Bringing visitors to Thermopolis: Hot Springs County develops tourism to bolster economyWritten by Saige Albert
“Thermopolis is a unique and remarkable corner of the world,” says the Thermopolis Chamber of Commerce. “We want to share it with visitors who are looking to experience a powerful sense of place created by nature.”
With scenic vistas, abundant outdoor recreational opportunities and more, all nestled in a valley swathed with agriculture production, the county provides what they call a “gateway to Yellowstone.”
“There’s only one world’s largest mineral hot springs, and it’s right here in Thermopolis,” the Chamber of Commerce adds.
Tourism provides a vital addition to the economy in Hot Springs County, supplementing the agriculture and energy industries that are also top in the area.
WyoHistory.org says, “Tourism and energy remain as foundations of the Hot Springs County economy.”
A main attraction to Thermopolis is the mineral hot springs and Hot Springs State Park.
Since the early 19th century, the hot springs have been a central focus for the county.
“The healing waters of the area’s mineral springs attracted dinosaurs, prehistoric migratory people, Native American tribes, western settlers and now travelers visiting and crossing Wyoming,” says Hot Springs Travel and Tourism. “In the early 19th century, a sizable medical community formed in Thermopolis, centered around the hot springs and treating those visiting in hopes the water would restore their health.”
Thermopolis Visitor’s Guide notes that Hot Springs State Park includes more than 8,000 gallons of water at 135 degrees flows over the colorful rainbow terraces in the park everyday.
The Big Spring, the largest mineral pool and center of activity, is a turquoise and green spring that releases 3.6 million gallons of water annually at 127 degrees, feeding all attractions within the park.
“Visitors can view the park from the Swinging Bridge or by immersing themselves in the free bath house, where the water is a soothing 104 degrees,” says the Visitor’s Guide. “It’s a relaxing way to end a day.”
The Swinging Bridge represents a piece of history in Thermopolis. Built in 1916, the bridge connected Big Spring to the smaller Fremont Spring and a sanatorium. While the bridge was condemned in the 1980s, it was restored in the 1990s and provides a unique vantage point to view the Big Horn River and Rainbow Terraces, says Hot Springs Travel and Tourism.
In addition, several locals have developed businesses around the hot springs, including Star Plunge and Hellie’s Tepee Pools.
The Big Horn River is also the central focus of many activities, including fish and rafting.
“Trout, the supreme game fish of America, teem in the blue ribbon Big Horn River,” says Hot Springs Travel and Tourism, also adding that guided fishing, float and whitewater trips are available in Thermopolis.
The Wind River Canyon draws those with an adventurous spirit, offering class four and five-rapids in various areas.
Numerous public fishing opportunities are available through public fishing access, and Snake River cutthroat trout, mountain whitefish and stone catfish are popular catches.
Museum, cultural activities
For colder days when visitors are looking to stay out of the elements, Thermopolis and Hot Springs County also offer a number of options, including the Hot Springs Cultural Center and Wyoming Dinosaur Center.
The Wyoming Dinosaur Center is a 16,000 square foot complex that includes a “world-class museum, working dig sites and a complete modern preparation laboratory.”
“Interpretive dig site tours allow visitors to walk the same ground as ancient dinosaurs and watch as scientists remove fossils from burial sites,” comments Hot Springs Travel and Tourism.
They continue, “For 160 million years, dinosaurs ruled the earth. Over the last century, we have discovered just how important they were and what they were probably like. The Wyoming Dinosaur Center and dig sites provide a unique opportunity to discover the prehistoric world, from tiny Trilobites inhabiting the seas to giant Pterosaurs who ruled the skies.”
Moving forward through time, Hot Springs County also boasts petroglyphs dating back 10,000 years.
The Legend Rock Petroglyph Site is 23 miles west of Thermopolis and includes 92 sandstone panels with at least 283 different petroglyphs.
“Archeological tests have discovered that some of the ancient rock art dates back 10,000 years,” says Hot Springs Travel and Tourism. “Once visitors are among the thunderbirds, elk and strange figures wearing horned headdresses, it truly feels like they have been transported back 10,000 years. The remote location of the Legend Rock Petroglyphs adds to the overall experience.”
The Hot Springs County Museum and Cultural Center also houses additional artifacts, geological displays and more, located conveniently in town.
“Visitors come to enjoy an assortment of attractions to include: the mineral hot springs, a tour of Wyoming Whiskey, thrilling whitewater rafting trips down the Wind River Canyon, a tour of The Wyoming Dinosaur Center, enjoying the Blue-Ribbon Fishing opportunities on the Big Horn River and admiring the Legend Rock Petroglyphs, just to name a few,” says the Thermopolis Chamber.
They add, “People would be remiss if they didn’t stop – at least for a night or two.”