On any hot summer day, or even any cool autumn day, the hippest place to be while at Yellowstone National Park is the park's lesser-known treasure: the Boiling River.
The Boiling River, located at the Montana/Wyoming border at the Northwest corner of the park, is actually not a river at all but one of the many scorching, earth-heated hot springs that flows from underground. Unlike other famous hot springs the barely quarter-mile long Boiling River is far too hot to bathe in; but, when the spring flows over a rocky river edge and mixes with the cold waters of the Gardner River, a pleasant natural spa is formed, perfect for relaxing the muscles after a long hike (or maybe even a long van ride).
Every time I pass through Yellowstone National Park, I never miss the opportunity to do this unique activity with my groups. This September, during the last Northern Trail of the season, my campers were in shock when I mentioned swimming at breakfast. "You're crazy" seemed to be the only words said and also the words unsaid in their eyes and gapping mouths.
To put it simply, we had been camping in literally, zero-degree temperatures the previous two nights in Wyoming and the idea of taking off the gloves, jackets, hats, sweatshirts, thermals and boots seemed just... ridiculous. Yet, as the sun rose and the day heated up—to a sultry 15 degrees—the crazy idea didn't sound so crazy anymore. Plus I said we had to do it.
We changed into swim gear and headed towards the sandy mountains to the north of the park. From a small parking area with few signs around it, we followed a half-mile trail next to the Gardner River until suddenly we found ourselves at a very family-friendly version of Spring Break Cancun.
With steam rising from the blue river water and the sun high in a cloudless sky, we didn't waste much time joining the other hot spring soakers for a therapeutic and relaxing afternoon. The only issue: strategically skirting around unseen and unstable rocks while simultaneously trying to avoid the freezing cold river water. After some "ows" and "aahs", my trek group and I finally found a spot near the bubbling water to hunker down and let the cold Yellowstone nights just melt away.
The Boiling River is only open for part of the year and has recently closed for the 2014 season; but don't worry future Trekkers, next July the natural spa will reopen to the public and most Trek leaders try and bring their flocks to this hot spot for some much deserved "chill" time.