Updated: Nov 18, 2021
Nothing compliments a busy day of snowshoeing, skiing or even a relaxed, scenic drive across the state like a soothing soak in the mineral-filled waters of one of Montana’s
hot springs pools. Hot springs can be found throughout North America but the region around Yellowstone National Park has a particularly high concentration of springs formed by wells of
Magma within the earth’s surface heats groundwater in permeable soils and bedrock and this interaction changes the water’s mineral content, increasing levels of simple silica, sulfur, calcium, lithium, and even radium and selenium. Lighter in weight than the cooler waters, the heated water rises to the surface through cracks in the earth. If the water nearing the surface remains at a consistent level of pressure, a hot springs is created.
With nearly two dozen developed hot springs in Montana where visitors can enjoy a relaxing soak in these magma-heated waters, more than a few are truly off the beaten track and known as hidden treasures. From the local’s time-tested favorites to a soon-to-open facility just north of Yellowstone National Park, plenty of favorite soaking spots exist for enthusiasts across the state to discover.
The popularity of soaking in hot springs for health and relaxation has a long history all over the globe and Montana is no exception. American Indians were familiar with the region’s bounty of hot springs for thousands of years before the arrival of settlers to the area. As was true across the country, many tribes considered hot springs as scared areas and would often call truces with enemy tribes when all were gathered to soak together.
According to “Touring Hot Springs: Montana and Wyoming” by Jeff Birkby, members of the Crow, Arapaho, Shoshone, Sioux and Flathead tribes were frequent visitors to Montana’s hot springs.
“When Dr. A.J. Hunter visited a hot springs near Livingston, Montana in 1864,” Birkby writes, “He reported seeing more than 1,000 tepees of the Crow tribe clustered around the springs and many tribal members bathing in the water.”
Birkby shares a diary entry from Captain William Clark containing the first recorded description of a hot spring in the Rocky Mountains. In 1805, explorers Lewis and Clark visited what is now Lolo Hot Springs near the current Montana and Idaho borders.
“[We] passed several springs which I observed the deer, elk, etc. had made roads to, and below one of the Indians had made a hole to bathe,” Clark’s diary entry reads. “I tasted this water and found it hot and not bad tasted. In further examination I found this water nearly boiling hot at the places it spouted from the rocks. I put my finger in the water, at first could not bear it in a second.”
Birkby goes on to note another entry in Clark’s journals from 1806 (when Clark was on his return trip from the Pacific Ocean) to the area near Jackson Hot Springs in Montana’s Big Hole Valley.
When gold was discovered in Montana in the 1860s, the region’s hot springs experienced a boom. Near the gold camps in Virginia City, Boulder, Clancy, Helena and Chico, bathhouses and hotels become popular stops for tired miners and those seeking health cures.
From 1890 to 1920, luxurious hotels were constructed across the state at various popular hot springs in order to lure travelers from the Northern Pacific Railroad lines to plunges and pools where they could enjoy the splendor of Montana’s natural waters for refreshment and good health. Large facilities were built at Chico near Emigrant, Corwin Springs at the entrance to Yellowstone Park, at Broadwater near Helena and at the site of Dr. A.J. Hunter’s discovery near Livingston.
While the grand hotel and resort at Hunter’s Hot Springs has been reduced by time and fire to a few piles of stones near a steaming creek in a pasture near Springdale, many of the original hot springs resorts across the state have evolved and flourished since the early days and have only become more popular with soaking enthusiasts.
Along with the developed, public hot springs facilities, Montana and Yellowstone Park also host a variety of relatively pristine soaking opportunities for those willing to venture off the beaten path to find soaking bliss.
For those interested in exploring every hot pool in the region, Jeff Birkby’s book provides an in-depth look at the soaking opportunities across both Montana and Wyoming along with maps, history, statistics and comprehensive information about each hot springs location.
Birkby, a Missoula-based writer, is also a former geothermal energy specialist for the Montana state energy office. The guide he has produced is extensive, thorough and updated every two years. He also recently published “Images of America: Montana’s Hot Springs” (Arcadia Press, 2018) which features archival photographs and extensive histories of springs across the state.
