Get Warm in These Four Historic Montana Hot Springs
By Joeann Fossland
Ahhhhhhh……is the sound of my body appreciating being lowered into a 105° hot spring. One of my biggest delights in travel is discovering a hot spring along the way to relax and balance the stress that comes with hours of driving.
On a recent road trip, my husband and I visited four hot springs resorts in southern Montana. We didn’t just want a quick dip. We wanted to relax. So we choose these four for the whole experience of pausing the road trip with lodging and food for a day or two.
A History of Hot Springs
Montana has a long history of hot springs. Most were originally enjoyed by the Indians who revered them as sacred places. In the gold rush days, hot springs were sometimes the only place for miners to get a hot bath. Many of today’s remaining resorts date back to that era.
In his book, Montana’s Hot Springs, author Jeff Birkby says, “We have about 120 known hot springs in Montana.” Montana Hot springs.net reports and maps 61 known hot springs in Montana, 23 of which are open commercially today.
The four resorts we visited all date back to the late 1800s. They have weathered economic ups and downs and changes in ownership.
All have been restored, revitalized and expanded to offer basic to luxury accommodations. The restaurants at Quinn’s and Chico’s offer some of the finest dining and wine lists in all of Montana!
Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort
Settled in the 1880s by Martin Quinn, the hot springs and lodge are located in Paradise (yes, I know—perfect name, huh?). Despite some rough years economically, Quinn’s was too wonderful a spot to bite the dust.
The current renaissance started in 1999. Since then, Quinn’s has been beautifully updating and expanding with new lodging and an event center.
The Pools: Five chemical-free pools at different temperatures, from 89° to 106°, give the option of soaking the way you like it. A very cold plunge pool for the brave is right next to them. I didn’t try that. Call me a coward. Children under 3 are not allowed in the pools.
The Lodging: Standard and luxury options are available with the use of the pools all day until 11 PM. The historic Glacier Lodge and cabins are located next to the pools, bar, restaurant, gift shop.
In 2017, the adult-only, 25 room River Lodge rooms were completed, across the street from the historic buildings, on the riverbanks of the Clark Fork River. The new river-view cabins are here too with stunning mountain views and the sound of the river rushing by.
The Food: Harwood House Restaurant provides fine dining all day. It was awarded the 2019 Wine Spectator Magazine Award of Excellence for its winning wine selections. Their signature Prime Rib won my husband’s heart (and tummy).
For a more casual option, The Tavern offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Take your order from out to the pools and eat on the picnic tables.
Their new Event Center, Paradise Hall, is 9000 sq.ft. within rock-skipping range of the river. This is a perfect venue for a destination wedding or family reunion. The Tavern is a full bar with specialty cocktails, wine, and beer. Play pool, take your chances on one of the slot machines or watch sports. Live music jazzes things up on Fridays and Saturdays. A great gift shop contains jars of local jams and honey as well as clothing, memorabilia and swim accessories.
Elkhorn Hot Springs
Right off the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Elkhorn Hot Springs opened in 1918. Originally owned by the forest service, as an attempt to create a national park in the area, the first development began with several cabins and a horse stable.
The lodge and cabins served as a private hunting retreat in the 1920s. The current owners have worked to restore and renovate all aspects of the resort.
The Pools: There are 3 pools to soak in the natural geothermal waters. The big pool is 98°-100°. We soaked a long time in the 103°-105° smaller, warmer outdoor pool.
Indoors, the hottest waters were in the small wet “sauna” at a toasty 105°-107° that felt a bit like being in cave, with a closed door, holding in all the steam.
The Lodging: Single or double rooms in the Lodge are upstairs over the Restaurant/Bar. There is live entertainment some nights, so this isn’t the place to stay if you go to bed early. The original, rustic cabins have electricity and wood-burning stoves and a woodpile.
I hadn’t read the descriptions carefully and didn’t realize we’d have shared outhouses! It was raining when we got there and this proved inconvenient and made me a bit grumpy.
There are two modern cabins available with indoor bathrooms and hot and cold running water. The newest cabin even has a kitchen.
The Food: In the Lodge, you’ll find a full bar and restaurant. A full breakfast buffet is included. My husband said the sausage gravy for the biscuits was the best he had ever had. Burgers, Pizza, appetizers, soups, and salads are available all day long.
The Uniqueness: There is no cell phone service here. The Lodge and Pool house do have wi-fi. Outdoor activities such as horseback riding, dog sledding, and rafting draw people to the remoteness of these springs.
A few miles up the road is Crystal Park where gems and crystals are easy to dig and take home. I found some beautiful quartz here.
