Way-Back Wednesday Shares History of Wyoming’s Oldest State Park

Hot Springs State Park, located in Thermopolis, was created in 1897 from former Indian reservation lands.

Annaliese Wiederspahn

January 05, 20227 min read

WY Buffalo in Hot Springs State Park
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

When you mention “parks” and “Wyoming” in the same sentence, mental images frequently jump to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. For those lucky enough to call Wyoming home we know that in The Cowboy State we have some pretty spectacular State Parks, each offering a unique experience for residents and visitors alike. 

Last weekend, in honor of January 1st, many state parks across not only Wyoming but the entire country participated in First Day Hikes to encourage people to get outdoors and explore what for many is nearly their own backyard. The good news is that the first Saturday of each and every month is National Play Outside Day, and there’s truly no better place to do exactly that than Wyoming’s very first State Park. 

Hot Springs State Park, located in Thermopolis, was created in 1897 from former Indian reservation lands. The property was part of a cession agreement, and the ceded portion was purchased from the Eastern Shoshone by the federal government in 1896, when Indian Inspector James McLaughlin negotiated the transaction for a sum of $60,000 for a 100-square-mile portion of the Shoshone reservation. 

A section of that land was released to the state in 1897 and became Wyoming’s first state park, then known as Big Horn Hot Springs State Reserve.

Colonel McLaughlin, was instructed by the Secretary of the Interior on March 25, 1896, to negotiate the purchase from the Shoshone and Arapaho Indians. This action was the result of the previous Wyoming Legislature memorializing Congress to purchase the springs and a tract of land immediately around them: the Springs were to be set apart as a public Reservation. As a result of the negotiations, on April 23, 1896 a tract of land lying south of the mouth of Owl Creek, consisting of a 100-square-miles, or around 55,000 acres, was purchased for the price of $60,000. This parcel of land was ten miles long on both the east and south sides. 

The United States Government set aside a reserve of 640 acres, covering the area of the springs, for the benefit of the general public. By agreement, the Native American Indians were given the same privileges as previously. 

Later, the reserve was ceded to the State which continued to exercise jurisdiction over Big Horn Hot Springs. The square mile of land on which the springs are situated belongs to the state, and was known as the Wyoming Hot Springs Reserve. The state erected a bathhouse in 1922 for the free use of the public. 

Many hot springs existed within the reserve, the main hot spring located an eighth of a mile east of the Big Horn River and 100 feet above it. The spring measures around 35 feet across, discharging water at a temperature of roughly 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot Springs State Park, first known as the Big Horn Hot Springs State Reserve, is the oldest State Park in Wyoming.

The park once had six hotels and institutions for the medical care and recuperation of persons with chronic illness. Today, visitors can still enjoy several different commercial (fee required) hot spring pools as well as hiking, biking, and camping. The State Bath House is the only state-run hot springs facility in the park, and remains free to the public.

Hot Springs State Park information

Address:  220 Park Street, Thermopolis, WY 82443, and is available for day-use with no overnight camping.

Acreage: 1,108 acres

Park hours: Sunday through Saturday 6:00 am – 10:00 pm

Contact: (307) 864-2176

Helpful links




The current Wyoming State Bath House was constructed in 1966 and 1967 to replace an original bath house that was built in 1922. The ‘modernist design’ was a dramatic departure from the former structure, a neoclassical building that featured a columned temple front and symmetrical side wings.

A Casper-based father and son architectural team, Krusmark and Krusmark, were instrumental in the new design, consisting of a simple stacked-stone building for the new bathhouse. The structure features a two-story central atrium that encloses the indoor hot springs pool. This is flanked by low, one-story wings that house the men’s and women’s dressing rooms. The roof is a low-pitched gable that appears to float over the glazed north and south end walls of the atrium and is supported by a single broad pier at the center of the facade, obscuring a glazed entry hall accessed from the east. Inside you’ll find a small reception area occupying the front of the atrium, with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall separating this area from the interior pool. The interior is bathed in natural light from the huge window walls. From the pool area, visitors can access the dressing rooms as well as the outdoor hot springs pool. The architecture is welcoming and looks at home in Hot Springs State Park. 

Today, more than 8,000 gallons flow over the terrace every 24 hours at a constant temperature of 135 degrees Fahrenheit. At the State Bath House water temperatures are moderated and maintained at 104 degrees Fahrenheit to provide the safest healing water possible. Attendants are available for assistance and they also help patrons with the ‘best-practices’ time limits on soaking in the hot water. 

Directions: Take Park Street over the bridge, at the 3-way intersection turn left onto Tepee Street. You’ll pass the Star Plunge and find the State Bath House.

Hours: Monday – Saturday, 8 .a.m. to 5:30 p..m.; Sundays, noon to 5:30 p.m.. Closed on holidays during the winter (Thanksgiving and Christmas) and open on holidays during the summer, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Call 307-864-3765.

The petroglyph site at Legend Rock, some distance away, is also part of the park.  The park is managed by the Wyoming Division of State Parks and Historic Sites. Legend Rock Petroglyph Site is located in Hot Springs County roughly 20 miles northwest of Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis. Legend Rock has hundreds of individual petroglyphs that are spread across the face of the rock. While some of the etchings have been eroded or defaced, a wide majority have been preserved for public viewing. 

The nearly 300 individual petroglyphs feature some of the oldest and best examples of Dinwoody rock art in the world. Legend Rock was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 5, 1973 and it is preserved by the State of Wyoming as a State Historic Site. 

October through April, a key is required for access to Legend Rock, which can be picked up at State Bath House. Be sure to dress for the weather conditions, be mindful of appropriate footwear and the need to stay hydrated when visiting Legend Rock.

By Jonathan Green – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3839347
Photo: By Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4347083

The park features a managed herd of bison, a suspension footbridge across the Big Horn River, picnic shelters, boat docks, blooming flower gardens in summer, and terraces made of naturally forming travertine (calcium carbonate) caused by the flowing mineral springs. The park currently has commercial hotels and privately operated entities.

Hot Springs State Park is a hikers paradise and offers 6.2 miles of universally accessible trails where you’re invited to explore one of three easy hiking trails that are suitable for the entire family. And if you’re looking for something more challenging you’ll find hiking trails plus a Volksmarch trail which range from 19-to 505-feet in elevation gains.

Photo: Jonathan Green Buffalo grazing in Hot Springs State Park 

This page from Wyoming’s rich history has been presented by Mick Pryor, Edward Jones Financial Advisor. While we can’t change the past, a financial strategy for the future can be planned. If you have questions, concerns or are simply looking for a friendly advisor to discover your goals, discuss strategy and look to your financial future, contact Mick Pryor today.

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Annaliese Wiederspahn

State Political Reporter