Approximately two hours outside of Cody, Wyoming and 2.5 from Yellowstone National Park, the town of Thermopolis Wyoming plays host to Hot Springs State Park, the oldest state park in Wyoming. Families may find themselves passing through en route to either aforementioned destination, and Thermopolis’ unique attractions make it an excellent pit stop.
Upon entering Hot Springs State Park, you’ll set aside any pre-conceived notion that as a state park and historical landmark, the hot springs will be removed from commercialism. Since 1900, Hot Springs State Park has been a tourist destination in its own right, and remains an attraction first, historic site second. The state park is right near town, with several motels on the grounds. The main draw is the geothermal hot springs, which, since 1900, have been piped into several area bath houses and pools. As you drive through the state park grounds, you’ll notice several large beehive-shaped mounds: these were once teepees erected around geothermal springs to capture their steam, and are now covered with a century of sulphuric residue.
Hot Springs State Park pools:
There are two main hot springs’-fed pool complexes on the state park grounds, both open to the public. The Teepee Pool is the lower cost option, used predominately by locals, according to the locals I queried. It includes an indoor and outdoor pool, one slide, and soaking tubs. The more expensive but more extensive Star Plunge Pool includes indoor and outdoor pools, soaking hot tubs, three slides, a kiddie pool, and a high dive. We opted to spend our day here, and were not disappointed.
Walking into the Star Plunge, one might think they’re entering a bowling alley or skating rink of the ’70′s. The dark interior sports a small selection of video arcade games, and next to the ticket counter is a ‘self serve’ snack bar of candy, chips, and sodas. Once past the front counter, there are locker rooms that lead into the large indoor pool. Be ready to be assaulted by the smell of sulphur: this is the real deal!
The indoor pool consists of several soaking whirlpools attached to the main indoor pool, plus a hot tub that can reach 104 degrees. The main pools are approximately 90-94 degrees. There’s an interior hydro-tube slide called Blue Thunder Run that deposits riders into a flume adjacent to the indoor pool, and the 21-and-old Vapor Cave leads you to a naturally-made sauna cut into the rock of the mountain upon which the Star Plunge is built. Bubbling hot springs water continually flows here, creating intense steam. I like saunas, but could not stand the heat like some of the locals can!
Outside another large pool beckons, with a small children’s slide called the Lil’ Dipper that’s still pretty intense at 60 feet, a kiddie pool above it, and a diving board. There are plenty of deck chairs and extra sun decks above the kiddie pool. Access to the largest slide, an outdoor half-tube called the Super Star 500 is inside next to the enclosed tube. Riders walk up a very steep path to the top after grabbing a mat to slide down on. The water pressure at the top is quite intense (2,400 gallons per minute), making the slide intimidating for young kids (it can be tricky to get yourself on your mat and sit down without taking off prematurely!).
There are at least 27 different minerals in the water at Star Plunge, and while they’re no longer considered to be medicinal, there still is an exercise and massage facility on-site. Plan to spend at least 2-3 hours here to enjoy it all, taking breaks from the water to soak up the sun in the summer. The pools are open in winter, and likely very welcome during cold Wyoming days.
Other park points-of-interest:
After swimming, take a few minutes to drive past the pools to a few look outs with plaques describing the thermal activity in the area. These turn-outs also have great views of the basin and the Big Horn River. You’ll learn a little more about this unique region with water literally bubbling beneath the surface, and it only takes a few minutes. There’s a drive where American bison (buffalo) still roam (though we didn’t glimpse any) and a small pioneer graveyard that’s of interest.
Date last visited:
Distance from the interstate:
On Highway 20.
There is no fee for Hot Springs State Park. Admission to Star Plunge is $12.50 for adults and kids (5 and older) and $6 for kids under five. Senior rate is $10.
Hours of operation:
The state park is sunrise to sunset, and the Plunge is 9 am to 9 pm. Families can rent inner tubes and beach balls on-site for a few dollars.
While the Star Plunge operates a grill on some days, usually only snacks are available. There’s no outside food in the pool area, but a picnic area is located on-site (get your hand stamped before leaving the pools) and there’s a large park across the street. Bring a picnic!
Star Plunge is located at 115 Big Spring Drive (the state park address is 538 N. Park). After entering Thermopolis, simply follow signs to Hot Springs State Park. You can’t miss it!