“We have about 120 known hot springs in Montana,” Birkby said in a recent interview with the Missoulian, “Forty or fifty had some level of development. Today maybe 30 still have public access, and about 20 are commercially operating.”
Among the list of hot springs soaks across Montana are more than a few hidden treasures. From the garden and camping compound at Norris Hot Springs in central Montana to Alameda’s Resort near Flathead Lake where guests soak in individual tubs, hot springs soaking opportunities abound across the state.
According to the Alameda’s Resort staff, buoyancy relieves the body of weight and the heat relaxes muscles during a good soak, often melting away aches and pains, even chronic ones. Every 2.8°F rise in water temperature in a bath actually doubles the body’s metabolism. Taking a soak puts the body in a good state for absorbing and processing the water’s content, as well as ridding it of toxins.
Another benefit from a soaking is derived from the trace mineral/element content of the water, which may differ by varying degrees from spring to spring. To be classified as mineral water, the water must contain dissolved solids at a minimum of 500 parts per million. Each spring has a unique mineral content and most springs across the state are happy to share the exact minerals in their pools and their potentially useful properties.
To get the most of a soaking experience, many recommend hydrating with pure water frequently while swimming or soaking as the hot water can have a dehydrating effect. This is to be especially noted when enjoying alcohol with a soak, a popular Montana hot spring pastime.
The following list of Montana’s hot spring facilities represents resorts and facilities open to the public for soaking. Most offer day use passes and only a few require a hotel or motel stay to enjoy the healing and relaxing properties of the waters.
Hot Springs. Mont.
About 70 miles north of Missoula lies the city of Hot Springs, Montana, a historic mecca for hot springs enthusiasts for over 100 years. The city boasts a number of hotels, inns, and plunges that take advantage of the area’s abundance of natural hot springs water.
Unlike many of the public soaking facilities available across Montana, Alameda’s Hot Springs Retreat mineral waters are available only to guests of the vintage 1930’s spa-motel.
All suites have private hot mineral baths, living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens and a southern-facing sun porch. There is no public outdoor pool on the property but there are several pools within walking distance in Hot Springs where guests can soak for a small fee.
Alameda’s also offers massage, holistic health services and space for group retreats. The facility regularly offers workshops in permaculture and sustainable living, and in music, meditation, and renewable energy. Its two hot water wells provide an ongoing source of the relaxing, lithium-rich mineral waters for which Hot Springs, Montana is noted.
Recent work at Alameda’s has focused on developing the geothermal heat potential of its wells as a source for heating greenhouses and growing algae for soil amendments, biofuels, and organic agriculture. www.alamedashotsprings.com
Hot Springs. Mont.
Big Medicine Hot Springs offers a primitive outdoor cement pool located in the geothermal city of Hot Springs. The Salish and Kootenai Indian tribes own the hot springs and bathhouse buildings.
The facility offers two soaking options, a large soaking pool and a smaller Jacuzzi which are emptied every night. A small, cash fee is charged.
Located 20 miles south of Helena, the Boulder Hot Springs Hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 12, 1979. The historic structure, featuring indoor plunges, an outdoor swimming pool and natural mineral steam rooms, still operates as a bed and breakfast inn as well as conference and event facility.
According to documents at the Montana Historical Society, prospector James Riley filed a claim on the land and water rights in 1860 and four years later built a crude bathhouse and tavern. New owners built a hotel in 1882, and in 1909, Butte millionaire James A. Murray purchased the hot springs and turned it into a luxury resort. In 1910 and 1913 and the west wing was remodeled in a California Mission style, including Tiffany glass lighting and hand-stenciled walls, a style which persists to this day.
In the 1960s, it was called the Diamond S Ranchotel and was known for its Saturday night smorgasbords which brought in as many as 500 people.
Now an alcohol and tobacco-free facility, the mission-style hotel features over a dozen rooms furnished with period antiques.
Guests of the hotel are welcome to use the hot springs facilities for no additional charge and the general public are welcome on weekends during the winter months.
