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With most visitors flocking to Montana to fly-fish, ski, backpack, or ride horses, Big Sky Country’s hot springs largely fall under the radar. Which is a shame, because with 61 known springs, from high-end resorts to natural pools deep in the wilderness, the state is home to one of the highest concentrations of these geothermic wonders in the United States. With most of the springs clustered around the southwest portion of the state, they’re begging for a mini road trip this fall. We rounded up our favorites, so grab a swimsuit and fill up your tank.
Bozeman Hot Springs
One of the few hot springs on our list near an urban center, this oasis, eight miles west of Bozeman, is a popular hangout for everyone from local high school kids to the occasional visiting celeb, including Justin Bieber and Arnold Schwarzenegger. With eight indoor pools, four new outdoor pools, and a full fitness facility, the 128-year-old resort is perfect for socializing or working out. On Thursdays and Fridays, you can enjoy live music on the outdoor stage from the comfort of your deck chair. This is a dry facility, so you have the perfect excuse to visit the other kind of watering hole in downtown Bozeman afterward. Our favorites? Crystal Bar and the Bozeman Eagles Club.
The Boiling River
Yellowstone National Park
If you’d rather skip the resorts, head into Yellowstone National Park to take a dip in a section of the Gardner River that’s heated by overflow from a natural hot spring known as the Boiling River. Located just a few minutes from the park’s northern entrance, near the town of Gardiner, this is one of the few places you can actually enjoy a thermal soak inside Yellowstone. It’s open year-round except during spring and early summer, when high water from snowmelt makes it too dangerous. You likely won’t have the river to yourself, but in fall the crowds are smaller and it’s easier to enjoy the rushing water and steam clouds that rise from the rocky shores. While in the area, be sure to check out the bison in Lamar Valley, or head deeper into the park to snap some pics of the stunning Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Norris Hot Springs
Once known for its crazy party scene, this funky little spot located 35 miles west of Bozeman in the Madison River Valley now attracts a laid-back and eclectic crowd looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience. You’ll spot everyone from families to leather-clad bikers enjoying the 30-by-40-foot wood pool, which was built in the 1880s. The geodesic “music dome” hosts live bands on weekends, and the adjacent grill pairs wine and Montana microbrews with everything from burgers and burritos to rainbow trout and lamb kebabs. Most of the grub at Norris Hot Springs is locally sourced; the veggies are even grown on-site by the owner, who lives next door. Pitch a tent in the on-site campground and you’ll have the perfect base camp for rock climbing Revenue Flats, floating or fishing the Madison River, or grabbing a pint at Pony Bar in the nearby town of Pony, which looks like it’s straight out of your favorite Western film.
Chico Hot Springs
This historic all-inclusive resort, located 35 miles north of Yellowstone National Park, may be the state’s most famous hot spring. Centered around two shimmering outdoor pools with views of the surrounding Absaroka Mountains, Chico Hot Springs has an 18-hole disc golf course, a private wine cellar with a chef’s tasting menu, horseback riding, covered-wagon glamping, and a range of cabins and lodge rooms. For a true Montana experience, fly-fish for trout on the Yellowstone River, then drop by the Old Saloon in nearby Emigrant for a drink and live country bands rocking a large outdoor stage as the glowing Montana sun sets in the background.
Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort
Nestled in the national forest about 90 miles northwest of Missoula, Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort originally opened in 1885. Today, it’s a favorite getaway for local couples, thanks to adults-only cabins tucked along the banks of the Clark Fork River, where you can relax on your porch swing after a soak and listen to the water while stars wink into existence. The resort’s out-of-the-way wilderness location encourages exploration. Scout for buffalo at the nearby National Bison Range, hike the 734 miles of trail at Glacier National Park two hours to the north, or paddle Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi.