Another beautiful fall day in southwest Montana. The roads are clear, the sun is shining. The air is cool, but the warm light makes it less than sweater weather as we travel along the abandoned highway. The driver asks directions and I, not having been there recently, and usually in the winter after dark, was a little unsure. However, the road doesn’t have many turnoffs that are anything but dirt, and I knew eventually we’d stumble upon something familiar. Passing signs for Bannack, skiing, and Crystal Park, I knew we were on the right track.
Watching the long stretch of fields go by, the mountains up ahead looked so far away, but they weren’t, and within the hour we were on a winding highway with ever denser trees rolling up a mountain. At some point, there is a turnoff in the trees. “Stop! There it is!” We take the road with old signs along the side. Fair warning, in summertime this is a beautiful run, but in the mud and ice, the road isn’t for the faint of heart and is often a slippery mess.
A short way down the path you see small cabins and a larger building with a porch on the left, just a way more and the hot springs are visible straight ahead. A changing room, sauna, and small beer and towel counter (also where you pay) are inside. Outside there are two pools, one higher up and another smaller one with a much lower level with the cold water slowly trickling in, it is hot and you won’t last long before moving to the larger pool. Up front is a small stage, a newer addition, where they host bands in the summer. Surrounding the springs are nice walkways and beautiful trees, particularly colorful in the autumntime.
Keep in mind this is a small family-owned “primitive” hot springs resort. There's no chlorine, fancy room service, and dogs are running around… it’s your typical local Montana-style hot spring!
A Brief History of Elkhorn Hot Springs
Around since 1918, the hot springs slowly added additional cabins and a lodge for overnight guests up until 1921, and since then it hasn’t changed much. Cheap lodging is available along with restaurant food and a full bar, with regular live music. Early spring, and off days are your best bet if looking for an off-grid relaxing getaway. Though there is wifi, the cell service is pretty much nonexistent. If looking to meet new friends, the nearby skiing draws the crowds after Thanksgiving and it is hit or miss how many groups are heading through.
Besides skiing, a lot of adventurers head this way in winter for cross-country adventures and snowmobiling, in the summertime, the nearby popular crystal digging spot, Crystal Park, is a major draw. Spending all day with the family digging in the dirt, and then heading off for the night for a soak is indeed a favorite pastime. Although there are multiple public “digging” areas around the state, this is by far the most well-known in the area, and you will see others putzing around the holes.
If staying for a few days or a week, the smaller city of Dillon isn’t far away and makes for a nice little day trip. A big cowboy and college town, both western wear shops and bars are a plenty and offer a little something fun for everyone.
From Elkhorn Hot Springs to Idaho Hot Springs: A Relaxing Journey through Boise and Sawtooth National Forest
Elkhorn Hot Springs in Southwest Montana is a popular destination for those looking to relax in rustic hot springs. But if you're looking for more hot springs to explore, Idaho is just a short drive away. One option is to take a tour that will take you through the beautiful Boise National Forest and Sawtooth National Forest. The tour includes a stop at Kirkham Hot Springs where you can soak for an hour, followed by a visit to Stanley for lunch and a walk in the majestic Sawtooth Mountains. The tour ends with a three-hour ride back to Boise, with hotel pickup and drop off available. If you're looking for more hot springs to add to your list, consider heading to Idaho!