Other travel stories

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Going for the Gold in Montana
A Trip to Lewis & Clark Caverns
Ramblin' Around the World Museum of Mining
Retracing the Nez Perce National Historic Trail through Montana
 
Montana's Hot Spring Resorts
by George Everett

In Montana, especially in Butte, winter includes any month with an "R" in its name. While the winters are long, however, the bitter bite of the season is tempered by an abundance of natural hot springs.

Winter visitors to Montana if they are lucky will find themselves in hot water and liking it, soaking in pools, both indoor and outdoor, in water that gushes up from the ground at between 100 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Several hot springs resorts throughout Montana invite visitors to stop in after a day of outdoor activities to soothe aching muscles. Others come to take the plunge and flaunt the winter cold by sitting in swimsuits in heated pools with icicles dangling on their hair.

Most Montana hot springs are usually remote and require planning to visit. However, at least one, Fairmont Hot Springs, thirteen miles west of Butte is easily accessible from the interstate highway. If looking for a time-share condo in a convention center around a hot pool with an 18-hole golf course, a petting zoo, tennis courts, a three-story water slide, and plenty of space for an RV hookup, consider Fairmont Hot Springs, about 15 miles west of Butte on Interstate 90. For more details, contact
Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, Anaconda, MT 59711; (406) 797-3241.

Norris Hot Springs by Tom C. MurphyAt the other end of the spectrum is Norris Hot Springs just east of Norris, a little crossroads town about halfway between Bozeman, Yellowstone National Park and Butte on Montana Route 84. One of the original draws to Norris was gold. From 1864-1930 about $4 million dollars worth was taken from several claims in the area. What gold miners found here were hot springs that soothed their bones after a long day of digging for treasure.

Today, new owners are bringing new energy to Norris Hot Springs. The plunge is the center of a clean, family-oriented resort that features an artesian fountain that sprays over the 30’ x 40’ pool. While adding a soothing rainlike effect to the open-air pool’s west half, the fountain helps to regulate the water temperature which remains at about 107 degrees.

The new owners have installed a commercial kitchen and are now serving quality food at the remote resort. In the summer, the resort offers a campground for those who want to linger for a few days.

For those lucky enough to stop by on Thursday, Friday or Sunday evening from 7 pm to 9 pm, there is live music poolside by award-winning musicians, including mandolin-playing co-owner Tom Murphy. For more details including what's on the menu in their commercial kitchen or what musicians are playing when, contact Norris Hot Springs, Route 84, Norris, MT 59745; (406) 685-3303.
 
Jackson Hot Springs, is the horse in the one-horse town of Jackson, a tiny town in the middle of the Big Hole Valley. Cattle is still king here where the only dots on the landscape are the cows and about 10,000 unbaled haystacks put up in the old style by beavertail slides in huge mounds surrounded by fences.

The hot springs pool is adjacent to the lodge where the walls are festooned with stuffed ungulates with large racks and the floor is a polished dark wood for dancing in boots and jeans. Nine-foot long skis on the wall remind visitors of some colorful local history. In the 1860s a Basque who delivered the mail on these skis was gunned down during a poker game. The local residents hung the culprit the next day. Justice was made swifter because of the public outrage that the mail would not be delivered for four more months until spring because nobody else knew how to use the skis.

The atmosphere is considerably more hospitable now and visitors are welcomed with warm rooms, good food and, of course, a hot spring pool that hovers between 95 and 105 degrees. For details, contact Jackson Hot Springs Lodge, Box 808, Jackson, MT 59736; (406) 834-3151.

Elkhorn Hot Springs sits about 40 miles northwest of Dillon on Highway 278 and about 25 miles from the middle of nowhere. The lodge was built with the enthusiasm of a recently married cowboy in the 1920s, but still stands sturdy today. The surrounding cabins offer the amenities of a woodstove and little more, but they are comfortable and close to the hot pools. Forty kilometers of groomed cross country skiing trails surround Elkhorn, and its proximity to Maverick Mountain, a downhill ski area also makes it a popular destination for skiers in the winter.

However, its remote location also makes it worth a visit any time of year if looking for a tranquil place to swim. The closest business establishment is the Polar Bar, a one room drinking parlor in Polaris about 10 miles down the road. After that we're talking about no services for 40 miles so gas up beforehand and be sure to bring a spare tire. For more information, write or call Elkhorn Hot Springs, Box 514, Polaris, MT 59746; (406) 834-3434.

About a half hour north of Butte is Boulder Hot Springs. The waters here have had an international reputation for their healing potential for more than 100 years. A Spanish mission style resort hotel was built here and has served to provide physical and spiritual renewal and comfort for visitors to this remote resort since 1890. In 1909 James A. Murray, Butte banker and millionaire friend of Marcus Daly purchased the property. Murray invested in renovating the building and his affection for California and its architecture led to the resort's Spanish mission appearance today.

Lately, the resort has been renovated by a limited partnership that includes psychotherapist and author Ann Wilson Schaef. While some of the guests are there to attend structured group therapy sessions, the pool and bed and breakfast are open to the general public. There are separate indoor plunges for men and women and an outdoor pool. For more information, contact
Boulder Hot Springs Bed & Breakfast, P.O. Box 930, Boulder, MT  59632; (406) 225-4339, or fax at (406) 225-4345.

Like many of Montana's hot spring resorts, Lost Trail Hot Springs is located near a ski area but a remote one in the Southwest tip of the state. The pool and resort are nestled near the bottom of Chief Joseph Pass down the mountain from the Lost Trail Ski Area not far from the Bitterroot- Selway Wilderness. The pool is outdoors under the pines, and, at night, under the stars. For more information, write or call, Lost Trail Hot Springs,One of the most hospitable of Montana's hot spring resorts is Chico Hot Springs. Chico is a historic hotel built at the turn of the century that offers simple but comfortable rooms for guests who come to enjoy the warm waters and indulge in the hydrotherapy, and massages available.

The hotel is built up around a hot springs swimming pool but Chico is more than a place to swim. The Chico Inn restaurant offers world-class cuisine a half hour's drive north of Yellowstone National Park.
Local trout, stuffed steak fillets, and fresh seafood make the menu sparkle. Sunday buffets are built around baked salmon and a dozen different pastries amidst the setting of barn wood walls draped with paintings by Russell Chatham and other local artists.

Chico was built at the base of Emigrant Peak, the tallest mountain in the nearby Absaroka range and only three miles from the Yellowstone River, famous for its trophy trout. For more information, contact
Chico Hot Springs, Pray, MT 59065; 1-(800) HOT-WADA.

For a comprehensive listing of Montana's hot spring resorts including maps and other details, write or call for a free Montana Travel Planner to
Travel Montana, 1424 9th Ave., Helena, MT 59620; 1-(800) 541-1447.
This site is designed and maintained by George Everett.
© 2005 by George Everett. All rights reserved.
An earlier version of this story appeared in The Denver Post.

 
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