Civil War veteran Thomas Valentine made his choice wisely when seeking land as part of his indemnity from the U.S. Government for unpaid war duty. He was granted a 40-acre tract at the confluence of the Sun River’s North and South Forks, where Valentine had discovered the hot springs used for aeons by the Native Peoples for their healing properties and known locally as Medicine Springs.
This was the beginning of the K Bar L Ranch and Medicine Springs as it is today.
After being bought by the Klick family in the early 1920s, the area was developed to include a guest ranch equipped with lodging, outbuildings, and hot springs pools. Ownership has changed hands a few times since then, and today in Montana’s Augusta, near Great Falls, the ranch is managed and run by the Wallis family who has been there for almost 2 decades.
The natural geothermal springs that bubble up and out from the surrounding terrain into the property make the ranch unique in many ways. These waters run directly into a swimming pool that has been renowned for its therapeutic soothing qualities since way back. The water maintains a constant temperature of 86F, and is accessible year-round.
The K Bar L Ranch and Medicine Springs is in quite a remote wilderness region. It is actually 7 miles from the nearest road, where the North Fork and South Fork of the Sun River converge, and surrounded by the legendary Bob Marshall Wilderness.
It is accessible by boats that take off from the Gibson Reservoir in the spring and early summer. However, even this is not possible once the lake pool level lowers from irrigation use.
The long-established, 7-mile SunRiver Trail is another means of access—this time on foot or even horseback. This is National Forest land and also leads from the Gibson Reservoir, culminating at the ranch after crossing a pack bridge over the North Fork of the Sun River.
Another unique feature of the ranch best witnessed in summer is the fireflies that gravitate towards the warmth and humidity rising from the springs in this wilderness landscape.
K Bar L Ranch and Medicine Springs Facilities
Accommodation is offered by way of rustic cabins with wood-burning stoves and a historical lodge. Showers and restrooms are only available seasonally in the summer months. The main lodge has fireplaces, a library, and 3 squares a day to keep you going.
Like many Montana Hot Springs in remote wilderness regions, various activities like hiking, pack trips, fishing, horseback riding, and hunting are coordinated throughout the spring and summer months at K Bar L Ranch and Medicine Springs.
There is just one large outdoor Geothermal Pool in which visitors can experience the heated therapy of the mineral-rich waters maintained at a constant temperature. Swimsuits or some other type of clothing are required for pool use. Peak times to visit and make use of the pools are most certainly throughout the spring and summer months.
K Bar L Ranch and Medicine Springs Stats:
- Within 1.5m acres of wilderness (Bob Marshall Wilderness)
- Average Pool Temperature 84 degrees
- Best time June-November
- Hot Springs Prices: Four hours–$5.00, All day–$8.00
- Big Medicine Hot Springs Hours: 8:30 am–5:30 pm
- Prices and reservations here
- Website: https://www.kbarlranch.com
- Nearest Town Augusta
So we’ve talked about seasonal boat access as one way in–as is the 7-mile hike along the trail from the reservoir. Aside from that, you’ll likely be heading in by car.
From the Missoula direction take the turning at Bonner on HWY 200, passing Lincoln. Continue on to Bowman’s Corner, taking a turn off on HWY 287 for Augusta. If heading from the east in the direction of Great Falls, continue north on I-15 before taking the Vaughn exit (290). Stay with the same road passing both Fort Shaw and Simms (HWY 200), eventually turning off on HWY 21 in the direction of Augusta.
At the four-way stop signs in town, head in the direction of Gibson Reservoir and Willow Creek at the main street stop sign. You’ll pass by various buildings and sites and come to a gravel road heading west. This is the next turn to take for five miles down the gravel road, then you should come across our sign. Turn right here and follow this road for about 25 miles.
You can plan on a 45-minute drive from Augusta to Gibson Reservoir, where you will be entering the Lewis and Clark National Forest. Heading in the direction of Gibson Dam in front of you, take a right across a concrete bridge. If you arrive during the summer season you will carry on over the hill to the boat landing or maybe where the horses are tied up.