Yellowstone Boardwalk Etiquette: 5 Tips for Using Boardwalks in Thermal Areas | Big Horn Basin Media

Yellowstone Boardwalk Etiquette: 5 Tips for Using Boardwalks in Thermal Areas

Written by on September 19, 2023

How to Use Yellowstone Boardwalks Safely and Respectfully

Maybe you’re familiar with using boardwalks, as they’re common in the place you live. Or, perhaps you’ve ever even seen a boardwalk in person.

Either way, you’ll have to use them if you want to enjoy a meaningful firsthand experience when visiting the many thermal areas in Yellowstone National Park.

Boardwalks serve the primary purpose of keeping visitors safe in these dangerous areas. Boardwalks exist in places where thermal features have made the ground porous and brittle, where visitors could easily fall through and risk serious injury or death.

Yellowstone boardwalks aren’t a suggestion — visitors must use them in these fragile thermal areas, and using them correctly is key to both staying safe and enjoying the entirety of your visit to the world’s first national park.

To help you prepare for your trip to Yellowstone, here are four tips for safely and respectfully using the boardwalks in Yellowstone’s thermal areas.

Stay on the Boardwalk (or Trail) at All Times

We’ve already mentioned this point, but it bears repeating, as it’s absolutely crucial.

Stay. On. The. Boardwalk. 

Boardwalks and trails in thermal areas exist for your safety and to prevent damage to the extremely sensitive bacterial mats that provide much of the stunning coloring visitors look forward to seeing. Staying on the boardwalks isn’t just our suggestion — it’s a park rule.

Violate this rule, and you could find yourself on the wrong end of an unpleasant conversation with a Yellowstone park ranger, or worse.

Did you get halfway around the boardwalk and realize you left your camera in your vehicle? Feel free to go back and get it, as long as you stay on the boardwalk — no shortcuts.

Did your sunglasses fall off? Did the wind carry your hat away? That’s unfortunate, but you are not allowed to leave the boardwalk to retrieve anything.

And please, keep a close eye on your young children. Do not, under any circumstances, let them leave the boardwalk. This is extremely dangerous.

One more thing: If the boardwalk is about to take you too close to Yellowstone wildlife like a bear, bison, or elk, stop. You’re not allowed to leave the boardwalk to go around the animal, but you can certainly turn around and go back the way you came.

Do Not Touch or Enter Thermal Features

Hopefully this goes without saying, and if you stay on the boardwalk like you’re supposed to, you won’t even have to worry about this point.

However, since so many people have had trouble following this rule over the years, we felt it important to cover.

Although Yellowstone’s thermal areas contain many delicate formations that can be easily and irreparably damaged, these features are also extremely dangerous.

Not only is the water in these areas scalding, it’s also incredibly acidic. On top of that, toxic gasses may build up to dangerous levels.

With that in mind, it’s vital that you view these magnificent sights from a safe distance.

Never touch or enter a thermal feature. You can be seriously injured or killed. Also, do not throw any object into Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features. People come to look at nature’s splendor, not your discarded trash.

Remember, pets are never allowed in Yellowstone thermal areas.

“Pull Over” for Photo Stops

Whenever you’re around other Yellowstone visitors, show them the same respect and consideration you’d expect as you enjoy the trip of a lifetime.

Congestion is simply a fact of life when using Yellowstone boardwalks, especially at the most popular thermal sites such as Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring.

Before embarking on your journey to Yellowstone, be sure to pack your patience. Don’t push past people on boardwalks, and give others space so they can enjoy the tranquil sights and sounds of Yellowstone.

At the same time, do what you can to avoid contributing to the congestion.

One of the best things you can do to keep boardwalk traffic flowing is moving off to the side to take photos, rather than simply stopping in the middle of the lane.

Pro tip: This advice also applies when driving along Yellowstone’s roads. 

In some areas, it’s better to hold off on the picture-taking until you reach one of the many wide viewing platforms.

Observe One-Way Signs on Yellowstone Boardwalks

Speaking of boardwalk traffic, be sure to pay attention to signage and ensure that you’re always going with the flow.

Some boardwalks allow for two-way traffic, but others — such as the boardwalk at Grand Prismatic Spring — are strictly one-way.

Before entering a boardwalk, look for the signs and watch how other visitors are walking. This will help you avoid a faux pas and minimize congestion.

Don’t Disrupt Fellow Visitors

Remember, you’re in Yellowstone National Park — not at a professional football game.

We already discussed techniques for respectfully taking photographs in a manner that avoids impositions on your fellow visitors. But that’s not the only thing you can do to avoid being disruptive.

The boardwalk probably isn’t the right place for you to hold up your phone so your friend can check out that hilarious video you saw while scrolling earlier.

It’s also not a place that requires you to blast your playlist through a bluetooth speaker for all to hear.

Be conscious of your volume when speaking to other members of your party. There’s no need to shout or use rough language that may bother other visitors.

Look, you don’t need to show up in monk robes or a three-piece suit. But a little bit of consideration for the people around you can help everyone have an enjoyable, memorable experience — and isn’t that why we’re all here in the first place?

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