In 1872 Congress established Yellowstone National Park for the purpose of protecting the unique geothermal features found within it. Yellowstone has more than 10,000 geothermal features, including more than 500 geysers! These extraordinary features draw the attention of millions of visitors each year, but with that attention comes the increased chance that visitors may accidentally or intentionally get too close.
It’s up to visitors to know how to stay safe around geothermal features. Water in hot springs can cause severe or fatal burns, and scalding water underlies most of the thin, breakable crust around hot springs. More than 20 people have died from burns suffered after they entered or fell into one of Yellowstone’s hot springs.
Here’s how to stay safe around Yellowstone’s most spectacular—and scorching—natural features.
- Always walk on boardwalks or designated trails. Almost all of Yellowstone’s geothermal features are surrounded by a thin crust. While this might look like solid ground, it is not! The same extremely hot water that gushes through geysers and bubbles up in fumaroles is just under the surface. If you step off the boardwalk and onto the crust, not only are you disrupting the delicate thermal formation, but you will be seriously or fatally injured. Just because you see wildlife walking around geysers doesn’t mean you can.
- Do not touch thermal features or runoff. Yellowstone’s hot springs temperatures can be 200 degrees Fahrenheit or even hotter! We’re sure you’ve put your hand in a river, stream, or waterfall before. Who hasn’t? But Yellowstone’s thermal features don’t flow cold water like you’re used to. Don’t touch any water in or around thermal features.
- Never swim, soak, or wade in thermal features. More than 20 people have died from intentionally entering or falling into hot springs.
- Pets are not allowed in thermal areas, and you’re better off leaving your pet at home. Taking your pet to Yellowstone will seriously limit what you can do and see in the park. We’d recommend leaving your pet at home for your visit to Yellowstone. If you do bring your pet, they must be within 100 feet of roads, parking areas, and campgrounds at all times. They are not allowed on boardwalks or in any thermal areas. In October 2021, for example, a visitor was seriously burned after her dog escaped her vehicle and jumped into a thermal feature (unfortunately, the dog did not survive).
- Do not throw objects into thermal features. We inherently try and save our belongings. You drop your sunglasses; you pick them up. When near thermal features, hold on to your belongings. Never intentionally throw any items into the thermal features (no pennies) but also never chase your items in.
It’s up to you to stay safe in Yellowstone — for the sake of your health and the health of the geothermal features!