Hot water gurgles up all over the state, and it’s exploited to one degree or another by a wide variety of resorts, from the rustic to the chic. Be sure to bring a swimsuit — these aren’t clothing-optional spots! A breakneck tour of the state’s hot springs can be done in a few days, but chances are you’d rather relax and make this into a weeklong trip.
The town of Hot Springs is a good place to kick off your tour. It’s pretty down-home, so it’ll get you used to a slower pace right off the bat. Here you can stay at the Symes Hotel, swim in the outdoor pool, and bathe in an old-fashioned tub filled with sulfurous water. Don’t rush out of town before stopping at Wild Horse Hot Springs, where the private plunges and steam rooms take rusticity to a new — and surprisingly heavenly — level.
Head southeast to Paradise for a swim at Quinn’s Hot Springs, and then farther on to the Bitterroot Valley, where you’ll find Lolo Hot Springs. This is a good place to spend the night; you can think of Lewis and Clark and their crew cleaning up here after months on the road.
The next day, continue south to Sula to the Lost Trail Hot Springs with its nice outdoor pool, indoor hot tub and saunas, lodge, cabins, and campground.
Moving on from the Bitterroot Valley to the Big Hole, Jackson Hot Springs is the main thing going in Jackson, and it is another good place to spend a night.
But don’t miss Elkhorn Hot Springs in Polaris, another rustic place with cabins and a lodge.
Traveling northeast you’ll find Fairmont Hot Springs near Anaconda, which has large pools and full resort facilities. Stay here if you like the more luxurious style, or travel about 35 miles north on I-15 to visit Boulder Hot Springs (406/225-4339), a huge and partially renovated old hotel with a nice outdoor pool and indoor plunges.
From White Sulphur Springs, it’s another Montana-sized jaunt of 100 miles down Highway 89 to Pray and the state’s crown jewel of hot springs, Chico Hot Springs, home of a huge outdoor pool, a cool old lodge, and tons of atmosphere. Plan to stay here for at least one night and then head back north.
You can also visit the pools and day spa at Bozeman Hot Springs in Bozeman. From the “Four Corners” intersection right near Bozeman Hot Springs, head about 25 miles west on Highway 84 to Norris Hot Springs, a charming pool filled with the “water of the gods.”
One last stop, for those travelers who have ample budgets, is Potosi Hot Springs (1 South Willow Creek Road, 888/685-1695, 406/685-3330), up the road from Norris, past the tiny town of Pony. If your wallet’s too thin to take in Potosi, drag your wrinkled body out of that pool at Norris and get moving toward home!
Excerpted from the Eighth Edition of Moon Montana.