A Guide to Montana’s Best Hot Springs

The Washington winter blues are stronger than ever this year. In my mind, the only remedy was a spontaneous road trip to soak in some of Montana’s premier hot springs. After convincing my friend Natalie to join (which took little effort), talking with the MT locals, and nights of sleeping in the back of my Subaru in between trying out a few, I bring you details on a few favorite winter springs and some factors you need to know before bracing the snow. 

Lolo Hot Springs
In the Lolo National Forest sits a rustic refuge featuring heated cabins, a full-service restaurant, and a natural hot spring that sits in a rustic barn, held up by gorgeous raw wood beams. This hot spring location was a prominent spot, popular among the local Native Americans, before the arrival of Lewis and Clark in the fall of 1805. The energy on the property feels denser because of its past. This spring is developed, meaning that the 105 degree natural mineral water is pumped into a man-made pool each day. The pool sits in a barn with translucent, slightly tattered roof that allows for natural sunlight during the day, and the stargazing experience of a lifetime at night. I loved the accessibility of this location and the opportunity to rest in a private heated cabin after soaking. Being family and dog friendly, this destination is a must for those looking to relax and rejuvenate without the uncertainty of trail and weather conditions.

Weir Creek Hot Springs
40 miles west of Lolo on highway 12, over a magic mountain pass and parallel to the Lochsa River, lies the trailhead to an adventurous option for those who seek to put in a bit of work in for a rewarding soak in the middle of the wilderness. The mile-long hike may seem like an easy stroll in the woods for the advanced hiker, but don’t be fooled by the short distance. In the winter, this steep trail becomes incredibly slippery, with only about a foot of space to walk between the trees to your left and an icy hillside that drops 50 ft to your right- bring good boots and microspikes. Natalie and I witnessed a hiker in front of us, wearing only sneakers, slide down the hillside, and we then sprung into our own “emergency rescue mission,” by pulling him back up to the trail with our dog leash. Laughter came from both exasperated parties, but the reality of the situation was serious- we were lucky to be there to help him out. We pushed forward with the kind of eager anticipation that had our hearts dancing and dropping at the same time, looking for the infamous steam ahead. We were thankful to be greeted by rope further up the trail in the steepest parts, tied taut between tree stumps that helped us do a lot more hiking and a lot less butt-scooting. 

Once we arrived at the hot spring, we were encapsulated by its natural beauty. We set our packs down, stripped, and stepped straight in. A 105 degree natural stream runs and pools variously into a rocky hillside, rimmed with natural rock. The larger pool sits about 8 people comfortably, but thankfully we shared it with just a few other admirers. This one felt extra relaxing, as panoramic views of the surrounding wilderness gave it an extra sense of stillness. You could hear the settled rush of the moving water in the river below, and the rain softly fell like happy tears, creating continuous ripples with every drop that were swallowed up by the warmth of the pool, becoming a part of the natural cocktail we sat in. Hypnotized by this natural circulation and the surrounding snow-covered forest, we fell lost to the moment. So lost that by the time we decided to brace the hike out before sunset, we regrettably realized that our packs and clothes were exposed and damp with rainwater. This lesson learned serves as a reminder to either set your gear under a covered area or remember a bag cover, which can be as simple as a large trash bag.

Quinn’s Hot Spring Resort 
North of the Lolo National Forest in the town of Paradise, (yes, actual Paradise) tucked along the banks of the Clark Fork, lies Quinn’s- a privately owned property made up of 2 lodges and over 25 canyon and river-side cabins, both rustic and luxury like a hand carved guitar. Their hot springs are also 100% natural, but broken up into developed geothermal pools that are individually calibrated to offer a variety of inviting temperatures that range from 89 to 106 degrees. When greeted at check-in, the team at Quinn’s can tell you about their phenomenal bar and restaurant on-site, show you to your room, and guide you through the benefits of hot springs for the mind, body, and spirit. I especially loved the variety of temperatures of their outdoor pools. I was able to jump from one to the other, my version of “contrast bath therapy” which has been used for centuries to reduce inflammation, swollen injuries, and to aid sore muscles. 

Soaking in hot springs presents itself through many forms in our current day lives, giving us options on how we would like to experience it. Whether you are someone who is looking for a relaxing getaway or seeking a grand venture to some of the most untapped springs in the wild, I invite you to take what you want and leave what you don’t, creating your own escape and connecting to this sacred practice. 

Soak it all in, 

Madison Ford

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