hot spring with weird rock formations

hot spring with weird rock formations

Mammoth Hot Springs - Everything You Need To Know


What is Mammoth Hot Springs?

Located in Yellowstone National Park, Mammoth Hot Springs is one of the largest collections of hot springs in the world. Instead of gushing geysers or bubbling mud pots, visitors are met with an alien landscape of white travertine terraces.  

How Are The Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces Made?

It all starts with precipitation, either rain or snow. All that meteoric (atmospheric) water percolates its way down through the rocks and into underground magma chambers, picking up limestone along the way.

When the superheated water rises and re-emerges through cracks and springs, it carries with it all of that dissolved limestone and minerals. As the water cools, it redeposits the limestone as something called travertine. 

Over the centuries, these mineral-rich spring waters have covered the hillside with pale, cavernous-looking formations. New formations may be bright white, peach, or soft yellow, depending on the thermophiles (heat-loving organisms) that live in the warm water.

Older, less active springs, may fade to gray over time. As Mammoth’s springs are always opening and closing, every visit to Mammoth Hot Springs is guaranteed to be a unique experience.

History of Mammoth Hot Springs

hot springs emitting white smokeImage by Rachel Ennis

When Yellowstone was first established in 1872, the first park protectors were not the NPS but the U.S. army. After three harsh Yellowstone winters, the military realized that their stay would almost certainly be a long one. (Good call, as they would be there for 32 years!) They needed a place in the park to house the soldiers, their families, and tourists. 

Thus, Mammoth's first structure, the guard house, began in 1891. The village would keep building and expanding well into the 1930s. 

The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, the post office, and the barracks are among the buildings visitors can see today. Some of these structures, such as the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, have since been renovated, but their original aesthetic and history remain.

RELATED: Our 12 Favorite Yellowstone Hot Springs and Where to Find Them

Is it worth visiting Mammoth Hot Springs? 

It’s more than worth visiting Mammoth Hot Springs! In fact, I’d consider it one of the three essential Yellowstone stops, along with the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Old Faithful Geyser Basin. Prepare to spend about 2-3 hours exploring this part of the park.

Things to Do in Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs’ Terraces

The travertine terraces are some of the biggest and best in the world. This is definitely a do-not-miss attraction. Mammoth’s terraces are divided into two sections: the upper and lower.

The upper terrace is a short driving loop that takes about 30 minutes to complete and has several pullovers where you can get out of the car and take a closer look at some of the features. Some of the major highlights here are the Orange Spring Mound, the Aphrodite Terrace, and the Angel Terrace.

The lower terrace is a boardwalk hiking path that totals just 1.75 miles, or 2.8 kilometers. Highlights of the lower terrace include Mound Spring and Jupiter Terrace, Minerva Terrace, and the Liberty Cap. You can walk from the upper terrace to the lower terrace without driving to the next lot, but you’ll need to be fit enough to tackle several hundred stairs.

mammoth hot springs mapYellowstone NPS, restoration by Matt Holly

The Mammoth Historic Fort and Albright Visitor Center

The United States Army initially constructed the Albright Visitor Center in 1909 as officers' quarters. Today, it’s a place to explore exhibits, shop for souvenirs, speak to a park ranger, and plan out your trip.

Grab a Bite to Eat

If you’re feeling a bit peckish, Mammoth features several dine-in restaurants for those who want to escape the elements, as well as a general shop where you may pick up some snacks for a picnic on the grass. Check out our tour highlights in the Shaka Guide app to learn more about the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room, Grant Village Cafeteria, Mammoth Terrace Grille, and The Map Room.

Visit the Town of Gardiner, Montana

Mammoth Village is only a 20-minute drive from the town of Gardiner, where you’ll find no shortage of activities. You can swim in a hot spring, see the Roosevelt Arch, visit the Yellowstone Heritage Center, and much more. 

Can I Swim in the Hot Springs?

Swimming is not permitted in any of Yellowstone's hydrothermal waters. The two exceptions are the Boiling River and Firehole River, which are fed by hydrothermal waters. The Boiling River is only a three-mile drive north of Mammoth.

