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Warm-water delights in the Intermountain WestWarm-water delights in the Intermountain West

Hot Springs Destinations: Montana, Wyoming, and IdahoHot Springs Destinations: Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho

Sometimes there’s nothing like a relaxing soak in a hot spring. Here are some of our favorites in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.

  • An aerial view of the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort in Anaconda, Montana, about 20 miles northwest of Butte. The resort offers two Olympic-sized swimming pools and two mineral soaking pools, one of each indoors and outdoors, plus a 350-foot enclosed waterslide, spa services, golf, tennis, two restaurants, and a lounge. Photo courtesy Fairmont Hot Springs Resort.
  • The Fairmont Hot Springs Resort offers indoor and outdoor hot spring pools and a waterslide. Food and beverage outlets include the Springwater Café, Water’s Edge Dining Room, and Whiskey Joe's Lounge, plus several snack bars. In summer, you can play on their 6,741-yard, 18-hole, par 72 golf course. Fairmont's 'mile-high, mile-long' fifth hole is recognized as one of Montana’s most challenging. Photo courtesy Fairmont Hot Springs Resort.
  • The Discovery Ski Area is 33 miles northwest of the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort. Discovery offers plenty of beginner, intermediate, and advanced runs, as well as a mountain bike park from mid-June through October. Photo courtesy Discovery Ski Corp.
  • One of Montana's finest blue-ribbon fisheries, the Big Hole River, is 30 miles from the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort. Just 15 miles north of the resort, the upper Clark Fork River can be a dry-fly paradise, with blizzard hatches of Caddis from June to August. Photo by Mike Cline.
  • The Lodge at Lolo Hot Springs has two indoor hot springs pools in the log cabin lodge, 40 miles west of Missoula off Highway 12 near Lolo Pass. After staying here, you can continue driving west on Highway 12 along the Loscha and Clearwater rivers, across some of the most beautiful forest in Idaho, where wolves and elk roam. Photo courtesy Lodge at Lolo Hot Springs.
  • The Lodge at Lolo Hot Spring is near the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area. The forests here are thick with moose, which often visit the pond in summer. Photo courtesy Lodge at Lolo Hot Springs.
  • The Boiling River inside Yellowstone National Park is created where a large hot spring enters the Gardner River, allowing the hot and cool waters to mix into a temperature comfortable enough to bathe in. Just move around in the water to find the spot that’s perfect for you. Yellowstone’s Boiling River is located approximately 2.9 miles south of the park’s North gate and 2 miles north of Mammoth Hot Springs. Photo by Kim Tashjian via Flickr.
  • In Thermopolis, Wyoming, you can follow a paved walkway beside the Rainbow Terraces, which are created from the minerals of the hot springs water, algae, and plankton. Naturally formed, they look like small vibrant waterfalls flowing into the Big Horn River. A nearby pedestrian suspension bridge provides a unique vantage point for viewing the river and terraces. The air does have the sulphur smell, from the hot water. The bathing pools are man-made and located both in town and in the state park. Photo by Charles Willgren via Wikipedia.
  • The Wyoming Dinosaur Center and Dig Sites provide a unique opportunity to discover the prehistoric world, from tiny Trilobites to giant Tyrannosaurs. The Center includes a museum, working dig sites, and a complete modern preparation laboratory. Individuals and families can learn about paleontology and work alongside skilled professionals for a day or take a 5-day course. Photo courtesy Hot Springs Travel and Tourism.
  • Trophy trout teem in the Big Horn River in Thermopolis, Wyoming. Fishing licenses and guided float trips are available locally. Photo courtesy Hot Springs Travel and Tourism.
  • You don’t need a STOL-equipped airplane to land at the world-famous Johnson Creek airstrip in central Idaho. The 3,400-foot-long runway is 150 feet wide and beautifully manicured. A secluded tub with natural hot spring water running into it sits on a hillside west of the strip. Campsites, hot showers, and electric outlets to charge your devices are here too. In summer, Chinook salmon spawn in the creek after having swum over 900 miles past multiple dams and climbing a mile above sea level. James Stevenson and Rich Wellner flew their airplanes in from Wisconsin. They visit Idaho each summer. Photo by James Stevenson.
  • Petra Videriksen watches a Cessna Skywagon land at Garden Valley, Idaho, during the International 180/185 Club Fly-In. Like Johnson Creek, Garden Valley’s airstrip is long, wide, and manicured to accommodate even aircraft like a Mooney, Cirrus, or Beechcraft Bonanza. Photo by Crista V. Worthy.
  • Garden Valley offers excellent camping facilities along the beautiful South Fork of the Payette River, yet is only a 20-minute flight from the state capital, Boise. Plus, there is a hot spring within walking distance of the runway. Photo by Crista V. Worthy.
  • Just down the road from the Garden Valley airstrip, a hot spring sits beside the river. Photo by Crista V. Worthy.
  • To visit the beautiful Middle Fork Lodge, land at Thomas Creek. The lodge will pick guests up at the strip. Famous pilots from John Denver to Chuck Yeager have stayed here. Photo by Beth Kerschen, courtesy Middle Fork Lodge.

