When my parents decided they wanted to come visit me, I’d already been in central Wyoming near Thermopolis for a few months, after moving here for a job and a love for the mountains. In July, they drove west from Indiana and brought with them their easy-going midwestern spirits, some random items I’d left behind in my childhood room, and a strong itch to go fly-fishing.
This story was created in partnership with Hot Springs Travel & Tourism. All photos by Tobey Schmidt or Hot Springs Travel & Tourism.
Being a super novice angler myself, I decided we’d want to hire guides. I contacted Dunoir Fishing Adventures and told the guides, “I’d love to go where the views are great and the fishing is even better.” Their answer: “Thermopolis, Wyoming.” All I knew about Thermopolis was that it was known for its hot springs—which were recently added to Travel + Leisure’s list of the 10 best hot springs in the US. Fishing and soaking in mineral waters? Count us in!
The Bighorn River
Shortly after driving through the most scenic canyon in Wyoming, Wind River Canyon, we met our guides at the boat launch on the Bighorn River. If you’re an avid fisherman, you may recognize that name—the Bighorn River is famous for its large trout, averaging 15 inches for brown trout and 16 inches for rainbow trout. The most famous stretch of the Bighorn River is in Montana, but if you want to go where there are fewer people and less fishing pressure, Thermopolis is your spot.
After winding through Wind River Canyon, the Bighorn River flows right through the town of Thermopolis, and you’ll end your float at Hot Springs State Park, where you can relax in the hot mineral waters after a long day of hauling big fish into the boat.
How good is the fishing, you wonder? Between myself, my partner, and my parents, we caught a total of 15 rainbow and brown trout, most of them being between 16 and 22 inches. At the end of the day I caught a 22-inch rainbow trout—the biggest fish I’ve ever caught on a fly rod! Yellowstone cutthroats and whitefish can also be found in this area. Anglers can catch fish on a variety of flies, including small nymphs and giant hopper patterns.
Be aware that Wind River Canyon is on the Wind River Indian Reservation, so you will need an additional license from the tribes to fish that part of the river. If you want to float the canyon, you are required to go on a guided float with Native-owned Wind River Whitewater & Fly Fishing outfitters.
From the vibrant green water to the red hues of the riverside cliffs, the scenery on this section of the Bighorn River is spectacular! We floated about a 10-mile section (from the Wedding of the Waters to the Rainbow Terraces at Hot Springs State Park) and at times I would forget that we were so close to town and not in the backcountry. The river was quiet, other than the sounds of our lines whipping back and forth and the fish jumping out of water. Oh, and my dad yelling that he’d caught another one!
Other Fun Things To Do in Thermopolis
White Water Rafting in Wind River Canyon
For another fun activity to do on the water with the whole family, try whitewater rafting. Wind River Canyon Whitewater & Fly Fishing offers half-day and full-day trips through the beautiful canyon. If you’ve ever paddled in rapids before, you know how exhilarating and addicting it can be! It’s pretty special to be carried down the canyon through the Wind River Reservation with a Native-owned and operated business, adding depth to the experience.
Hot Springs State Park
It wouldn’t be a proper trip to Thermopolis without a soak in the famous hot springs. In addition to the steaming rainbow-colored terraces along the Bighorn River, Hot Springs State Park also contains an outdoor natural spring and an indoor bath house, which is always kept at soothing 104 degrees Fahrenheit. In 1896, the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes gave Wyoming the hot springs, with the provision that it remain accessible to the public free of charge. Most of the grounds are open year round, with only the outdoor pool closing in the winter.
The best part about a trip with hot springs involved is that the pools are fun for the kids and relaxing for the adults, making Thermopolis a great place to bring your family.
For more information about the fishing in Thermopolis, reach out to the local guides listed here.