Chico Hot Springs (406/333-4933 or 800/468-9232, www.chicohotsprings.com, $49–355), halfway between Livingston and Gardiner in Pray, is the sort of spot you want all your friends to know about and everybody else to ignore. The lodge here is built around a large hot springs–fed swimming pool. The original rooms in the circa-1900 lodge are cramped and Spartan, but the rooms aren’t where most guests spend their time (and rooms in the lodge addition and the newer cabins and cottages are spacious and nicely furnished).
Yellowstone National Park is right down the road, and there’s plenty of hiking and fishing in the Paradise Valley, soaking and swimming in the pool, elegant dinners in the hotel dining room, and rowdy good times in the lively bar. There’s an outfitter on the premises with horses, fishing gear, and bicycles for rent. Rooms in the main lodge start at $49 for a very small room with shared bath and run to $89 (private bath); newer lodge buildings have rooms ranging $125–225; there are cabins (no kitchens) for $79–89, and log houses for $169–355. Dogs are permitted in the rooms at Chico ($20 per stay).
Although Chico is the most renowned place to stay in the Paradise Valley, there are several other good places to stay between Livingston and Gardiner.
Pine Creek Store & Lodge (2496 East River Rd., 406/222-3628, www.pinecreeklodgemontana.com, June–Sept., $60–80), 12 miles south of Livingston, rents quintessential Montana resort cabins in a friendly community with easy fishing access to the Yellowstone. The fairly rustic cabins, all with electric heat, sleep 2–6 people, and pets are allowed. The excellent Pine Creek Café, open Wednesday–Sunday, is also part of the complex.
Just up the road from the hot springs, find the Homestead Cabin at Old Chico (406/333-4772, www.homesteadcabin.com, $135–195, $750–1,000 per week). The tiny community of Old Chico consists of a scattering of old cabins; this one has been fixed up in a way that retains a sense of rusticity but adds a touch of elegance. The cabin sleeps four and has a full kitchen; pets are permitted ($20).
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition