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3 Things Not to Do In Yellowstone

There’s a lot to do in Yellowstone, but here are three things you should definitely not do.

Every year, a handful of tourists in Yellowstone pull a series of stunts that endanger their lives and that of wildlife. Sometimes, their actions can lead to the death of animals. Find out what happened when tourists broke the rules and learn three things not to do when you are in the park.

1. Don’t Stray Off the Boardwalks

Park visitors on the boardwalk in Yellowstone's Midway Geyser Basin at Grand Prismatic Hot Spring
Park visitors on the boardwalk in Yellowstone’s Midway Geyser Basin near Grand Prismatic Hot SpringLiem Bui

In 2016, a 23-year-old from Portland, Oregon, died after leaving a boardwalk near Porkchop Geyser and falling into a thermal feature. In 2020, a three-year-old who ran and fell off a boardwalk near Midway Geyser Basin had to be airlifted for second-degree burns from a small thermal feature near the Grand Prismatic Spring, the third largest hot spring in the world. In summer 2022, a mysterious human foot still inside a shoe was found floating in Abyss Pool in the park’s West Thumb Geyser Basin and was linked to an earlier death.

Water in Grand Prismatic and other thermal features can reach 160° F, which can cause severe burns and even death. It’s possible to punch through the earthen crust around the park’s thermal features and literally land in boiling hot water, even if the ground looks solid.

Another thing to keep in mind is the sensitive microbes in Grand Prismatic are responsible for the brilliant colors in the Grand Prismatic. With different bacteria thriving in varying temperatures, the colored rings in the pool have been referred to as a “living thermometer.” Any foreign interference in the spring could negatively impact the ecological balance of the bacteria.

Related: Things Stuffed Down a Geyser

2. Don’t Stand Near or Try to Touch Wildlife

Bison Calf born on May 10, 2014
Newborn bison calf. NPS Neal Herbert

In the past several years, there were a number of incidents reported of bison charging and/or goring visitors who go to too close. For safety reasons, park officials ask that visitors maintain at least 25 yards between themselves and animals like bison and at least 100 yards from wolves and bears. In one incident that went viral after other visitors videotaped it, a visitor fleeing a charging bison, which can run three times faster than humans, tripped and fell to the ground. After playing dead, she was fortunate enough to escape unharmed after the bison sniffed her and decided to talk away.

In 2016, tourists placed a baby bison in their car after they thought it looked cold. The  incident ended with the baby bison being euthanized after its mom rejected it.

Park officials tried multiple times to reunite the baby calf with its mom after returning it to the area where the tourists had found it. Those attempts were unsuccessful. Rejected by its mother, the calf kept wandering near people and cars, creating a dangerous situation. Without the resources or facilities to quarantine the calf nor care for it, park officials were forced to euthanize it.

“In order to ship the calf out of the park, it would have had to go through months of quarantine to be monitored for brucellosis,” said Peggy Olliff of Yellowstone’s public affairs department. “No approved quarantine facilities exist at this time, and we don’t have the capacity to care for a calf that’s too young to forage on its own. Nor is it the mission of the National Park Service to rescue animals: our goal is to maintain the ecological processes of Yellowstone. Even though humans were involved in this case, it is not uncommon for bison, especially young mothers, to lose or abandon their calves. Those animals typically die of starvation or predation.”

Not only did the tourists’ poor decision end in the calf’s death, but touching wild animals can endanger your life and that of the animal. Bison mothers are extremely protective of their young, and the calf’s mom could have charged at the tourists.

3. Don’t Jump in Hot Springs

Emerald Spring in the Norris Back Geyser Basin. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski
Emerald Spring in the Norris Back Geyser Basin. Gloria Wadzinski

As beautiful as the park’s hot springs look, don’t be fooled. They are not for swimming or soaking. The waters are dangerously hot. In the past, tourists have been severely burned or fatally injured by Yellowstone’s thermal features. Stay on designated trails and keep a close eye on children in your group. If you see someone off trail, help them be safe by reminding them of the rules.

Related: Bad Selfies – 5 Places Not to Pose in Yellowstone