Post written by John Green
This past month, Steph and I got the chance to explore Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis, Wyoming. Thermopolis is located in north-central Wyoming, about two hours west of Casper. We stayed in Buffalo, Wyoming, about two and a half hours from Thermopolis. We had an absolute blast all weekend, but our day trip down to Thermopolis was definitely the highlight of the trip! When she mentioned that she was planning on writing a blog post about our hot springs experience, I immediately volunteered myself for the job. I’m a huge fan of hot springs and outdoor soaking experiences, so I’m excited that my first blog post can be focused on one of my favorite hobbies! My goals with this write up are to review our trip, give a background on touring hot springs/soaking pools, and maybe share a few tips and pointers if you’re planning a trip to a hot spring near you.
First, a little history and context. Usually, when most people envision soaking in a hot thermal pool, the picture that comes to mind is of a small, natural pool with steam rising on all sides. While there are several such places that exist in the Rocky Mountain West, the majority of hot springs experiences available to your average roadside traveler tend to be developed resorts with full-service amenities and facilities. These resorts utilize the available hot springs water and dilute it down to more comfortable temperatures (usually somewhere between 90 and 108 degrees). Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis consists of three separate developed soaking facilities that utilize thermal water from the nearby Big Springs. Two of the facilities, The Star Plunge and Hellie’s Teepee Spa, are commercially operated and charge a fee for admission. The Wyoming State Bath House is free to the public, but has a 20-minute maximum soak time limit due to its extreme popularity with locals and tourists.
WYOMING STATE BATH HOUSE
We started off our day at the Wyoming State Bath House since it was the smallest facility and allowed us to get our feet wet (pun intended) before exploring the other two larger facilities. The State Bath House is a pretty small facility overall and consists of a check-in station, two separate locker rooms, and an indoor and outdoor pool. Both pools were really simple and comfortable, but the 20-minute time limit definitely made everything feel a little rushed and it was hard to enjoy the experience overall. With that said, the facility is well laid out and the pools themselves were extremely comfortable. If you are just looking for a quick soak or are using the pools as an appetizer of sorts before moving on to the other two resorts, it really hits the spot.
STAR PLUNGE WATER PARK
For our second stop, we bought day passes to the Star Plunge Water Park. The Star Plunge was quite the change of pace from our previous stop. First, the resort is much larger than the State Bath House. Secondly, it was much busier than the Bath House, with good reason. Inside, the Star Plunge has a large heated pool and three hot tubs. The roof is ordained with hanging plants that make the atmosphere feel very natural and outdoorsy. Each pool was extremely warm and offered a different kind of soaking experience. Connected to the main pool area is the Star Plunge wet sauna, also known as the Vapor Cave. The Vapor Cave is essentially just a small room that is cranked full of hot steam from the springs. The Vapor Cave needs to be experienced in small doses since it’s easy to over-do it in that type of intensity, but we highly recommend the experience. Outside, the Star Plunge offers another large pool, hot tub, kiddie pool, diving board, and extremely large water slide. We spent a lot of time outside and thoroughly enjoyed the whole recreational experience the Star Plunge had to offer.
HELLIE’S TEEPEE AND SPA
The third and final commercial soaking experience in Thermopolis is Hellie’s Teepee and Spa. The Teepee spa offered a unique experience compared to the first two facilities, but at a much more relaxed pace. The indoor pool and hot tubs were much less busy than the Star Plunge, and the facility as a whole felt a lot more aged. The Tepee also had their own version of a wet sauna that was hotter and more intense than the Star Plunge Vapor Cave. Outside, the Teepee also offered a heated outdoor pool, three hot soaking tubs with varying temperatures, and a large water slide. While the facilities at the tepee definitely felt a little more “used” than the Star Plunge, the setting was fantastic. An outside soak at the Teepee puts you closer to the sounds of the nearby Big Horn River and views of the Big Springs, the heat source for all three facilities. We really enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere at the Tepee, and it was definitely a nice change of pace compared to the busier Star Plunge.
With all of that being said, the Star Plunge was definitely our favorite of the three resorts. If you’re traveling to Thermopolis, we highly recommend that you try all three out. But if you only have time for one, the Star Plunge offered the most bang for your buck (especially if you have kids). We spent a lot of time in the soaking pools, but the state park offers a lot of other side trips including walking trails, scenic drives, and lodging facilities for overnight trips. The town of Thermopolis itself isn’t very large, so food and lodging options are fairly limited. But there are several hotels in the town that offer hot springs packages, and the One Eyed Buffalo Brewing Company has some fantastic food.
If you plan on making a trip to Hot Springs State Park (or any hot springs resort) here are a 5 helpful tips:
- Drink lots of water: Not surprisingly, you tend to sweat a lot when you spend time soaking in 105-degree pools, and you need to stay hydrated.
- Take breaks: While you probably need to spend at least a half hour soaking in order to receive some of the topical benefits of the hot mineral water, its easy to over-do it. You shouldn’t spend excessive amounts of time with your torso submerged in really hot water for a number of reasons. Take breaks by either walking around the edges of the pool or by sitting on the edge of the tub and keeping your feet submerged.
- Make sure you have a full tank of gas: Thermopolis (and many other hot springs in the West) is several hours away from a large population center. It’s location in north-central Wyoming is a little off the beaten path from the main tourist routes in the state, and you’ll want to make sure you aren’t taking off for home in the evening with a quarter tank of fuel.
- Have a good spot to leave all of your valuables: While all of the facilities had lockers for rent, it would have been simpler to just pay the admission fee and then leave our phones/wallets/bags in a safe spot in the car.
- Bring your own towels: While each facility had their own towels for rent, it’s really an unnecessary expense. Just bring a few from home and you’re all set!
We had an absolute blast in Thermopolis and are already planning another trip. I hope you all enjoyed the review and go out and explore your own local gems. Steph’s already agreed to start touring all of the other hot springs in the Rockies with me, so I’m sure we’ll have lots more reviews to share with all of you!
Until next time,