A spring that breathes? – Afton, WY

With scenic Idaho and its famous potatoes in our rearview mirror, we crossed into the northern part of Wyoming’s Star Valley for a 4-night stay in the little town of Thayne.  Our plan was to visit Grand Teton National Park (60 miles to the north) on a weekday during our stay, to avoid the busy weekends there.

While checking in, the RV park owner suggested we visit Intermittent Spring – also known as Periodic Spring – located near the town of Afton, some twenty miles south of Thayne.  It piqued our interest, as it happens to be one of only three springs of its kind in existence.

On our drive to the spring, we discovered that Afton’s other claim to fame is the “elkhorn arch” located there, evidently the largest in the the world!

We drove under the arch that spans the main street (Hwy 89) through town.  It’s 75′ wide, 18′ high and adorned by over 3,000 antlers.  Elkhorn arches are somewhat common in Wyoming, but this baby makes the more famous one in Jackson look tiny by comparison.

Intermittent Spring is about five miles east of town, at the end of a dirt road.  The scenic drive on the way there featured beautiful rocky ledges protruding from hillsides along the road:

From the parking lot we walked about 3/4 mile to access the spring, and our early arrival was rewarded with a peaceful trek devoid of other humanoids; we had the whole place to ourselves – just the way we like it 🙂

Fireweed lined the creek

The water from the spring flows 1/4 mile down the narrow-walled canyon to Swift Creek:

View from Swift Creek looking up toward the source
Imagine this water periodically stopping for 12-18 minutes

If not for the beautiful setting and soothing gurgling noise of the water we would have been disappointed, for it only flows intermittently beginning in late August and continuing through the winter.  During those months, the rare geological feature starts and stops the water’s flow every few minutes at regular intervals, a phenomenon thought to be caused by underground siphoning:

How the spring “breathes”

Unfortunately we could only imagine what it would be like to see the water flow stop, but this beautiful and relaxing place was totally worth the trip.

Intermittent Spring
The cement cap where Steve is sitting was placed over the mouth of the spring to prevent rocks and debris from falling into the water

This fascinating oddity is only known to occur in a couple of other places in the world, with Periodic Spring being the largest by far – a fact that Afton is very proud of.

Looking 1/4 mile down from the source of the spring

After taking pictures and enjoying the peaceful spring, we started back down and spotted the trailhead for Swift Creek Trail winding up the side of Swift Creek Canyon.  We hiked up 2.5 miles, enjoying another perspective of the spring from our high vantage point along the way.  We also crossed a hillside with a variety of wildflowers still in bloom – a bonus treat!

Intermittent Springs
Looking down at Intermittent Spring from Swift Creek Trail
A happy hiker!

This rock ledge reminded me of Angels Landing at Zion NP

The trail was a moderately difficult out and back affair, and we were happy that we crossed paths with only about a half-dozen folks along the way.

On our way back we noticed a lot of people heading toward the spring far below

Completing our hike, we were shocked to see a packed parking lot as dozens of people had arrived to visit this popular place.

Sherry, I use the “Pacer” app on my iPhone to track and record our hikes.  Steve prefers “Walkmeter

Betsy was snuggled in near a big tree at Flat Creek RV Park.  Definitely not a “resort”, but we really liked our site at this small park.

A Wyoming sunset over Salt River Mountain Range




  1. So glad you are having such a great time. I’m sorry, though, that I missed Afton in my travels, but at least got to see it through your wonderful pictures and narrative. Lovely post. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Wow that definitely does dwarf the Jackson Hole arch. Glad to see you are reaping the rewards of getting on the trail early. Beautiful falls but the idea that it stops and starts is amazing. Aren’t you going to hang around until late August to experience it breathing?? Love that you hiked above it. I would have had no idea how long and far it flowed. You have some sort of homing device for wildflowers. Beautiful pictures both close up and of the meadows. Don’t you just LOVE seeing all the cars that weren’t there when you came as you leave! Thanks for the info on Pace and Walkmeter. I’ll look into them both. My poor little old android may not have enough room to load another app. LOL

  3. Periodic Spring is very cool! I’ve never heard of this either. I went YouTube to watch the whole process. It was so neat to watch the water start to come out so slowly than grow in quantity and until it was gushing. Glad you took the Swift Creek Trail so we could enjoy those beautiful wildflowers:)

  4. You’ve really hit the wildflower bonanza in your recent travels! The spring is interesting, but I like even more your vantage point from high on the trail above. Your photos are proof that getting out early is best (but don’t tell everyone!) :-))

  5. Isn’t it just great when locals share places we might not have known about? Very interesting about the spring…like others this is new to me. Wonderful photos as always MonaLiza…love the butterfly on the thistle and your big smile!

  6. Well, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who’s never heard of one of these springs. I’ve never heard of a cold water geyser… I thought the whole point was they were hot. Learn something new every day, I guess! And from now on, any time I want to see wildflowers, I’m hanging out with you. You guys certainly have a knack for finding them!

  7. Like everyone else, I’ve never heard of an periodic spring or a cold water geyser! I know these things won’t change anyone’s life, but they are just so darn cool to find! Thanks for sharing your discovery and those wildflowers!

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