The facility features an on-site restaurant specializing in organic meats, and “Montana-grown” specialties. The historic inn and spa sits on almost 300 acres of pristine meadows, wetlands and forest and is backed by Deerlodge National Forest. www.boulderhotsprings.com
In 1879, Jeremiah Mathews, a local wagon and carriage maker, purchased the springs and built a bathhouse with five private bathing rooms and a 14-foot by 18-foot plunge bath. Over the years, the springs has changed hands many times and included renovations as a resort and hotel and a dance hall.
Currently, the Bozeman Hot Springs is a soak-only facility featuring nearly a dozen indoor and outdoor pools ranging from 57-106° and a fitness center. A fire in 2008 prompted a modern renovation of the facilities to include a solarium, steam room, and dry sauna. New pools outside feature specialized lighting and a deck for live music performances year-round.
The facility is located about eight miles west of Bozeman. Next to the springs is a KOA campground with tent camping and RV parking. www.bozemanhotsprings.com
In 1865, Ferdinand and Caroline Wassweiler operated the original hot springs at the Broadwater location near Ten Mile Creek just three miles west of Last Chance Gulch in nearby Helena. The Wassweilers gained the title to the land and two hot water springs but sold their hotel and water rights to Colonel Charles Broadwater. Broadwater ran the Wassweilers’ hotel until 1889 when he added a giant stained-glass natatorium 300 feet long and 100 feet wide and the Broadwater hotel, a grand Moorish-style structure decorated with Persian rugs and French wallpaper, a short distance away.
The Wassweilers kept eighty acres and built a second hotel on the site in 1883. The bathhouse was eventually converted into cribs and ladies were imported to entertain miners. The new facility operated until 1904.
Soon after opening, the majestic Broadwater hotel soon faced economic struggles and foundered after it’s namesake’s early demise in the early 1890s and until Prohibition in the 1930s. An earthquake in 1935 finished off the extensive natatorium and the hotel and springs were largely unused from the 1940s to the late 1970s, when the facility was rebuilt and reopened as a pool and fitness center. New owners bought the Broadwater in 2015, added a restaurant and renovated the majority of the space to create a grill and tap room out of an existing fitness center.
The Broadwater pools and spas are all filled with natural hot springs water from an artesian well and cooled to comfortable temperatures with natural cold springs water that is exclusive to the Broadwater. Pools consist of a freeform saltwater “springs” pool, a hot tub and cold plunge, a high-temperature soaking pool and a recreation pool all available for year-round use.
Live poolside music is featured throughout the winter at the Broadwater and the on-site restaurant features a weekend brunch and a full menu. The adjacent taproom serves beverages to be enjoyed in the hot pools. www.broadwatermt.com
Located at the mouth of Emigrant Gulch, approximately 30 miles north of Yellowstone National Park, Chico was an early-day mining camp, dating back to the 1860s. The Chico Hot Springs resort is a couple of miles to the north of the townsite.
In 1900, Bill and Percie Knowles built Chico Warm Springs Hotel. The inn consisted of a plunge and a full-service dining area. Mr. Knowles operated the hotel until his death in 1910. Soon after, the operations of the resort were taken over by Dr. George A. Townsend and the doctor’s fame spread at such a rate that the resort needed additional boarding. Since that time, Chico Hot Springs has remained one of the most successful hot springs in Montana.
The natural hot springs have been gradually turned into a vacation resort. The resort consists of two pools, a bar, restaurant, hotel, and log cabins for lodging.
The hot springs are associated with a deep fracture zone but are probably not related to the nearby Yellowstone Hot Spot. Currently, there are two pools that collect the water from the springs for the use of resort and day guests. The pools are drained and scrubbed down every night in order to prevent the need to use chemicals in the water. The smaller pool is about 104 degrees Fahrenheit, with the larger pool being around 96 degrees Fahrenheit—though the temperature can vary depending on the geothermal activity.
The resort has various accommodations—a hotel and western-style cabins are available. Food is available in the Chico Dining Room or a poolside grill and tavern, a day spa features massage and other therapies, and the resort features a full-service conference and event center. An organic garden on site produces fresh herbs and vegetables for the Chico kitchens year-round from a geothermally-heated greenhouse on the property.
The poolside saloon features live music nearly every weekend of the year and the resort hosts an annual “block party” along with other special events throughout the year and beverages are served in plastic containers for guests to enjoy in the hot pools.
