Live Music, Hot Soaks and Local Food: Norris Hot Springs
Norris Hot Springs, located about a 45-minute drive from Bozeman, features a natural hot springs pool fed by a series of artesian springs. A stage at the end of the rustic, fir-lined pool regularly hosts local and traveling live bands and a winter snack bar/summer grill on-site offers organic, locally-sourced meals along with beer and wine.
Beverages are served in reusable plastic cups and the menu at the 50-Mile Snack Bar/Grill features fresh ingredients from less than fifty miles away as well as from an on-site greenhouse.
In the 1970s, Norris was known for “buff nights” where clothing was optional and also later having the largest (glass bottle) selection of beers in the area. Since being purchased by Holly Heinzmann in 2004, the facility has evolved to become a destination location for live music, hot soaks and local food. The slower winter season provides a time for Heinzmann to reflect on the past 15 years of ownership.
Montana Press: What sets Norris Hot Springs apart from other hot springs around Montana?
Holly Heinzmann: The authentic, rustic nature of Norris is the draw for most people. Our pool is lined with locally-milled fir planks with the artesian spring water bubbling up between the boards. It’s exactly like the pool built by miners in the 1880s, except they didn’t have power for pumps to cool the 120°F water.
MP: When did you acquire Norris Hot Springs and what are some of the most significant changes or updates you have made to the facility?
HH: I bought the springs property in May of 2004. A week later, with a group of very fine locals, we removed the barbed wire, astroturf, chicken wire, bleach bucket ashtrays, concertina wire, sodium vapor yard lights, and a myriad of angry signs. The wooden fence facing the wetland was replaced with chain link, to the consternation of the regulars, who were sure we had created a wind tunnel, as if you could make Norris windier!
A year later, for two weeks in May of 2005, again with the help of super-humans, we moved the dome to a newly built deck adjacent to the pool to provide for our weekend music events, rolled the four metal sheds on logs so that their roof lines were contiguous, and clad those sheds with the pool fence boards. A patio was added to the side of the pool. Who knew the bluegrass group The Tall Boys had that skill? I believe they did it in two days.
The men’s dressing room was moved back off of the concrete walkway and onto a new floor to open up the view, and a non-view-obstructing fence was added behind the dome and to the wetland side of the pool.
The fenced area was enlarged following the land’s contours to include a grassy area for tables and in the back, porta-potties. No one really likes them but everyone will admit they are the cleanest porta-potties they’ve ever seen. Prior to this, soakers had to walk way down past the driveway to use the facilities, which weren’t always open. I think we can all admit it couldn’t have perpetuated a pristine pool.
Speaking of which, we have a new group of super-humans, also called staff, and they power wash the pool for hours every week. The spring water at Norris has always been amazing but a clean pool full of healing spring water, consistent hours and pool temperatures, these are the significant changes made since 2004.
I also have to mention the food. The offerings when I took over were off-brand candy and artificially flavored drinks. Now, we serve hundreds of plates of local, organic, sustainable, fresh food that we’re very proud of.
MP: What is one of your fondest memories in the evolution of Norris Hot Springs since you acquired the property?
HH: That first week, that first piece of fence being removed, exposing the view of pristine wetland and scrubby hills. The vision I had for a little local plunge set in a wondrous Montana landscape: there it was.
MP: What are some of the special activities available at the hot springs during the winter season?
HH: We bring our special activities to the stage with every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night’s musical performances. A quiet weeknight soak or a weekend morning with the kids still appeals to our regulars but folks seem to love listening to music under the stars.
We feature acoustic folk, blues, rock, bluegrass and Americana/roots music, quality over rowdy, and we rotate musicians to keep things fresh and to introduce new performers. We’re very proud and pleased with our regular local line-up: Heather Lingle, Tom Catmull, Jacob Rountree, the Lucky Valentines, Christy Hays and Aran Buzzaz, among many, many note-worthy others.
On Jan. 11, Relación Brevísima, a new trio performs in Spanish and Portuguese with loops, trumpet and bongos, not your standard Montana fare. February brings a songwriter named Leah Woods who trades performing in New York for skiing in Montana, and a one-man-band called The March Divide who has some serious buzz. This is the first performance at NHS for both of these musicians.
MP: How do you maintain a locally-sourced menu at the restaurant during the winter?
HH: Sourcing local food in our area has become much easier. As we set up shop, the search was on for local farmers and ranchers producing organic produce and pasture-raised grass-fed meat. They were here but not necessarily marketing their wares. We would visit the farms to see what was available and to pick up our orders. Now though, there are several fine local distributors of local, organic and grass-fed products, with order sheets and price lists, and they even deliver.
Our menu relies heavily on produce from our own garden - we harvested over 2800 pounds this year alone - and we are able to dry, store or freeze enough vegetables, herbs, and fruit to use all winter in our soups and specials. Each spring, our greenhouse is planted in early to mid-March, allowing us to offer our homegrown salads when the grill opens the first weekend in May.
MP: Do you see the focus on environmental stewardship a benefit or a challenge as far as running a business in Montana? How so?
HH: It’s a huge benefit and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to care-take this property. Thanks to the Montana Conservation District, and with the commitment of many hardy super-human helpers, we’ve been able to plant and irrigate over 1000 trees, shrubs and perennials plants over the last 15 years.
The transformation of the property to a shady summer oasis has been a very fulfilling reward. The challenge is to keep plants watered and alive. The benefit is food for birds and people, and lots of shade. The trees create habitat, help to break the wind, protect from run-off and erosion, and are beautiful to behold. The environmental health of the land is obvious in the increased bird and wildlife populations and the productive garden and lush wetlands. I get to live here and I feel very lucky to be able to share it. I can’t wait to see how it will look in 15 more years.
MP: Are there any special plans or projects in the works for Norris Hot Springs in 2019?
HH: Heaters are being added to the dressing rooms this season, I have no idea why it took me so long to get that done. (Sorry everyone!) Our cafe business has grown amazingly, particularly in the summer season when the pop-up grill rocks, so we’re prepping to enlarge both the facility and our offerings. Stay tuned. Definitely try our grill in the summer, May through September and if you don’t grow a garden, you’ll never have a fresher, more delicious salad or side of grilled vegetables than we serve up.
Norris Hot Springs operates Thursday through Monday during the winter.
Designated drivers receive a free soaking pass.