This State Has More Hot Springs Than Towns

With so many soakable springs, Wyoming is a site for sore limbs.

Astoria mineral hot springs on rocky shore of Snake River, near Jackson, surrounded by hills

Astoria Mineral Hot Springs offer a respite along the Snake River, south of Grand Teton National Park.

Photo by Rui Serra Maia/Shutterstock

Why are there so many thermal wonders in the western United States? Look to the mountains. Of the country’s 1,661 natural hot springs, more than a thousand of them have bubbled up near fault lines out west—many found among Wyoming’s 109 mountain ranges, from the Tetons to the Bighorns, the Snowys to the Sierra Madres.

For hundreds of years, the region’s Indigenous tribes, including Cheyenne, Ute, and Arapaho, have soaked in mineral-rich thermal springs for warmth and healing. By the time Wyoming’s resort towns were established in the mid-1800s during the gold rush, hot springs were filling up with pioneers heading west and others looking to heal their tired bodies after a long, hard day of mining.

“There’s a certain rustic wildness to the hot springs in the American West and a rowdiness, too,” says photographer Greta Rybus, whose new book, Hot Springs, is out March 19. The springs were already a tourist hot spot when, in 1872, Congress designated Yellowstone the first national park—smack on top of a volcano still boasting the world’s greatest concentration (more than 10,000) of hydrothermal features. Yellowstone’s thermal features are far too (dangerously) hot for bathing (no swimming allowed), but they’ve led to breakthroughs in medicine and forensics and become a source of energy to heat buildings and fish hatcheries.

Today, with the growing emphasis in healthcare on natural remedies and prevention, an explosion of evidence-based wellness has helped lead us to this resurgence of thermal mineral pools and spa resorts. The postpandemic hot springs destination market is up 24 percent (between 2020 and 2022), as younger generations look to connect with each other, with Indigenous history, and pursue new and inexpensive ways to heal, according to the Global Wellness Institute.

That includes Rybus, who documented her year and a half spent exploring 23 hot springs around the world, starting in the American West.

“My ancestors, who settled in Montana in the 1860s, journeyed on horseback into Yellowstone around the time the park was established,” says Rybus, who’s from Idaho originally. “I have copies of their journal entries in which they chronicle their wonder and fear at the raw power of the region’s geysers, fumaroles, hot pots, and thermal pools.”

Starting on a drive from her home in Maine across the country in 2021, Rybus made Wyoming her first stop—for good reason. “I am still amazed at the extreme diversity of hot springs,” she says. “They range from simple, silt- or sand-bottomed puddles to resembling a municipal swimming pool.” Here are five of Wyoming’s natural wonders to bookmark for your next trip:

 Streaked brown and gray travertine stone cliffs next to water, with suspension bridge in distance

That’s one Big Spring: A footbridge crosses the aptly named hot springs.

Photo by melissamn/Shutterstock

Hot Springs State Park

Greek for “hot city,” where the Wind River and the Bighorn River meet in northwest Wyoming, Thermopolis is home to Hot Springs State Park and within it, the world’s largest mineral hot springs, known as Big Spring. With more than six miles of hiking trails, this free park, established in 1937 to protect the mineral spring water, provides the ultimate western landscape. Today, the park offers two commercial pools and a state-run bathhouse. Visitors who linger may spot park rangers feeding bison that roam the perimeter in the fall and winter or learn about dinosaur bones discovered in 1993 at a ranch that’s now the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.

Within Hot Springs State Park is a family-fun center, Star Plunge, complete with waterslides and indoor and outdoor pools filled with 27 different minerals. There’s also a vapor cave, where a grotto fills up with steam from hot mineral water from an overflowing fountain.

Hobo Hot Springs

The town of Saratoga (population 1,727) runs a free public bathhouse with two mineral-spring pools—Lobster Pot and Hobo Pool. Tucked between the Snowy and Sierra Madre mountain ranges, where springs flow into the river, this spot is perfect for wading. (Saratoga also doubles as an ideal spot for fly fishing, with more than 600 pounds of trout per mile as a Blue Ribbon stream in the Upper North Platte River.) Entry into Hobo Hot Springs is free, though donations are welcome. Make a weekend out of it by driving another 20 minutes to luxurious Brush Creek Ranch.

Saratoga Hot Springs Resort

If it’s privacy you’re after, check into this Saratoga hotel to relish its 70-foot outdoor hot springs pool and five smaller teepee-covered soaking pools. Top the day off with extra pampering at the Healing Waters Spa, housed on the property in its original 1902 spa building.

Astoria Hot Mineral Springs

Drive 20 minutes south of Jackson and you’ll find yourself standing before six stunning and secluded man-made soaking pools. Astoria Hot Mineral Springs is right in Astoria Park Conservancy—100 acres of wildlife habitat, wetlands, and walking trails along the Snake River in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Soaking is available by reservation only. All proceeds go toward the conservancy. Meditation and wellness classes are also offered in the park.

Two women in black inner tubes at Granite Creek Hot Springs, with evergreens in background

Granite Hot Springs redefines “pool with a view.”

Photo by melissamn/Shutterstock

Granite Hot Springs

Along Granite Creek, 30 miles southeast of Jackson, a long dirt road leads to Granite Hot Springs, which is fee-free. This harder-to-access scenic gem is surrounded by the Bridger-Teton National Forest and managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Its concrete hot spring pool can fit up to 80 people and stays open limited hours. A short walk away is Granite Creek Falls, which has a small natural hot springs of its own; longer hikes reveal high peaks and a wildflower meadow.

Anna Fiorentino is a storyteller focused on outdoors, adventure, and travel. Her work has appeared in AFAR, National Geographic, National Geographic Travel, Outside, BBC Travel, Boston Globe Magazine, and other publications.
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