All of the original Chico buildings have deteriorated or been torn down, with the exception of the historic inn. The Art family rebuilt the property in 1973 and recent renovations have included adding more lodging facilities and updated locker rooms. In 2016, the property’s long-time manager Colin Davis assumed ownership of the resort. www.chicohotsprings.com
Located about 40 miles northwest of Dillon, Elkhorn Hot Springs was originally owned by the federal government as part of Beaverhead National Forest. The federal government relinquished ownership of the land and water rights were filed in 1905. Cabins and a horse stable were built near the site a year later.
The main lodge was built in 1921 and many existing cabins were built during the 1920s and 1930s. The rustic resort now has 11 log cabins with wood stoves or fireplaces as well as ten rooms on the second floor of the lodge.
Elkhorn Hot Springs is a year-round hot springs resort which offers two outdoor hot mineral pools, a Grecian sauna, a restaurant, and a bar. Guests enjoy hiking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, plus downhill skiing at nearby Maverick Mountain. Accommodations include rustic cabins, modern cabins, or lodge rooms.
The hot springs pools are naturally heated by geothermal energy and range in temperature from 92-102°F. The indoor wet sauna heats up to 104-106°F.
Cross-country skiing is available (conditions permitting) from generally Thanksgiving to the end of March on 12 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails laid out on a marked cloverleaf, to the top of Comet Mountain or to the old Elkhorn Mine. No fee is charged for trail usage. Trails are groomed weekly and rental equipment is available. Trails are located in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. www.elkhornhotsprings.com
Located 15 miles west of Butte, Fairmont Hot Springs features a full-service lodging and conference center surrounding natural hot-spring indoor and outdoor pools.
During winter, the pools are kept at about 91°F. Hot tubs are at 104°F.
American Indian tribes such as the Flathead, Nez Perce and Shoshone once set up tepees in the trees surrounding the hot waters at Fairmont Hot Springs and are said to have called the original 12 hot pools “Medicine Waters.”
In 1869, George and Eli Gregson acquired the hot springs from a squatter for $60. In the years to come, George and Eli built a well-furnished two-story hotel, a plunge bath and five large bathing rooms. A covered flume was used to conduct the hot and cold water to the bathhouses. In 1890, the Gregson Resort was leased to Miles French and a townsite was plotted in 1892. Soon after, the facility was sold again to new owners.
Many organizations and clubs held their annual picnics and parties at the springs, including a 1912 Butte Miners event with over 14,000 attendees. In 1914 , the dance hall and adjoining buildings caught fire and a week later the hotel plunge caught fire and burned along with the remaining buildings.
From the late 1910s to the early 1970s, the resort was rebuilt and continued its operations but was closed in 1971 after falling into disrepair. That same year, The Montana Standard reported that federal funds would help build a complex including an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, picnic area, outdoor pool and 190 guest rooms. In 1972 the remaining buildings were demolished to make way for the new complex.
The new construction began in 1972 under the direction of new owner Lloyd Wilder of Fairmont Hot Springs British Columbia. It was designed with an indoor pool and an even larger outdoor pool. A cabaret was once located on the second level which connected via an enclosed “bubble” walkway.
Although the ownership has changed a few times in recent years, Fairmont offers a new convention center in addition to the hot springs, golf, tennis and many outdoor recreation opportunities. Two large, main pools feature 168° water cooled to comfortable temperatures.
Fairmont Hot Springs Resort has 152 Guest rooms and suites, dining, hot springs, golf, and convention facilities. There are two Olympic-sized swimming pools, two mineral soaking pools, one of each located indoors and outdoors. A 350-foot enclosed waterslide is open year round and an on-site spa offers a variety of therapeutic treatments. Full-service restaurants, a lounge and a coffee bar are on-site.
Nearby winter-recreation options include ski-and-stay packages with Discovery Ski Area and Cross-country skiing at Mount Haggin Nordic Ski Trails, located less than 10 miles from Fairmont. The cross-country course has 20 kilometers of trails groomed both for classic cross-country skiing and skate skiing. www.fairmontmontana.com
Located between Wisdom and Dillon in Jackson, Montana, Jackson Hot Springs Lodge features a large walled but open-air pool kept between 94 degrees and 103 degrees. Other amenities include a restaurant, lodging and a full bar.
