During the winter, hitting up a hot spring is a no brainer. Overpopulating social media is the iconic image of such an adventure: a beanie-clad individual lounging in a steaming forest pool, sipping a thermos surrounded by snowdrifts.
The shoulder season, however, is when geothermal bathing really shines. The crowds that normally flock hot springs during vacation season and the hazards of icy trails needed to access the springs are both gone.
Whether you’re seeking a quick afternoon jaunt, and long overnight trip, swanky tubs or natural pools, there’s plenty of options in western Montana.
Wild Horse Hot Springs
Located just north of Hot Springs, Wild Horse is powered by the Mother Dragon artesian geyser that was supposedly discovered by the daughter of Montana’s third governor, Robert Smith. Two hot water wells feed into 14 different pools, or “plunges,” that range from 95 to 128 degrees. The plunges consist of in-ground concrete pools and large horse troughs, and each features a hot water valve allowing guests to control the temperature. For a lingering experience, there are several cabins on the property that can be rented for the night!
Symes Hot Springs Hotel
Symes Hot Springs Hotel and Mineral Baths was built in 1930 by Fred Symes, and the original building featured 20 mineral baths that drew water from below Hot Springs Creek. A visit to the hotel can transport you back a century, replete with an escape from modern technology and old-fashioned hospitality. There are 31 rooms including a jacuzzi suite with jetted mineral water. Two large pools offer outdoor soaking options in front of the hotel while the bath wing features four original clawfoot tubs in private stalls.
Quinn’s Hot Springs
For the luxurious soaker, Quinn’s Hot Springs outside of Paradise is the only way to go. The built-out resort has seven large pools ranging from 100 to 106 degrees as well as a frigid cold plunge. Two of the pools are salt treated and maintained at a slightly cooler temperature range to allow swimmers of all ages. Quinn’s is best enjoyed as an overnight guest, which allows for late night and early morning soaking. The resort has two lodges and more than two dozen river-side and canyon-view cabins.
Jerry Johnson Hot Springs
While a solid trek, Jerry Johnson is a western Montana classic, despite actually being located just across the border in Idaho. The three-hour trip south of the Flathead to Lolo Pass is worth it though, to reach the multiple pools that make up Jerry Johnson. A mile-long creek-side trail leads to the various soaking opportunities. While this is a popular destination due to its proximity to Missoula, on a quiet day it is a near-perfect, and free, experience.