RELATED: The Top 10 Things to Do At Yellowstone National Park

Where is Mammoth Hot Springs?

So now that you know you want to go visit Mammoth, how do you get there? Mammoth Hot Springs is located in the northwest corner of Yellowstone’s northern loop. It’s also just about a 20-minute drive south of the town of Gardiner, Montana, or 5 minutes south of the north gate. 

If you’re coming in from Bozeman Airport, it will take you about 2 hours to reach Mammoth Hot Springs. If you’re entering the park from the town of West Yellowstone, it’s a little over 40 miles and takes about an hour and a half.

Elevation in Mammoth Hot Spring is: 6,735 feet, 1,943 meters

Keep in mind that Yellowstone National Park is massive! It will be difficult to see all of the major highlights in a single day. Your Shaka tour will alert you to the best nearby attractions, but here are a few times and distances so you can get some ideas for planning your days.

Nearby Points of Interest
Bunsen Peak Trail 2.5 miles
Golden Gate Bridge 2.75 miles
Undine Falls 5.75 miles
Sheepeater Cliff 6 miles
Major Points of Interest
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone 33 miles
Old Faithful Geyser Basin 51 miles

Staying near Mammoth

There is one hotel and two campgrounds inside Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs, and countless more options in the nearby town of Gardiner. Here are some of the in-park lodging options.

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins

From May to October, the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel opens to visitors. It was remodeled in 2019, and, 30 million dollars later, this beautiful historic hotel has all of the classic charm of the early 1900s paired with modern-day amenities. Reservations are recommended to be made when they open, 13 months in advance. This is the only hotel in the Mammoth area, so apply early!

Mammoth Hot Springs Campground

This is the only campground inside Mammoth Hot Springs and the only campground in Yellowstone that is open year-round. There are picnic tables, fire rings, and a few shady spots under Douglas and Juniper trees. There are no showers available at the campground; the closest public showers are in the nearby town of Gardiner. Reservations are required through the spring and summer.

Indian Creek Campground

About 8 miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs lies the Indian Creek Campground. From here, campers can enjoy views of the Gallatin Mountain Range and Electric Peak. Be aware that this is a primitive campground with few amenities. Seasonal potable water is available. Reservations can be made at recreation.gov in twice-yearly windows, about 6 months in advance. There are also a limited number of two-week reservations available.

RELATED: Top 20 Best Waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park

When to Visit Mammoth Hot Springs

hot spring with white terracesShutterstock Image

Unlike some other highlights of the park, there’s really no bad time to visit Mammoth Hot Springs. If you’d like to visit when it’s less crowded, try coming in the morning or late afternoon. If you go midday, expect to share the boardwalk with a lot of other tourists.

FAQs and Tips For Your Visit 

When is the best time to arrive?

Try to arrive early or late in the day to avoid the crowds.

Do I need a reservation?

Nope, no reservation!

Can I touch the hot springs?

Better not. The water is scalding, the terraces are fragile, and most importantly, it’s illegal.

Is Mammoth worth seeing in the winter?

Yes! In fact, it may just be Mammoth's most beautiful season.

Is it a good place to bring children?

Yes! Mammoth Hot Springs is an easy, flat trail with a lot to see. Be aware, though, that there are no guardrails on the trail. Keep the young ones close.

Can I bring my pets?

Big no. Except in campgrounds and in your car, pets are not permitted in the park. It’s very dangerous for them, and several pets have died from jumping into hot springs.

Why does Mammoth look different than in the pictures?

The terraces themselves are continually changing as a result of the constantly shifting spring flows. Every visit is unique, so you never know what you'll get!

Ready to take the tour? Check out Shaka Guide's Yellowstone National Park Tour!

We hope that we’ve given you all the information you need to make the most of your day. Your vacation is extremely important to us so if you have any questions feel free to reach out at aloha@shakaguide.com.

For more detailed information to help you plan, check out our Yellowstone Itinerary and Know Before You Go article.


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