The history of the hot springs dates back to a visit from Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition who tarried at these waters in 1806 on his return trip from the Pacific Ocean.
Clark reported in his journal that the “Hot Springs Valley” was one of the most beautiful places he had seen. He noted: “we arrived at a Boiling Spring ... contains a very considerable quantity of water and actually blubbers with heat .. it has every appearance of boiling, too hot for a man to endure his hand in it for 3 seconds. I directed Sergt. Pryor and John Shields to put each a piece of meat in the water of different sizes. the one about the size of my 3 fingers cooked dun in 25 minits...”
Benoit O. Fournier took claim to the springs in 1884 and built his house and a plunge. In 1911, the facility was sold and improved upon, including the construction of piping to bring the water 1,300 feet from its source. In 1950, a rancher from Jackson Hole bought the springs and built a new log inn and hot springs pool for a cost of about $400,000 before passing the property on to various owners through the turn of the century.
Under new management since October 2018, the rustic Jackson Hot Springs Lodge features an old-fashioned dance floor with walls hung with mounted trophies from Montana and Africa. A cozy lobby with a tavern and fireplace sits at the center of a wide array of lodge rooms and cabins along with a full-service restaurant.
Two downhill ski areas are within an hour’s drive. Jackson Hot Springs Lodge is open through the winter for lodging, soaking and dining from Thursday through Sunday.
Southwest of Missoula in the Bitterroot region, Lolo Hot Springs sits perched high in the mountains on the Idaho border.
Historically, the area was a mineral lick for wild game and an ancient meeting place and bathing spot for American Indians in the region. The Lewis and Clark expedition stopped here in 1805 and again on their return east in 1806.
The modern facility is a developed resort with an outdoor swimming pool, an indoor hot plunge as well as gas, food, lodging, a saloon and casino, and camping facilities.
The swimming pool holds about 100,000 gallons of water with a complete change about every 1.5 days, and the soaking pool of 35,000 gallons has a complete change every four hours. Due to the long retention time for the pool, the water is chlorinated.
Lolo Hot Springs became a landmark point for early explorers and by 1885, it had become a favorite destination for local families and hunters. Today, there is a large outdoor swimming pool and an indoor soaking pool, both heated by the geothermal springs. There is also a hotel, restaurant and saloon. There is snowmobiling and cross-country skiing in the winter.
The Lewis and Clark expedition stopped at Lolo Hot Springs on both legs of their journey to the Pacific Ocean, in September of 1805 and in June of 1806:
“Those Worm or Hot Springs are Situated at the base of a hill of no considerable hight - these springs issue from the bottom and through the interstices of a grey freestone rock, the rock rises in irregular masy clifts in a circular range,“ Clark notes in his journal, adding, “…Both the Men and indians amused themselves with the use of the bath this evening. I observed after the indians remaining in the bath as long as they could bear it run and plunge themselves into the creek the water of which is now as cold as ice can make it; after remaining her a few mintis they return again to the worm bath repeeting the transision several times but always ending in the worm bath.”
In 1885, Fred Lemke purchased the springs and built a modest resort that featured a plunge, dressing room, cabins and store. In the late 1880s, Billy Boyle purchased the resort and provided stagecoach service to and from Missoula for a small fee. After a fire in 1903, a new owner took over the facility and doubled the size of the resort to nearly 400 acres. After a period of decline and closure in the 1960s and 1970s, the resort was purchased by the current owners in 1988.
The present-day facility sits 50 yards from the highway and is the western-most settlement along U.S. Highway 12 in Montana. The facility is open year-round and on most holidays.
Lost Trail, Mont.
About 80 miles south of Missoula off highway 83, the rustic resort of Lost Trail Hot Springs has long been a stopping place for travelers crossing the Continental Divide at Gibbons Pass.
Following settlement in the area in 1882, a 14-room hotel was built at the springs in 1885 by Frank Allen. Allen sold the property in 1897 James Gallogly, an assayer with the mines who bought out Allen’s interest in 1897. As the springs were still federal property, Gallogly had five years to prove up on them and eventually invited his two sisters and their families to join him.
