Located between Livingston, Montana and Yellowstone Park, charming Chico Hot Springs Resort has been a getaway for locals and Montana bound tourists for generations. Its scenic Paradise Valley location surrounded by mountains, the complex’s unique history and its commitment to preserving its past has landed Chico Hot Springs Resort a designation on the National Register of Historic Places.
History of Chico Hot Springs
Montana’s natural hot mineral waters created by the state’s active geothermal geology were sacred to the area’s Native American tribes. They viewed the Paradise Valley waters as a place of renewal and spiritual cleansing. When gold was discovered in the area in 1863, it wasn’t long before the influx of miners and settlers discovered the natural springs. They tapped into it to water a greenhouse that provided vegetables, built a public bathhouse around it and named the growing community Chico.
The completion of the transcontinental railroad in the late 1800s brought more settlers. Enterprising businessmen realized the tourism potential of converting Chico’s rustic bathing facilities into a hot spring resort hotel. In 1900, Chico Warm Springs Hotel was completed. The resort included a wood frame building to accommodate forty guests, a hot plunge pool, baths, a dancehall and a saloon. Teddy Roosevelt stayed there as did western artist Charlie Russell.
In 1916, medical facilities were added including a hospital with a laboratory, operating room and a full-time doctor and medical staff. A garage was built to accommodate automobiles—then the emerging mode of cross-country travel. Chico Hot Springs became a stop on the Yellowstone Trail, the newly built Massachusetts to Seattle northern autoroute.
By 1939, the hospital had been converted to guest rooms, but the health benefits of the thermal waters still drew visitors.
Chico's Unique Options for Accommodations
Today’s year-round Chico Hot Springs Resort is an expanded version of its early incarnation. To encourage relaxation, there’s no television in any of the rooms and most lack phones, although wireless service can be found throughout the resort.
The original white frame hotel, now called Main Lodge and the resort’s historic centerpiece, still offers guest accommodations. The rooms of the Main Lodge are filled with antiques and its porch is lined with comfortable wooden rocking chairs, perfect for relaxing after a day of recreating in the area.
Recent ownership has developed additional accommodation options around the Main Lodge, each with its own personality. Lower Lodge, located across the grounds from the Main Lodge, is a western-themed inn with a veranda that overlooks the expansive Chico Hot Springs grounds.
Fisherman’s Lodge was built on a hill above the Main Lodge with a view of the valley and mountains, its décor inspired by the area’s fishing streams.
The romantic North 40 Cabins consist of eight log cabins grouped around their own private lawn.
Fully equipped, larger accommodations for groups are available as well. The Chalets are two large log A-frame houses and Mountain View House is a five-bedroom log home; all three situated on a hill with a view.
For guests looking for a unique experience, Chico Hot Springs Resort can rent the Chico Short Line Caboose or Conestoga Wagons in its newest addition, Cowboy Camp.
Chico Hot Springs Activities and Recreation
The resort's original draw, its thermal hot springs water, still attracts visitors. Its two popular heated swimming pools are located in the back of the Main Lodge.
However, guest relaxation choices have been enhanced with the addition of the Chico Day Spa. The spa offers yoga, a menu of massages, facials and other spa services.
The old stone garage built for early touring motorists has been converted to an espresso bar/gift shop. Next door is the historic Chico Horse Barn, which houses Rockin’ HK Outfitters offering trail rides, carriage rides, and multi-day pack trips as well as guided cross-country ski trips in the winter.
Chico Hot Springs Resort has also teamed up with Paradise Adventure Company to offer whitewater rafting and scenic float trips on the Yellowstone River and with Absaroka Dogsled Treks for winter dogsledding in Gallatin National Forest.
For do it yourself adventurers, there are a variety of Paradise Valley fly fishing opportunities and hiking trails. And the entrance to Yellowstone National Park is thirty miles away through historic Jim Dandy Canyon.
Local Food Served in Chico Hot Springs
As with its guest rooms and recreation options, Chico Hot Springs Resort serves up many choices for food and drink. The historic Chico Saloon located in the Main Lodge hasn’t changed much since its early days as a lively draw for a fun night out.
Of course, today, Chico Saloon now serves up craft beers and a menu of cocktails as well as a regular schedule of live music on weekends. Food can be ordered from the adjacent Poolside Grille that offers a full menu of pizza, sandwiches, and burgers.
The famed Dining Room at Chico draws guests and locals to dine on Montana delicacies such as House-Smoked Rainbow Trout, BBQ Bison Short Rib Ravioli, and Yellowstone Grass-Fed Beef. For groups, the Wine Cellar located in a historic stone building offers the same menu as the Dining Room and a private server for the meal. Much of the produce on all the menus is grown in the Chico Garden and Greenhouse behind the Main Lodge.
As it did with Teddy Roosevelt and Charlie Russell back in the day, Chico Hot Springs Resort still draws celebrities who live in the area. The resort’s regular guests—both locals and tourists who have been coming to the resort over multiple generations—are used to nonchalantly rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. When you go, it's best to be equally chill. After all, everyone is there to enjoy the scenery, history, and casual ambiance of one of Montana’s most iconic year-round destinations. For more ideas on traveling in Montana, see these articles by Wander writers.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.