Chico Hot Springs: A Montana Tradition

Hot pool at Chico Hot Springs, Pray Montana. photo by Max Hartshorne.
The hot pool at Chico Hot Springs Resort and Spa, Pray Montana. AHHHHHHH!!! photos by Max Hartshorne

Chico Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa: Everyone in Montana Knows About It!

By Max Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Editor

“Chico Hot Springs Resort is iconic in Montana,” says General Manager Colin Davis. “It’s one of the few quintessential places left in the state. It remains family-owned and is still very much a home for the locals.”

View from atop the bluff at Chico Hot Springs Resort, Pray MT. photo by Max Hartshorne.
View from atop the bluff at Chico Hot Springs Resort, Pray MT. photo by Max Hartshorne.

The beautiful resort, located in southern Montana just north of Yellowstone, is rich in old history and embodies Western hospitality, which has been a tradition at Chico since the 1900s.

Visitors have the choice of either stepping back in time to a simpler era, or staying current and connected with the latest spa packages and technology.

Chico Hot Springs Resort dates back to the height of Montana’s gold rush, and just like the gold, Chico was one of Montana’s most valuable finds.

Travelers and tourists came from all over the country to experience Montana’s finest hot springs, classic Western cabins, and a breathtaking view. There are horses to ride, very hot pools to relax in, and an impressive wine list that rivals that of the best restaurants in New York.

Chico dining room regulars include Jeff Bridges, Michael Keaton, Tom Brokaw, and others, but they’re treated like regular people here, not Hollywood celebs. But his wine list tips off the high-class clientele he attracts: it includes bottles of the rarest and hardest to find Burgundies like Romanee Conti, which very few bars can procure, let alone serve. “We buy a lot of wine, ” Colin explained.

The poolhouse at Chico Hot Springs, as seen from one of the cottages up on the bluff. photo by Max Hartshorne.
The poolhouse at Chico Hot Springs, as seen from one of the cottages up on the bluff. 

Davis joined us at the head of our table at a sumptuous dinner one night and told us his philosophy and some of the long history of this fabled resort with the hot pool and horse stables.

“I tell the staff here, make the decision, make things right, go ahead, you don’t need to ask a supervisor. If you need to give them free dessert or free wine, DO IT, I want them to think like a boss, and act like one.”

His point was that this ain’t no stinkin’ corporation, this is a family business, and decisions can be made at lower levels just as well as at the top. So take the initiative, and do what’s right.

On our August 2010 visit, the twilight hours up on top of the hill with the million-dollar view were surreal in their natural beauty; the vast expanse of prairie stretches as far as the eye can see, bordered by rugged mountains. It was a treat to wake up and see guests riding horses up the same slope across the valley the next morning in the brilliant sunshine.

Though we enjoyed staying in the elegant western cottages located on top of the hill and featuring the million-dollar view, other guests enjoy more humble quarters with a bed and a sink in the main building, starting at just $49 a night. It is important, Davis told us, for them to offer a wide range of prices to suit any guest’s budget.

Montana’s Backyard

Chico is known to some as, “Montana’s backyard,” Davis says. “The stories about coming here with parents grandparents, getting engaged, married or conceived here is always on someone’s lips. Everyone feels part of it and it is an emotionally warm place.”

The warmth of the heart and soul is not the only hot treasure Chico is known for, the natural hot waters still flow and draw people to relax and enjoy themselves all throughout the year. The hot springs pool is the center of attention at Chico, says Colin. It’s one of Montana’s greatest offerings and loved by all who visit.

Activities & Guided Tours

Western Cottage atop the hill high above the resort. Gorgeous!! photo by Max Hartshorne.
Western Cottage atop the hill high above the resort. Gorgeous!!

While staying at this beautiful, relaxing resort, there’s no shortage of activities and tours. Chico is set in the foothills of the rugged Absaroka Mountains in Paradise Valley, Montana, about 40 minutes north of the Yellowstone National Park.

Meals at the resort are a treat, the restaurant’s garden produces just about all of the vegetables for the meals that the chefs in the Chico Dining room and Percie’s Poolside Grille whip up.

In the summer, local fly-fishing is a big deal at Chico. You can take your fishing pole and gear to the Valley’s Spring Creeks, which are full of cutthroat trout.