Work began on a new highway in 1935, and the road builders made camp at the springs. They also built a new road connecting the springs with the highway. Gallogly rebuilt the springs at this time and two small cabins were built for the workmen. Water was piped one-half mile from the springs and a bathhouse and a residence were also constructed. In 1941, the pool, dining room, and dressing rooms were built. Gallogly died not too long after and the pool was closed to the public. In 1954, a private boys camp was held there but was it was not reopened to the public until the 1970s.
The current owners continue to develop the springs as a family resort. It now includes ten cabins, including two Jacuzzi cabins, a motel, family reunion lodge and RV park as well as the outdoor pool, indoor hot tub and dry sauna. A restaurant is open seasonally.
Lost Trail Powder Mountain is six miles south and Chief Joseph Cross Country Trails are one mile east. The area has twenty-five miles of groomed trails at the top of Chief Joseph Pass for snowshoeing, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.
Originally a gold mining camp, the town of Norris in southwest Montana was founded in 1865.
Gradually, the settlement eventually lost buildings to local ranches and shrunk to a current-day population of about 50 people. The Norris springs switched hands many times after being homesteaded by Charles Hapgood. By the 1930s the springs were known as the “Norris Plunge” and were managed by a community organization.
In 1972, Norris was purchased by the Zankowsky Family and then sold on a long-term mortgage to Arne Cohen. Under Cohen’s ownership, Norris became known for the clothing-optional “buff” nights and having the biggest beer selection in Montana.
Doris Zankowsky regained ownership of the property in 1997 and ran the springs until selling to the current owner, Holly Heinzmann in 2004. After a considerable renovation, the property continues to evolve with the planting of fruit trees and vegetable gardens and utilization of an on-site greenhouse.
Flowing at a constant rate of 60 gallons per minute, the water at Norris leaves the ground at a 120°F. To offset the heat, the water is cooled through a system of sprayers.
Norris features one pool fed by a series of artesian springs flowing at a constant rate of 60 gallons per minute with an average temperature of 120°F.
A stage at the end of the rustic, fir-lined pool regularly hosts local and traveling live bands and a winter snack bar on-site offers organic, locally-sourced meals along with beer and wine. A more extensive grill menu is offered in the summer months.
Norris is located about a 45-minute drive from downtown Bozeman and is open Thursday through Monday during the winter season. www.norrishotsprings.com
Potosi Hot Springs is not open for day use to the public but they do rent cabins and reserve two pools and a sauna for guests of the cabins. They are closed through the winter and will open cabin rentals again late April. All 4 cabins are listed on Airbnb: Bear Cabin, Moose Cabin, Trout Cabin, and Elk Cabin and are available for rent through the site.
The large pool settles in at around 93 degrees and is located next to a wood burning Sauna. An indoor tub stays around 102 degrees. Potosi has a 150-year history of swapping between public and private property but is now only open for use exclusively by guests at the cabins.
About 90 miles north of Missoula, Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort features an extensive, divided soaking pool and plunge, lodging and dining facilities.
Nestled in a ponderosa pine forest along a bend in the Clark Fork River, Quinn’s is named for the original claim holder of the springs, M.E. Quinn, a foreman for the nearby Pardee Mountain Mine. Quinn first noticed an American Indian encampment near steaming pools and soon after filed a homestead on the site and eventually built a bathhouse.
Guests could only reach the springs by traversing an arduous and steep trail from the above mountains but in 1905, Quinn constructed a hotel and by 1909 a railroad was laid through the valley. Guests could disembark at a swinging bridge over the river to reach the hot springs. In 1932, Quinn passed away and left the operation of the springs to his descendants. His grandsons built the current lodge, tavern and dining room in 1952 and further additions were made in the 70s and 80s.
The modern resort facility boasts six interconnected pools for soaking as well as swimming, and private tubs. The pools range from 60°F to 106°F. An on-site restaurant and tavern offers food and drink service.
Rooms and cabins are available in and adjacent to the lodge, including an adults-only section of riverside cabins. A new event center, Paradise Hall, opened in fall 2015. Quinn’s is open seven days a week year-round. www.quinnshotsprings.com
This soaking facility can be found just west of Big Medicine in the old Camas Recreation Center on the NW corner of Spring Street and North Road in Hot Springs.
