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Hot Springs State Park

Few state parks in Wyoming are as nice as Hot Springs (tel. 307/864-2176; wyoparks.state.wy.us), with its shady trees, striking flower gardens, and a stretch of the Bighorn River running through it, as well as a roaming buffalo herd and the main event: the magnificent hot springs, with some of its water funneled into swimming pools and slides. It's located at the north side of town off U.S. 20 and admission is free. The park's only shortcoming is that you can't camp overnight, which must please nearby private campgrounds and lodgings. As a Wyoming tourist attraction, the hot springs places a distant third to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, but the sparse crowds allow Thermopolis to retain its small-town style.

At the north end of the park, you can climb a few stairs to look down into the bottomless blue-green depths of the Big Spring -- the placid surface belies the fact that the spring pumps out around 15 million gallons a day.

Soaking in the Baths

You can't just plop yourself down in this 134°F (57°C) water, but there are three bathing facilities in the park. To get to them, take the loop road; at the north end are the bathing areas. First, and simplest, is the State Bath House (tel. 307/864-3765), a small spa open to the public free of charge thanks to famed Shoshone Chief Washakie. When the tribes sold the federal government the hot springs in 1896 -- it would later become state property -- Washakie noted that the springs had always been a place of peace and neutrality among tribes, and should therefore always be free to all people. The small, clean indoor and outdoor pools aren't for frolicking or swimming laps -- just soaking, wading, and perhaps conversing with some of the old-timers who come here. Soaks are limited to 20 minutes per session. You can rent a towel, locker, and bathing suit for about a dollar each, and it's open Monday through Saturday from 8am to 5:30pm, Sunday from noon to 5:30pm. On either side of this peaceful place are the more raucous commercial pools.

Star Plunge -- The big lure at the Plunge is its three big slides -- the kids' favorite "Little Dipper," the outdoor "Super Star," and the enclosed "Blue Thunder," the latter a 300-foot spin around a 60-foot tower that will thrill you to your claustrophobic, free-falling toes. Indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs, Jacuzzis, a snack bar, and an arcade make this the favorite of the young set. On a crowded summer afternoon, there are lines at the slides, splashing all around, and a teenage volume level, but you can still find stillness in the "vapor cave." For more information, call tel. 307/864-3771. Admission is $10 for children 5 and over and adults, $5 for children 4 and under, $8 for seniors. It's open daily from 9am to 9pm, except late November to mid-December, when it's closed.

Tepee Pools -- The Pools (tel. 307/864-9250; www.tepeepools.com), sometimes called Hot Springs Water Park or Hellie's Tepee Spa, is a little more peaceful under its big dome than its neighbor to the east, but it has its share of lively teens and a contingent of young families. The slides are not as big here, but you can hear yelps of delight as bodies zip down the twisting indoor open tube. There is a fast-moving open slide outdoors, too, and often a wet basketball game in the roomy outdoor pool. Soaking pools, a steam room, a sauna, and a game room complete the scene. Admission is $10 for ages 6 to 62, $5 for ages 5 and under, and $8 for 63 and over. Open daily from 9am to 9pm.

Gift of the Smoking Waters Historical Indian Pageant

An annual production, the pageant reenacts the sale of the hot springs and surrounding lands by the Shoshone and Arapaho peoples to the federal government in 1896. The pageant portrays the sale as an act of peace and neighborly brotherhood. In fact, the tribes were starving and desperate. Indians from Wind River play some of the roles in the pageant. The pageant is performed annually during the first weekend in August, along with a powwow. Contact the Thermopolis Chamber of Commerce (tel. 307/864-3192) for information.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.