The horses are also the main attraction at Chico. The Chico Horse Barn is extremely popular in the summer months. Guests can enjoy a slow, scenic ride through the prairies and foothills of Paradise Valley, or sign-up for half-day rides, moonlight rides, and even full-day rides into Yellowstone Park are available upon request. The ranch gives children six or under pony rides, while the others ride the bigger steeds.

If you’re in the mood to really kick back and relax, then you can head for Chico’s Day Spa. The Day Spa offers a variety of services such as massage therapy, geothermal therapy, spa treatments such as mud wraps and citrus salt glows, Spa Packages that range anywhere from $45-$125, and last but not least, they also offer tanning, manicures, pedicures, and even Yoga & Pilates classes.

The big pools are the star attractions here at Chico…the smaller pool gets up to 103 degrees and the larger one 98 degrees. They have to add cool water to the high-temperature natural flow from the hot spring that is located on the property. Even a creek leading away from the pools still bubbles hot water with steam glimmering off it.

The big pool is right next to the bar…and how nice it is to sip a cold beer and move down to the hotter part of the pool. Kick back and just enjoy being enveloped in the warmth, like a wet hot, down comforter!

Whitewater Rafting

If you’re visiting Chico and looking for a more adventurous activity, then it’s time to hit the Yellowstone River for a Whitewater rafting adventure. If you’d still like to enjoy the river in a more low-key tone, then you’d want to experience the scenic float trip.

An early morning ride across the canyon at Chico. photo by Max Hartshorne.
An early morning ride across the canyon at Chico

From the beautiful scenery to the thrilling rapids there is sure to never be a dull moment. The ride begins at Chico Hot Springs and continues all the way towards Yellowstone Park. The Half-Day Adventure takes you on a 9 miles journey, while the Full-Day Adventure is longer and more intense.

Full-Day Whitewater Adventure

A full-day whitewater adventure takes you from Chico Hot Springs Resort to Gardiner and raft on the border of Yellowstone National Park. You’ll even get to stop halfway on a river island to enjoy a sack lunch prepared for you by the Chico Grill. During the second half of the day, you’ll be able to admire the beautiful rock formations in the canyon walls and hit the rapids Box Car and Yankees Revenge.

After the long day, they’ll encourage you to take a relaxing soak in the hot springs before you retire for the evening.

The most popular attraction at Chico has to be Yellowstone Park, which is near the resort. Yellowstone offers a variety of tour packages, all-day adventures, and excursions. “Yellowstone trumps everything,” says Colin. “Cross country skiing in Yellowstone is also one of the most popular activities during the winter months, along with dog sledding and the hot springs of course.

One of the most recommended first-day activities at Yellowstone is called, “Yellowstone in a Day.” It incorporates a great overview of the park, park highlights, including Old faithful, Yellowstone Lake, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Lodging & Accommodations

Yellowstone National Park is the trump card at Chico, nearly every guest wants to visit the giant park and see the amazing animals there. photo by Max Hartshorne.
Yellowstone National Park is the trump card at Chico, nearly every guest wants to visit the giant park and see the amazing animals there.

When you arrive at your cozy Chico cabin complete with a beautiful mountain view like nothing you’ve ever seen before, that’s when you’ll really feel like you’re in Montana.

From the quaint rooms in their original Main Lodge to cozy cabins with gorgeous views, contemporary suites with oversized spa tubs to an A-frame chalet perched high on the hillside. For visitors looking for extra special accommodation, Chico also even offers romantic railroad caboose nestled under the pines.

There are no televisions in any of the rooms, and most of the accommodations also do not have phones.

But honestly, with the view, activities, hot springs and natural beauty of Chico, you don’t need technology. If you must keep in touch with friends or colleagues while at Chico though, there’s wireless internet access.

Prices stay the same

“Our prices do not change per season as our occupancy is 78% year-round,” says Davis. There are 9 room types, hence the variation. There are small rooms in the old lodge with a double bed and a sink, and a beautiful stand-alone honeymoon cabin with giant tubs and many windows. Many people also go for the standard double queens or large five-bedroom Adirondack style homes.”

When you picture Montana’s greatest offerings such as fly fishing, Yellowstone Park, Hot Springs, and Horses, visitors and travelers can’t help but also thing of Chico.

“It doesn’t matter where you go,” Colin says. “Chico is out there. Chico is Montana.”

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