Boulder Hot Springs Inn and Spa
The rich and rowdy history of the Boulder Hot Springs dates back to 1863 when it was first opened as a saloon and bathhouse for the area’s miners. Over the years, it has been a hotel hosting gambling and bands, a dude ranch, and a functioning cattle ranch.
Reopened in 1991, the new owners, dedicated to wellness and preserving the historic Inn, have redecorated the lodge and the Bed and Breakfast rooms with antiques and artwork and brought life back to the area.
The Pools: The pools and inside plunges have been resurfaced.
The mineral-laden, pure geothermal waters, used in the indoor plunges, flow through so additional chemicals are not used or needed.
A large outdoor pool at 96°-100° with seating and pool toys and view of the pastoral land surrounding the Inn.
Indoors are 103°-106° small pools called plunges and natural mineral steam rooms These are segregated by gender and are clothing-optional.
A cold 70° plunge is on the women’s side, only.
Co-ed indoor bathing is available a couple of days a week when the men’s side is opened up to all.
The Lodging: Choose from one of the 12 bed & breakfast rooms, restore guest rooms or camping options. We stayed in the Sandhill Cranes B & B Room, which was fun since these birds migrate every year not far from our Arizona home. All rooms have wi-fi, but otherwise, they are technology-free.
The Food: A Breakfast Buffet was filling and yummy. We ate Huckleberry pancakes, delicious bacon, fruit, and eggs.
The Uniqueness: You will not find a party crowd here as it is an alcohol, drug and smoke-free environment. Spa Services are available by appointment.
The world-famous “Radon” caves that have documented amazing results with MS, arthritis and other incurable diseases are located in this valley just up the road a bit. Packages are available to take in both the hot springs and the caves.
We did not get the pleasure to meet her, but there is said to be a “resident ghost” who was a murderer “lady of the night”. The Simone Suite is decorated in her honor.
Chico Hot Springs
Since 1900, in the shadow of 11,000-foot Emigrant Peak, Chico Hot Springs has been a favorite place to enjoy all Montana has to offer. This historic and rustic resort has stayed true to its beginnings offering a “good soak and a fine meal.”
The owners, Seabring and Colin Davis, continue to expand and improve Chico. Since we visited a couple of years ago, a disc golf course, hilltop gazebo for events and four Conestoga wagons for Glamping have been added. Read another story about Chico Hot Springs
The Pools: The water in the beautiful, large pool is at a comfortable 95° And the smaller pool next to the Bar is at a toasty 104°.
The Lodging: From economical to luxury, Chico offers it all. The historic rooms in the main lodge, next to the pools with shared bathrooms, are simple and comfortable. A lower lodge has 22 Rooms and 4 suites. Then there are cabins, a caboose and Conestoga Wagons. We stayed in the Honeymoon Cabin up on the hill and had our own private rose garden.
The Food: The Dining Room serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you are there on a Sunday, the Sunday Brunch is amazing.
Their 2019 James Beard award-winning chef, David Wells, creates unusual gourmet selections that will tempt and surprise you. Our waiter told us that Wells forages the morel mushrooms himself! Gardens behind the main lodge supply much of the produce for the meals. A cookbook, The Western Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes from Montana’s Chico Hot Springs Resort, was recently published with recipes.
For the ultimate experience, their elegant, private wine cellar is available for two to six people with a chef’s menu of a 7 or a 12-course meal and 2 levels of wine pairings. There is also a wine tasting room off the main dining room. You’ll be glad you can walk to your bed! In their cellar, they have enough Romanée–Conti for a crowd….the World’s Best Wine vintage and most expensive.
The Uniqueness: Weekends from May-October usually host weddings. A new gazebo at the top of the hill offers an unforgettable setting. Chico has facilities to cater to corporate retreats and family reunions. Only 35 miles from Yellowstone, Chico is tucked into the beautiful Paradise Valley, offering all the ways to enjoy the outdoors.
Sidebar: If You Go:
This was a six-day road trip for us, staying two nights at Quinn’s and at Chico. Dipping into the warmth of the springs after the day’s drive was pure bliss. We took backroads whenever we could, seeing the snow-covered Montana mountains, national forests, and byways. And, we saw lots and lots of cows!
Elkhorn Hot Springs is located at 339 Hot Springs Road, Polaris MT. It is really a few miles north of Polaris and there are few signs. My GPS did not have a good signal either. There is a restaurant with a bar in the main lodge serving all day.
Boulder Hot Springs Inn and Spa is located at 31 Hot Springs Road, Boulder, MT. A buffet breakfast is included with the B & B rooms. There is no other meal service.
Tucson travel writer, Joeann Fossland, is a CyberGrandma, gypsy traveler who loves to share about road trips, hot springs, beaches, tennis, and historic sites. www.JoeannsView.com