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Geothermal Resources

Norris Hot Spring

Geothermal energy is heat that has been generated and stored in the earth. Geothermal energy can be used for bathing, to generate electricity, and to heat buildings. It has the advantages of being an environmentally friendly, sustainable, and renewable form of energy.

Geothermal energy is generated in the layers of hot molten rock and magma present below the earth’s crust. Heat is produced in these layers from the continual decay of naturally radioactive materials such as uranium and potassium. In some locations, fractures in the crust allow heated fluids to rise closer to the surface, forming areas of elevated ground temperatures that can be tapped for geothermal energy. In other areas, the fractures extend to the surface allowing the heated water to discharge from geysers and hot springs. Geothermal energy can be harnessed to run turbines for electrical generation, to pipe hot water to buildings (direct use), and to support tourism.

Currently, tourism is the primary use of geothermal energy in Wyoming. Geothermal features draw hundreds of thousands of tourists to Wyoming each year, allowing them to enjoy thermal springs in the state, primarily in Yellowstone National Park and Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis. Direct use of geothermal energy in some areas of the state heats buildings, fish hatcheries, and roadways.

The WSGS has prepared several publications about thermal springs and geothermal energy in Wyoming. Digital reports and maps are listed below. Other Wyoming geothermal data, including bottom hole temperatures from oil and gas wells, are available via the National Geothermal Data System.

Geothermal Uses

Terraces, Mammoth Hot Springs.

Geothermal use in Wyoming— The earliest use for geothermal waters was by native people who bathed in the warm springs for medicinal and spiritual benefits. White settlers bathed in the thermal springs also during the great westward expansion of the 1800s. Although Wyoming’s geothermal resources are still used primarily for recreation and tourism, a number of direct use and electrical generation applications have been developed in recent years. The Jackson National Fish Hatchery uses geothermal water in its brood stock hatchery outside of Jackson Hole. Natural springs at the hatchery feed the brood stock ponds with geothermal waters. The water used at the hatchery is about 80˚F (26˚C) and flows at 100 gallons per minute (gpm). According to the Geo-heat Center, annual geothermal energy produced by the springs there is about 4.9 gigawatt hours per year (GWh/yr). Another application can be found near Lander where thermal well water heats a greenhouse. The well produces 98˚F (37˚C) water at 50 gpm, generating 0.6 GWh per year. A residence near Thermopolis is heated by a warm-water geothermal system. The water used to heat the residence is 124˚F (51˚C) and flows at 100 gpm. The annual geothermal energy output of the system is 0.2 GWh/yr. The U.S. Department of Energy operated a geothermal testing facility at the Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center near Teapot Dome in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming. The agency sold the property (Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 3) to a private operator in 2015.

Geothermal tourism—Recreation and tourism are the main uses of geothermal resources in Wyoming. Of course, the geysers, cauldrons, and hot springs at Yellowstone National Park are the most well-known and spectacular geothermal features, however, there are a number of other publicly accessible hot springs throughout the state. For hundreds of year, these hot springs have been used for recreation and relaxation. A few of the more notable public hot springs in Wyoming are detailed below.

  • Saratoga Hot Springs—The hot springs near Saratoga were used by Native Americans for hundreds of years. They were rediscovered by white settlers in June 1911 and at one time the water was bottled and sold as “Radioactive Mineral Water.” There are five springs associated with the Saratoga Hot Springs, two of which are used to form the Saratoga Hot Springs City Park. The waters of the springs originate from Mesozoic rocks. The largest spring in the system flows at 120 gpm and is 119˚F (48˚C).

  • Hot Springs State Park—Aside from the world-renowned thermal features in Yellowstone National Park, the thermal springs of Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis are the most famous in Wyoming. Big Spring is the largest in the park, flowing at 2,900 gpm with a temperature of 127°F (53°C). The state park, created in 1937 to protect the mineral hot springs, contains two commercial pools, a state bathhouse, and numerous geothermal deposits of travertine. In addition to the thermal springs within the park, the Thermopolis geothermal system feeds numerous private springs and wells north of the park as well.

  • Kendall Warm Springs—Located in the upper Green River Valley, Kendall Warm Springs discharge about 3,600 gpm with water temperatures at 85.1˚F (29.5˚C) from a small geothermal system. The springs formed a terrace system that serves as habitat for the Kendall Warm Springs dace, which evolved in the warm water as its own subspecies from a fish commonly found in the mainstem of the Green River. The springs are now federally protected to preserve their habitat.

  • Yellowstone National Park—Yellowstone National Park contains more than 100 hot spring clusters within its 3,472-square-mile area. It was designated America’s first national park in 1872, and continues to be one of the most diverse and frequently visited national parks to this day. A total of 318 springs have temperatures above 194˚F (90˚C) and steam vents that reach 280˚F (138˚C). Nearly 100 springs produce superheated water. The entire Yellowstone geothermal system discharges 49,000 gpm. The Yellowstone geothermal system receives its energy from magma near the surface of the Yellowstone Caldera. The caldera is 28 miles (45 km) wide (east to west) and 53 miles (85 km) long. Areas of the caldera have been active in the recent geologic past.
PDF iconGeothermal Uses in Wyoming

Geothermal Resources Maps and Reports (zipped files available for download)

Final Report of Geothermal Resource and Applicable Technology for Wyoming (Wyoming Energy Authority)

Geothermal Resources of the Laramie, Hanna, and Shirley Basins, Wyoming

Google Earth icon KMZ files PDF icon WSGS Report of Investigation No. 26
Geothermal Resources of the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming
Google Earth icon KMZ files PDF icon WSGS Report of Investigation No. 29
Geothermal Resources of the Southern Powder River Basin, Wyoming (WSGS Report of Investigation No. 36)
Google Earth icon KMZ files PDF icon WSGS Report of Investigation No. 36
Geothermal Resources of the Wind River Basin, Wyoming (WSGS Report of Investigation No. 38)
Google Earth icon KMZ files PDF icon WSGS Report of Investigation No. 38
Mineral Hot Springs of Wyoming (WSGS Bulletin No. 19)
PDF iconWSGS Bulletin No. 19
Thermal Springs of Wyoming (WSGS Bulletin No. 60)
PDF iconWSGS Bulletin No. 60

Jim Stafford, james.stafford@wyo.gov