An outdoor pool offers hot mineral water soaking and the recreation center is home to yoga classes and acupressure and reflexology therapies.
Evidence of the heyday of Hot Springs as a bather’s healing paradise can be seen about a hundred yards to the east of Rose’s Plunge. The remains of the Camas Resort Building are all that is left of the $400,000 Camas Bathhouse, built in 1949 by the Salish and Kootenai tribes.
The facility featured mud and mineral baths in sky-blue tubs, an outdoor swimming pool and a two-tiered bathhouse where guests could also partake of steam baths and massage therapy. The bathhouse closed in the late 1970s when the town was facing economic hardships but the popularity of soaking in the available modern mineral springs facilities is still driving a hot-springs based economy in the small town.
Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs has attracted bathers from North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Montana since the 1920s. The source of Sleeping Buffalo’s hot water is a 3,200 ft. deep well that produces more than 900 gallons per minute of 108°F degree water.
Originally, a wildcat oil rigger was testing the area for oil. At 3,100 feet it struck a gushing well of hot water which flowed with 500 pounds per square inch. Drilling was abandoned and the well was allowed to flow for several years.
Elbert Davison, a Saco rancher, had a son stricken with polio. He conceived the idea of building a wooden tub around the hot mineral water and bringing his boy down to soak in the hot water. The results were so beneficial that soon others were making use of it and a larger pool was made of wooden railroad ties.
The American Legion Posts of Malta, Saco and Hinsdale combined their efforts to get the escaping natural gas shut off without stopping the flow of water. Some residents of this area still remember when a match could be thrown over the well and the escaping gas would ignite, burning until a high wind came along to blow it out.
President Roosevelt’s New Deal came into effect in the midst of the depression years and a program called the Resettlement Administration was looking for projects of a recreational nature to provide employment. The hot water “plunge” as it was known, was an ideal location for work of this type. Thus began the Legion Health Resort.
Newly remodeled and reopened in 2014, the resort now includes multiple pools, a sauna room and five cabins for lodging. Original stone and wood features have also been restored in the facility. Open year round. Winter hours are Wednesday through Sunday for day use and seven days a week for cabin guests. www.sbhotsprings.com
White Sulphur Springs
The Spa Hot Springs provides a variety of rooms and newly-added cabins with a small-town Montana atmosphere. The facilities feature three mineral hot springs pools: two outdoors and one indoor which are drained, cleaned, and refilled every night with no chemicals added.
Large murals of Western natural scenes overlook the outside pool. The paintings were created by artist Mike Mahoney. Mahoney is a life-long Montanan who has created commissions for clients like the Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Boone & Crockett Club, Trout Unlimited, and the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
For hundreds and perhaps thousands of years, people have used the natural hot springs in the White Sulphur area. In 1872, James Brewer built a popular plunge at the site that was frequented by gold miners from the surrounding Castle mountains. The springs were sold to Dr. William Parberry in 1872 but the resort was still on the edge of the frontier so Dr. Parberry provided stands of arms and ammunition to fend off any potential attack from American Indians adjusting to a changing landscape in the West.
In 1882, Dr. Parberry helped build a new town, White Sulphur Springs, around the resort and the facility became popular with locals. Although it never became a destination springs like others around the state, the water was bottled for a time and sold as an “anti-intoxicant” across Montana.
The facility was rebuilt in the 1950s and subsequently purchased by Dr. Gene Gudmundson. Dr. Gudmundson spearheaded the creation of the Montana Mineral Association in 1994, an organization who helped pass a bill in the Montana Legislature to distinguish regulations between mineral hot springs and swimming pools. The bill became state law in 1995 and mineral springs owners were allowed to make the most of the mineral content of their waters rather than be subject to artificial chlorination, provided the water was exchanged every eight hours and pools were drained and cleaned every 72 hours.
The Spa Hot Springs Motel is 35 miles from Showdown Ski Area and the Kings Hill pass which offers easy access to over 200 miles of groomed and marked snowmobile and cross-country trails.
