Any destination that has hot springs, wildlife and dinosaurs all within a few miles is a must-visit in my book. If you agree, add Thermopolis to your bucket list. This town in central Wyoming offers plenty of year-round fun for all ages, making it an ideal spot for spring break or family travel in any season. Take a few days to explore Thermopolis during your next family vacation to Wyoming. Here’s why.
Two Words: Hot Springs
Spend a Day Exploring Hot Springs State Park.
Thermopolis is best known for Hot Springs State Park, and for good reason. This Wyoming state park features water that flows from natural hot springs at a temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit. The park offers several areas where you can see the colorful mineral water that pours from these hot springs and its effects on the landscape. Most of the park’s water bubbles up from the Big Spring, a turquoise spring that releases 3.6 million gallons of scorching water per day. Another park favorite, the Rainbow Terraces are naturally-formed walls where hot spring water plummets into the Big Horn River. An adjacent walkway lets you stroll beside these terraces, or you can enjoy a better view from the Swinging Bridge suspension bridge.
Wildlife Viewing: Wyoming’s state bison herd is located in Hot Springs State Park, making this location a great place to see this uniquely western wildlife. Take a drive along the park’s Pasture Road and Big Springs Drive to get a glimpse of bison in their natural habitat. Just remember that bison are wild animals, so all admiring should be done from the safety of your car.
Hot Springs Soaking: What fun would Hot Springs State Park be if you couldn’t actually enjoy the natural hot spring water? For a relaxing soak, settle into the free Wyoming State Bath House. If you’re looking to entertain the kids, head to Star Plunge, a public pool within the park that features water slides and a steam cave among other fun-filled amenities.
Dinosaurs: Can You Dig It?
Unearth Prehistoric Life at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.
Some of the first dinosaur remains were found around Thermopolis, and many are still being dug up in this region today. Located less than two miles from Hot Springs State Park, the Wyoming Dinosaur Center features a museum filled with educational information about the rise of dinosaurs, including hundreds of displays and over 30 mounted skeletons. You could easily spend a few hours in the museum, enchanted by the thought of these giant, prehistoric creatures roaming through the plains and mountains of Wyoming. The Wyoming Dinosaur Center also gives guests the opportunity to tour nearby live dig sites. Tours are available year-round, weather permitting.
Digging Alongside Paleontologists: From late May through Mid-September, the Wyoming Dinosaur Center offers programs that allow visitors to search for prehistoric remains with paleontologists. The museum’s Dig for a Day Program is available to people of all ages for an additional cost. Any fossils found during digs are recorded and remain at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center as part of their research.
Wall Posts Worth Reading
Discover Ancient Carvings at Legend Rock State Petroglyph Site.
One of the most impressive petroglyph areas in the world is located just outside of Thermopolis. Legend Rock State Petroglyph Site is both one of Wyoming’s state-protected lands and a part of the National Register of Historic Places. The site allows you to walk alongside sandstone cliffs featuring petroglyphs dated as far back as 10,000 years. Four hundred feet of rock showcase over 300 petroglyphs, including carvings reminiscent of elk, eagles and human-like figures. The Legend Rock State Petroglyph Site is located about 30 miles northwest of Thermopolis along Highway 120. A key is needed October through April and can be picked up at the State Bath House, the Thermopolis Chamber of Commerce or the Meeteetse Museum.
Hiking through History: Legend Rock State Petroglyph Site features interpretive trails through the carved sandstone cliffs, letting you see petroglyphs that span thousands of years. You are encouraged to take photos and bring binoculars to get an even closer look at the details of these ancient carvings. Just remember not to touch the petroglyphs so they can remain intact for future generations to discover.
Want more? Extend your Wyoming trip.
If you have time and want to extend your trip beyond Thermopolis, consider heading north or south along these popular routes.
Driving North to Cody: Travel north along Highway 120 for about 85 miles to experience Cody’s wild west culture. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West, historic Irma Hotel and Plains Indian Museum are among a number of sites worth visiting in Cody. Be sure to stop in the old west town of Meeteetse along the way. In the summer months, you can drive 50 miles east of Cody to reach Yellowstone National Park’s east entrance.
Driving South through Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway: Follow the Bighorn River south through the Wind River Canyon for spectacular views of ancient rock walls reaching 2,500 feet toward the sky. Continue on to Shoshoni with a pit stop at Boysen State Park to explore the Boysen Reservoir. From here you can head east toward Casper or northwest toward Grand Teton National Park.