Fairmont Hot Springs Resort is an upscale year-round resort in Anaconda, Montana, 19 miles northwest of Butte. The resort offers four hot spring pools, a waterslide, spa services, golf, tennis, two restaurants, and a lounge. Georgetown Lake, the Discovery Ski Area, and one of Montana's finest blue-ribbon fisheries, the Big Hole River, are each just a short, scenic drive away. If you want to rent a car, fly to Butte’s Bert Mooney Airport. If not, Anaconda’s Bowman Field is closer to the resort. They’ll pick you up from either airport for $10/person, each way.

If you feel like a long scenic drive, fly to Missoula and take Highway 12 west 40 miles to The Lodge at Lolo Hot Springs. The log cabin lodge at this nostalgic family getaway resort sits along the historic Lewis and Clark Trail and offers two indoor natural hot spring mineral baths in enclosed grottoes. Skate on the pond in winter; in summer, it’s frequented by moose. Guests can also rent ATVs, snowmobiles, snowshoes, or horses; enjoy campfires; play cribbage and shuffleboard; or try fishing, geocaching, Frisbee golf, horseshoes, croquet, and volleyball, along with summer hiking and winter cross-country skiing.

After a visit to Sulphur Creek Ranch, Idaho, Jerome County Sheriff Doug McFall landed his Skylane at Warm Springs, on the way home to Jerome. Photo by Doug McFall.

Yellowstone National Park is famous for its geysers and hot springs, but they’re strictly off-limits to bathers. That’s to protect the delicate springs, and because most of them are too hot. Indeed, it seems almost every year somebody jumps or falls into one of them and gets cooked. But there is one place in the park you can safely and legally bathe: the Boiling River in northern Yellowstone, between the North Entrance and Mammoth Hot Springs. Open autumn through winter during daylight hours, it’s closed once the river rises in springtime and becomes dangerous, and often doesn’t open again until late summer. The Boiling River is created where a large hot spring enters the Gardner River, allowing the hot and cool waters to mix into a comfortable temperature. It’s a great place to stop, relax, and soak up the natural beauty of Yellowstone. Don’t forget your swimsuit. Skinny-dipping is against the rules; ditto for alcohol. The closest airport is Gardiner (spelled differently than the river), but you’d have to hitchhike; Bozeman is the year-round option or Yellowstone when it’s snow-free (it’s not plowed).

Thermopolis, Wyoming, east of the Yellowstone area, is home to numerous natural hot springs. Walk along travertine formations and look for bison in Hot Springs State Park, which has a free bath house. Visit the Wyoming Dinosaur Center or Hot Springs County Museum, where you can belly up to the same bar where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once imbibed. Thermopolis also offers more hot spring activities, a historic district, golf, fishing, and whitewater rafting in Wind Canyon.

After you land at Thomas Creek, Idaho, you can hike to hot springs either upstream or downstream along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Stay at the luxurious Middle Fork Lodge or camp beside the river or near the hot springs. Full information on camping, hiking, fishing, the lodge, area history, and more can be found in “Fly Idaho!” Photo by Beth Kerschen, courtesy Middle Fork Lodge.

Idaho is a hotbed for hot springs, and some of them are accessible from Idaho’s beautiful backcountry airstrips (not in winter, unless your airplane is ski-equipped). For detailed information on landing at these strips, plus hot springs and other recreational info, buy the two-volume Third Edition of "Fly Idaho!" Don’t forget the brand-new Idaho Aeronautical Chart, which shows the airstrips missing from FAA charts. Which strips to try? Johnson Creek and Garden Valley offer long runways and shower facilities. At Johnson Creek in central Idaho, you’ll hike up a hill to a tub that’s placed so that naturally hot water runs into it. Garden Valley is just a 20-minute flight northeast of Boise; walk a mile upstream to the hot spring, situated along the south fork of the Payette River. Farther upstream you’ll find the Warm Springs airstrip, with several clothing-optional hot springs an easy 2.3-mile (round-trip) hike away, but you won’t be alone here; the springs are popular. Pilots with mountain flying skills and equipment can fly to Atlanta and walk to the hot springs just outside of town (population ca. 300, seems like 30), or fly to Thomas Creek, deep in the wilderness along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Stay at the luxurious Middle Fork Lodge, where hot spring water is piped to the outdoor tub and pool, or hike upstream or downstream to additional hot springs. Full descriptions of these and other Idaho hot springs are in Fly Idaho!; the e-version has a searchable database. Enjoy!

Open autumn through winter during daylight hours, the Boiling River is in northern Yellowstone National Park, just south of the 45th Parallel Bridge, between Mammoth Hot Springs and the North Entrance. Photo by Jon Wick via Flickr.

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Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to aopadestinations@gmail.com.
Topics: US Travel

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