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After 2022 flooding, Yellowstone's Boiling River faces uncertain future

Boiling River
Posted at 9:30 AM, May 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-30 11:30:28-04

YELLOWSTONE NAT'L PARK — Historic floods washed away a local favorite in Yellowstone Nat'l Park and nearly a year later, the fate of the Boiling River seems to remain under permanent closure.

But long-time visitors, like Dean Stephens of Bozeman, are holding onto hopes that the special soaking area could come back.

"It didn’t exist in its state until people took the time to build the pools," Stephens said.

The Boiling River is a section of the Gardner River where hot, thermal water flows in the cold river and people piled rocks to mix hot and cold waters into perfect soaking pools. A spot Stephens has loved for decades.

"I moved here from the South in 1996 to work in the park and that's when I discovered the Boiling River," Stephens said. "Once I had children a lot of times that's we where we would go to celebrate Easter."

But the Boiling River has been out of reach for over three years, first closing in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, with the work of Mother Nature, the Boiling River ceased to exist as we know it as historic flooding in 2022 destroyed the area.

Before and after photos show the area where the Boiling River sat is now a rocky area as the floods changed the river channel.

The area is currently not even accessible as the road, heavily damaged by flooding, is closed.

“If you see a closed sign, obey the sign it’s there for a reason," said Brett Raeburn, Digital Media Specialist for Yellowstone Nat'l Park. "It’s there for not only the safety of this natural place that we’re trying to protect, but it’s also there for your safety.”

The park service says it's unknown if or when the soaking pools could be reconstructed and that swimming is not allowed or even possible in the area.

“Know that we’re not trying to be the fun police, if you see a closed sign it’s for a reason and it benefits you the visitor to pay attention to that closure," Raeburn said.

To open Yellowstone back to visitors, the park service re-vamped the Old Mammoth Highway but that sits high above access to the Gardner River.

But Stephens and other hot springs enthusiasts think there may be ways to build it back and connect the area with a long trail.

“Obviously the flood re-channeled the river and possibly it’s not the same, but that doesn’t mean that it’s gone," Stephens said.

As summer visitation begins to pick up, park rangers say there is still a lot to look forward to in visiting Yellowstone Park the year after the floods.

“This year is the first year in several years that we’ve had in-person ranger programs, so we’re really excited about that," Raeburn said. "Most of the park has opened up since the flood last year, it’s amazing to see how things have come back together. So we’re getting back to normal this year.”