As a quote posted in the resort reads, “We are not presumptuous enough to add chemicals of any kind to what is already the best water nature has to offer,” the water content is laden with minerals. The effect of the spring water has often been compared to similar soaking water in Baden-Baden, Germany which was discovered by the Romans over 2,000 years ago and has since been hailed for its healing powers.
Open year-round and seven days a week in the winter for lodging and day use soaking.
A three-unit vacation rental in Hot Springs, Still Waters Mineral Springs has remodeled what was once a six-unit kitchenette motel and created three spacious suites.
The facility has a modest outdoor on-site soak that free flows with geothermal hot springs water. The full bathrooms in the suites also offer private soaking tubs.
Suites are available year-round. www.stillwatersmineralsprings.com
The present-day Symes Hot Springs Hotel has been in operation since 1928. An artesian well into a shallow aquifer feeds hot mineral waters into a flow-through pool in the front of the hotel.
The upper pool is toasty at 104°F while the lower pool is more sustainable for most bathers, around 100°F, with a waterfall between the two pools.
One of the last remaining grand resort hotels, the Symes Hotel has over two dozen rooms available, including a Jacuzzi Suite with jetted mineral spa, cabins, studio apartments, a restaurant and an events center.
The bath wing still has four of the original claw-foot tubs in private stalls for bathing and a new two-person jetted tub and a jacuzzi steam available for rent by the hour. The hotel also offers Swedish massage, hot rock therapy, exfoliation and wraps.
Native peoples occupied the Little Bitterroot River Valley and used its healing hot springs long before European trappers and traders arrived in the early 1800s. In 1855, an 80-acre area around the hot springs was set aside as a government reserve.
In 1910, the Flathead Reservation opened to homesteading and the sale of tribal allotments, along with the land of early settler Ed Lamereaux, became the townsite of Hot Springs. Originally platted as Pineville, the town lies astride Hot Springs Creek within the modern borders of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation.
Businessman Fred Symes purchased the property in 1929 and built a $50,000 Mission-style hotel, completed in early 1930. European-American settlers flocked to the hot springs and residents catered to visitors seeking the healing power of mineral waters.
The Symes Hotel also offers live music on some weekends during the winter season.
The hotel and mineral pools are open year-round. www.symeshotsprings.com
Wild Horse Hot Springs features a half dozen private soaking plunges in a remote location just outside the town of Hot Springs. The site sits on an artesian geyser known as the “Mother Dragon Geyser” which delivers 1,200 gallons of hot water per minute to the location near the Little Bitterroot River.
The area surrounding the springs was homesteaded by Mollie Bartlett, the daughter of Montana’s second governor. When she drilled a well in 1912, she hit a pocket of hot water so large it shot out of the ground and created a large hole, causing nearby structures to be moved in order to avoid flooding.
Since that time, soakers have traveled to the springs to bathe in the water, including use in the 1940s as the Montana Warm Waters Project for Crippled Children for youth afflicted by polio. In the 1980s, a public resort was built on the property.
The highway and gravel road to the facility are plowed in the winter and the springs are open year-round. www.wildhorsehotsprings.com
In 1909, Dr. F.E. Corwin, a physician formerly employed by Chico Hot Springs and then the Electric Hot Springs Company, built an impressive 86-room Mission-style hotel and spa less than eight miles north of Gardiner and promoted it as a health resort, piping 154°F water from nearby La Duke Springs. A bridge across the Yellowstone River made the springs accessible to Northern Pacific Railroad passengers headed for Yellowstone National Park.
A fire in 1916 destroyed the hotel but the pool and some cabins survived and operated into the 1920s. Walter J. Hill, son of railroad baron James J. Hill, acquired the property in 1929 and rebuilt the pool as an open-air plunge and advertised the swimming pool, modern cabins, a golf course and a clubhouse with a dining room.
The current incarnation of the springs is a large facility with concrete soaking Yellowstone Hot Springs is located six miles north of Gardiner on the banks of the Yellowstone River. The facility has a 3,750-square-foot pool with an average temperature of 102°F. A hot plunge is 104°F, while a cold plunge is 70°F.
Open Tuesday through Sunday, closed Monday.
The Yellowstone Hot Springs is now open for soaking. For dates and times of operation, visit
https://YellowstoneHotSpringsMT.com/ or call (833) 977-7464.