Falling into a geyser or hot springs is an extremely rare event.
Similarly with grizzly bear attacks, lightning strikes, drowning and other rare incidences, visitors to Yellowstone have in the past slipped and fallen into scalding pools of boiling water or were severely injured with third degree burns from erupting geysers.
The most recent death happened in 2016, when a young man went off trail with his sister and accidentally submerged himself into the boiling waters near Porkchop Geyser in the Norris Geyser Basin. Horror stories and local legends abound—kids, adults and a curious dog met a scalding death—but all cases have a single lesson about Yellowstone’s hot spring wilderness: stay on the proper trails and footpaths.
In true wilderness areas like Mammoth Hot Springs, wandering off the boardwalk could spell certain danger and possible death. Feet can easily punch through the brittle ground, exposing groundwater that can reach 250 degrees, melting soles and scalding feet with third degree burns.
Though more than 20 people have been killed in the past by some of Yellowstone’s 10,000 geothermal pools, geysers, mudpots, steam vents and hot springs, you should keep in mind that Yellowstone draws more than three million visitors a year. The chances are incredibly slim for anyone to fall into pool of geothermal boiling death, or even getting a severe burn from a geyser’s eruption. So much depends on following the park’s strict safety instructions in order to avoid. Parents must always keep a close eye on their children and pets. Only walk on the boardwalks and trails so you and your loved ones can enjoy these natural wonders from a safe distance.
J. Scott Donahue is a freelance writer and essayist with a passion for alpine climbing, trail running and other hard things. He writes for YellowstonePark.com and Sierra Club, and recently graduated with an MFA in Nonfiction Writing.