Updated: Feb 25, 2021
Our time in the town of Thermopolis was short, but we packed a lot into our overnight stay. Our morning started in Yellowstone National Park, where we had spent the past few days, and by afternoon we had gone through the Wyoming Dinosaur center, who’s post you can see here! Our next stop was entirely on accident, as we were waiting for it to be 4 o’clock so we could check into our hotel for the night. This visit was on our camping trip, but we decided this would be a “shower stop” so we had a room booked for the night in small motel in town.
After leaving the Dinosaur Center we scoured our map to see what was nearby. I didn’t want to spend another second in the car. I’ve been prone to carsickness my whole life (though I have no problem on ships, for some reason) and the mountainous terrain on the way here was too much for me to take in one day. Not too far from where we were parked was the Hot Springs State Park. Sounded like a good place to kill an hour or two. The sign out front promised buffalo viewing and scenic springs that were sacred to the indigenous people who first settled here. We parked by a large, temperate pond, and started the short trek down the boardwalk, headed towards the rising steam. Much like we had seen in Yellowstone the past few days, the geothermal activity under the surface heats the water to boiling temperatures. These springs are also known for their high mineral content, which many people say gives them healing properties. If you want to see the springs and bison, but skip the crowds that Yellowstone is known for, head to Thermopolis to experience a teaser of what the national park offers. It’s a much more suburban setting and the state park is somewhat ADA accessible, so it’s great for a family with diverse needs. We also drove through the national park that morning and had to contend with snow in the middle of June. In Thermopolis we were comfortable in our flannels.The hills rise in the background above the colorful springs, and the sights are absolutely breathtaking. So is the smell. No, like the sulphur is so strong that you won’t want to take a breath. But hey, its all part of the experience.
The state park boasts the ‘Mineral Falls!” which are formed when the mineral-rich water flows over the edge of the basin and drips into the river below, depositing some minerals which calcify on its way down. It looks like an above ground cave, and was beautiful to see. It was worth the walk over the extremely springy and rickety bridge, that barely holds you as you scoot nervously across the water. Don’t worry, the sign says the bridge was recently reconstructed. After a total collapse. I’m glad I didn’t see that until I had returned safely to the other side. Nathaniel had a lot of fun bouncing the bridge as I made my way across. I’ve never been afraid of heights, but that was a rough passage.
The springs are famous for their healing powers, and the area makes it known. Inside of the state park are three bathhouses. One is free and run by the park. there is a fifteen minute time limit since it has to be available for all the bathers who opt for the free option. The two that charge an entrance fee are elaborate. I’m pretty sure I saw a waterslide leading into one of the pools. It may be a big draw for families, but it seems like a strange way to use the healing and sacred water. The free house was full, we were hungry, and check in time at the hotel was fast approaching. We were craving a shower after a few days in the wilderness and decided to soak in the springs tomorrow.
We checked in to the tiny strip motel, and found a harried front desk agent who was very apologetic. Apparently a small flooding incident had taken over the room we booked, and all they had available was the Honeymoon Suite. Would that be alright? Sounds luxurious! Sign me up! Luxury is not what Wyoming is famous for, and now I understand why. The honeymoon suite was very… wooden. Wooden carvings of rabbits and ducks lined every surface. The curtains reminded me of cabins I used to stay in during childhood summers. Green and cream colored, with canoes and bears patched into the fabric. I’m for sure not complaining. It was very cozy and warm. I felt at home. Importantly, it had a plush king sized bed with clean sheets and a high-water-pressure shower with all the hot water we could ask for. I stepped into the steam while Nathaniel ran out for a meal to fit the room. McDonald’s. After a dinner of chicken nuggets and with clean socks and underwear donned for the first time in too long, we stepped out to see if the hotel’s hot tub was open and functional. I’m glad we checked it out, because apparently the hotel runs water directly from the hot springs to their tub, so that their guests can experience the mineral water without having to fight the bathhouse crowds. We had the pool almost to ourselves. When we arrived there was an older woman sitting directly under the waterfall that transported the special water in. As we disrobed she asked us to first check with the front desk and make sure that the tub was working properly. She said she expected it to be much warmer and thought a dial got turned somehow.
The kind receptionist came out to check and saw that in fact the tub was far too hot for their standards. It should come in and be regulated to 106 degrees at the warmest. It mixes with a small amount of cold water to do this. The water flowing from the falls, however, was coming in at 114 degrees. She was sitting directly underneath it! Dragon woman…. I had my feet in while I waited for the temperature to drop a bit. It was too hot to stand as it was. As I waited I read the plaque on the wall that explained the reason for having the hot springs water accessible to the hotels, gyms, an other communal establishments in town. When a treaty was signed that evicted the native people from their land they had one last condition before total surrender. The hot springs had to be available to everyone, for free, forever. They knew the naturally occurring heat and minerals were too valuable to be commodified, and wanted anyone who passed through to be able to experience them.
It was a relaxing soak and while I wished I didn’t smell like sulphur after exiting, I was too tired and zen’d out to rinse it off. Besides, it felt wrong to do so so soon. I dozed off to sleep in our rustic room, and dreamt of shadows dancing in the springs. Our day in Thermopolis seemed too short to pack in everything that we did, but I was grateful for the stop. From snowy hillsides, to fossilized remains, to mineral falls and mineral baths, I felt like we had experienced a bit of everything that Thermopolis has to offer. Whether you see it as a road trip stop or stay put for a few days, there’s plenty here to see for visitors of all ages. It truly is a full-family destination. If you have another recommendation in Wyoming, we would love to make our way back there when it is safe to do so! let us know what adventure we should embark on next as we explore the west!
Read our other Thermopolis post, "Thermopolis: The Hottest Vacation Spot in the West" by clicking here.