Yellowstone National Park’s hot springs are among its most dangerous natural features. Because of this, the park has many signs warning visitors to stay on the marked paths around its hot springs. For people who have visited hot springs elsewhere, particularly those where you are allowed to bathe in the waters surrounding them, the warnings might seem unnecessary. However, those other places are not Yellowstone. In Yellowstone, the hot springs are often extremely hot and the areas surrounding those features are fragile. One misstep in these areas could lead to you falling into a hot spring, where significant injury or death could result.
The signs should not, under any circumstances, be disobeyed. Almost every year, people are injured when straying from the marked paths and interfering with the hot springs. At least 21 people have been killed after coming into contact with a hot spring in Yellowstone. This means more people have been killed by the park's hot springs than have been killed by its grizzly bears.
Most recently, in 2016 a young man fell into an acidic hot spring after leaving the boardwalk. The search for his body was called off only a day after he disappeared beneath the waters of the spring, as the searchers determined there was nothing remaining of the young man to recover.
The ability of people to have dogs in Yellowstone is greatly restricted; they are absolutely banned from the paths and boardwalks around the park's hot springs. Despite this longstanding policy, dogs are one of the main reasons people are injured or killed in hot springs. A dog may jump in a hot spring, not realizing the waters into which it is jumping can kill it within seconds.
One of the most well-known—if not the most well-known—death of a person in a hot spring arose out of a dog’s escape from a car. On July 20, 1981, in the Fountain Paint Pot area, two friends were out hiking the paths. The large dog of one of the friends escaped from the owner’s truck and jumped into the Celestine Pool in front of the horrified men. As the dog’s owner watched, his friend took a swan dive into the hot spring, hoping to save the dog. He saved neither the dog nor himself. The man had third degree burns on 100 percent of his body and died the next day at a Salt Lake City hospital. The dog’s body was never recovered, but the oils from its body caused small, abnormal eruptions in the hot spring’s pool for a short time afterward.
Another hot spring—Belgian Pool, between Grand Geyser and Castle Geyser in the Upper Geyser Basin—is named after the editor of a French newspaper in Belgium, who fell into the hot spring while running from Grand Geyser toward Castle Geyser to catch a glimpse of the latter erupting.
Thus, while the hot springs at Yellowstone may look placid, and perhaps even hot tub-like, the warnings cautioning against touching their waters are very real. They are truly killer hot springs.
Want to learn more about Yellowstone National Park?
Check out 101 Travel Bits: Yellowstone National Park.