You can see the video of this bucket list experience on our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/i-iuuxfERXw.
When we visited Yellowstone for the last time in 2015, just after Christmas, we decided to embark on a mini-adventure that our son had been begging to do for the past three trips there. He wanted to swim in the “Boiling River” near the North Entrance.
The Boiling River Trail starts from a small parking lot near the 45th Parallel marker, just south of Gardiner, Montana. In the summer, I am sure this lot and the overflow lot across the highway are both packed, but on this day there were only a few brave souls out in the 5 degree F weather.
We grabbed our camera gear and towels, and bundled up against the still northwest winds that had been very slowly diminishing throughout the evening. It was about 3:00 PM, and we knew it would get dark by 5:00, so we needed to hustle to the river. We started down the narrow trail which is flanked on one side by the Gardner River and a steep bank on the other. As we rounded a tight bend we saw five huge bison had just crossed the river and decided that the river trail was the best route for them. In another time and place, we would have moved aside, gotten some trees between us and them, and taken tons of photos as they passed by.
However, today this herd was being pushed along from behind by a couple of tourists returning from swimming, and even though they saw us, with two small kids in tow, they pushed the bison quickly toward us. We turned a quick 180 and started hoofing it back to the parking lot area. With Calvin in front, Tom picked up Linus and we fast-walked as calmly as we could to the outhouse located at the head of the trail. By the time we reached safety, the bison were coming around the bend:
We heard splashing and shouting, and after the bison passed, the tourists who had been pushing them our direction came around the bend and mentioned that they had tried to “get them moving” by throwing rocks in the river! We stared at them in disbelief… in what world would it be sensible to chase bison, let alone toward a family with young children??!
Recovering from frayed nerves, we headed back up the short trail to find where we could take a dip. A walk along the river was relaxing in itself, as we saw many types of birds, talked about juniper berries with our sons, and looked for animal tracks. We even saw some green plants growing in the water!
At the end of the trail, road meets river at a small beach where we found several piles of winter gear strewn about from those already in the water. Tom and Calvin peeled off the warm layers and got into the river as quickly as possible. Within five minutes they had swam upstream a bit and then headed for the “real hot spots” that others told them about nearby.
Tom says that some of the hot springs feeding into the river are so hot that you have to keep moving to avoid getting burned by the scalding water. They totally enjoyed the plunge, and Linus and I froze on the bank while watching them. Calvin has convinced us that on our next trip we will have to do a repeat with all four of us getting to swim. I agree!
Getting out was the hardest part, so they say, as their feet wanted to freeze to the ground, towels, blankets, and anything they touched. They dried off as best they could, we threw snow pants and parkas back on them, and then we headed back to the car, to return to our cabin for some hot cocoa and s’mores!
Bucket List: Yellowstone in winter – CHECK! Swimming in Boiling River – CHECK! What’s on YOUR Yellowstone Bucket List??! Let us know in the comments below!