Swim in Yellowstone’s Steamy Rivers
Ferris Fork and Dunanda Falls
Yellowstone National Park, Idaho/Wyoming
Hot springs form when molten magma heats underground water, so it makes sense that the highest concentration of geothermal spouts in North America would surface above the 300-mile-wide ocean of magma that is Yellowstone National Park. While most of Yellowstone’s boiling baths are off limits to soaking (with good reason–they’re hot enough to cook dinner), Dunanda Falls and Ferris Fork mix with creek water, making them fair–and NPS-approved–game.
You won’t find much company among the belching geysers and grizzly dens of Bechler River country. Located in the southeast corner of the park, it requires a 26-mile dirt-road drive from Ashton, ID, just to get to the Bechler Trailhead. From there to Ferris Fork, it’s a 15-mile walk along the roaring Bechler River through dense stands of lodgepole pine that give way to the steep walls of Bechler Canyon. You’ll pass 12 raging drops (some slightly off-trail) that pour into the Bechler River, including funky wonders like Ragged Falls, named for its chaotic 5-foot tumble, and Twister Falls, which–you guessed it–coils downward along its 55-foot flume.
Day one ends with a short detour through Bechler Meadows to 150-foot-high Dunanda Falls. Take your pick from several soaker-made pots (averaging 110°F) and camp in your designated site for the night. Make it a hot springs doubleheader by trekking back to the Bechler River Trail and following it six miles northeast to Three Rivers Junction (where the Phillips, Gregg, and Ferris Forks converge). An obvious user trail leads to a steaming pool hidden along the banks of the river. Continue upstream to splash in cascading beauties like Gwinna Falls and Sluiceway Falls, and spend your second night just downstream of Three Forks, near sloping, 260-foot Albright Falls.Getting There The Bechler River Trailhead is at the end of unpaved Cave Falls Road, 26 miles from Ashton, ID. Dunanda Falls UTM: 12T 0498137E 4899394N Ferris Fork UTM: 12T 0590482E 4903815N
Reserve campsites at Yellowstone Backcountry Office, (307) 344-2160; nps.gov/yell. Backcountry permits must be obtained no more than 48 hours in advance, in person. Use the Trails Illustrated Yellowstone National Park map ($10; maps.nationalgeographic.com). Season Year-round. Bechler River country has fantastic ski-touring (though it’ll tack 10 miles onto your trip because the road isn’t plowed). Avoid spring, when rivers bulge.