Three people decided to ignore warning signs and wander off the boardwalk at one of Yellowstone National Park's most famous hot springs recently, with one even taking off their shoes to walk barefoot by the scalding water. Grand Prismatic is the biggest hot spring in the US, and takes its name from the stunning multicolored mats of thermophilic (heat-loving) bacteria around its perimeter. The bacteria that survive best in the hottest conditions have a yellow coloration, while those that prefer slightly cooler temperatures are red and orange.
The three visitors may not have been close enough to fall into the spring itself, which is around 160°F / 70°C (hot enough to cause severe burns), but the National Park Service warns that the ground around springs can be fragile, easily breaking to expose extremely hot groundwater underneath.
The incident (which you can watch below) was caught on camera by another park visitor and shared online via Instagram account TouronsOfYellowstone, which calls out bad behavior at US National Parks. Other examples in recent months have included people dabbling their fingers in hot springs, trying to pet bison, and tearing off their shirts and chasing bears.
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Thermal features including geysers, pools, and hot springs are some of Yellowstone's biggest attractions, and the park has a carefully planned series of boardwalks that allow visitors to witness them from a safe distance. Straying from the designated trails and boardwalks is illegal, and those who wander off risk a fine, being banned from the park, and even jail time as both punishment, and to set an example to others in the interest of safety.
The danger of hot springs was highlighted earlier last year, when a park employee discovered a foot floating in Yellowstone's Abyss Pool. After an investigation, officials connected the discovery to a death that had happened a few days prior, and said that there was no suspicion of foul play.
As HuffPost reported, in 2016 another person as killed at the park after accidentally slipping into a thermal feature while looking for a warm pool to bathe. Colin Scott from Oregon accidentally slipped into the extremely hot and acidic Norris Geyser Basin while exploring off the boardwalks, and couldn't be reached by rescuers until it was too late.
"Hot springs have injured or killed more people in Yellowstone than any other natural feature," warns the NPS guide to safety at the park. "Keep your children close and don’t let them run."
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Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.