that at times one shaky leg is freezing and the other is nearly scalding.  Soon, though, I am able to just ease myself down into a warm water confluence and slip downstream far enough to find myself enjoying a hot mineral bath courtesy of Father Nature along with my new best friends, a couple from Whitefish, Montana, another from Marseilles, France, and a gaggle of teenage girls from parts unknown.  I spend the next hour just relaxing in the hot embrace of these soothing waters while enjoying the splendor and beauty that is Yellowstone National Park all around me.

To get here, you will want to enter the park from the north entrance.  That usually means flying into Bozeman, Montana, renting a car, and driving down to Gardiner (1.5 hours), where you’ll spend the night before striking out on your explorations the next day.  Come in winter, as I did, and you’ll nearly have the place to yourself.  I’d spend the early morning hours driving through the Lamar Valley, known as the Serengeti of Yellowstone.  If you can rise from bed before dawn, you will see the Park’s predators going about their deadly daily business: a pack of coyotes devouring the carcass of a dead Buffalo, a fox diving into the snow for his morning meal of field mice, and a lone wolf stalking I know not what.  It’s easy to find these animals in action because they’re the stars for a dozen professional photographers standing on the side of the rode capturing their every movement.

Then head back to town, grab some lunch at the Wonderland Cafe, and head back into the Park to take the plunge.  Drive just a few miles inside the Roosevelt Arch and you’ll find a parking lot on the left equipped with primitive facilities.  There, you’ll hike about 1/2 mile down a path that will take you to the water’s edge.  

Any day in Yellowstone is a great day, but this side trip made for a worthy contribution to our winter vacation.

Some friendly advice

Wear water shoes-There are lots of slippery large and small rocks on the bottom of the river.  I can’t imagine doing this without appropriate footwear unless you have cloven feet.

Put your swimwear on before you leave home-There really is only one place to change near the river, and that is at a primitive toilet at the trailhead.  Save yourself the horror of the public latrine. 

Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, change back into dry clothes when you get out-This is essential in winter, as the hawk bites cruelly along the water’s edge and the temperatures are rarely above freezing.  There is no place to do this other than out in the open, but by creative use of your towel and strategically timing the intervals between approaching groups, you should be able to get the job done without undue embarrassment.  This is easier to do than you’d think because very few people are actually crazy enough to do this in winter.

The park closes at dusk-Allow yourself at least 15 minutes to walk down to the river and another hour of leisure once there.


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