Long before the Kootenai and Salish reservation and the arrival of homesteaders, the area surrounding Hot Springs in northwestern Montana was known by local and nomadic indigeneous tribes for its curative and healing waters.
The local tribes called the surrounding areas’ hot springs “big medicine” for this exact reason, and they continue to provide rejuvenation to locals and visitors all year round.
Prior to being called Hot Springs, this area was known as Pineville in the late 19th century, oscillating in population with its neighboring town of Camas.
Even still, some locals call this area Camas Hot Springs due to its fluctuating size and recognition, although a Hot Springs post office sealed the deal in 1913.
As word of the Bitterroot Valley’s hot springs began to spread, people moved into the area and the town found itself officially on the map, attracting worldwide visitors hoping for a holistic soak.
Unfortunately, Hot Spring’s blossoming economy would come to an abrupt halt due to horrendous, life-altering fires in 1918 and 1931, as well as unpredictable cattle prices that continuously dealt the town a bad hand.
In a full circle moment for the land’s stewards, townspeople remembered the naturally prosperous and flowing waters that could turn a defunct economy into a stable one.
And so, with focused determination they got Hot Springs thriving again – and while it may not be as bustling as it once was, the community is resilient, proud, creative, and stuck together like glue.
Spa resorts cropped up within the town’s vicinity, as you’ll read below, and its close proximity to Flathead Lake, wildlife refuges, and other recreation make it a continually appreciated vacation spot.
Read on for some of our favorite spots in and around Hot Springs!
The Symes Hot Springs Hotel & Mineral Baths
This historic hotel and mineral hot springs hybrid has been serving the community’s healing needs since 1928! While they cater to their hotel guests – more about that under Accommodation! – the folks at The Symes Hot Springs Hotel & Mineral Baths also happily welcome local and traveling walk-ins.
Open daily, they have three gorgeous pools available at a set price of $10 per day pass for adults, although children 11 and under can join in the fun for $5.50.
Why else do we love this spot? They host an incredible blues festival on their north lawn come mid-July – BBQ, camping, great music, and soaking in healing waters.
They also have a fantastic massage therapist on hand – no pun intended! – to keep you limber and well-rested.
Perhaps most importantly, the folks at Symes acknowledge that these waters were originally used by the indigeneous tribes of the area prior to the entrance of European trappers, traders, and homesteaders – a respectful nod to the people who came before them.
We would have loved to see this spot when it was bustling with fresh activity at the beginning of the 20th century, but visiting now is a close second. And with that, we’ll see you in the relaxing waters of Symes…
LaRue Hot Springs Museum
While the LaRue Hot Springs Museum is only open on Fridays and Saturdays from noon until 4pm, there was no way we couldn’t include it on our proud little Hot Springs list.
It may be small, but it’s filled with local and cultural history, all compiled by a fiercely passionate and humble team of museum pioneers who have corralled the community together since 2005.
They’ve got a great little collection of artifacts from the homesteading westward expansion into Big Sky Country which provide insight into life in the Bitterroot Valley as a ranching and spa town, thanks to those nourishing springs waters.
Don’t forget to check out their adorable online exhibit whether you’re in the area or on the way, and donate money to the cause while you’re there. This museum project is worth sticking around for a few more generations – don’t you agree?
Travel just a bit southwest from Hot Springs and you’ll get to Rainbow Lake and its accompanying campground, one of our favorite locations to rest and relax that isn’t a hot spring.
This spot is great for catching pike and perch and has a little area to launch small boats, so just think of Rainbow Lake as a peaceful and restorative DIY alternative.
Be aware that there’s a six-day camping limit for these more primitive grounds, and since it’s on tribal lands, you’ll need to purchase a tribal fishing license.
Only ten campsites are available and you’ll find restrooms and picnic tables, but other than that, this is a pared-down camping site. But make no mistake – this is exactly why we love Montana: so many opportunities to take in the scenery and be one with nature.
Big Arm State Park
On the biggest natural freshwater lake in the state, Big Arm State Park is a short drive east from Hot Springs and acts as a gateway to lake life and lake hair (you know you love it!), as well as numerous other state parks and recreational activities.
Big Arm sits among gorgeous ponderosa pines and offers 41 secluded campsites, including one wheelchair-accessible site and three yurts.
Big Arm’s campground loop is easy enough for the entire family, just two miles along mountain vistas and stunning lake views.
But we love Big Arm squarely because it offers great access to Wild Horse Island, a gorgeous nature and wildlife reserve named because the Kootenai tribe used the land to sequester their horses from potential theft.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see a few of the wild horses that are left on the island that is only accessible by boat, but be on the lookout for bighorn sheep, fowl, and the steep cliff with bison pictographs, indicating a potential buffalo jump site!
Pablo National Wildlife Refuge
If you’re more interested in marshes and wetlands, we recommend traveling just a bit south to Pablo National Wildlife Refuge, which boasts 2,500 acres of gorgeous rocky cliffs and pebble beaches.
Encompassing the Pablo Reservoir and shaped by glacial activity around 12,000 years ago, visitors are only allowed along the east and northern edges of the refuge, which work well if you’re coming from Hot Springs.
Be on the lookout for migratory birds on these tribal lands – there may be as many as 80,000 birds coming through in October and November!
You can be sure that welcoming locals want you to experience their soothing hot springs, as they have for a century or more. With that in mind, many of their accommodations steer you towards these healing waters, but we’ll give you a holistic map of our favorite spots, no matter what your current flavor of the week is.
We’ve already mentioned The Symes Hot Springs Hotel & Mineral Baths at the top for its glorious spring water, but let’s dive into its accommodations.
Open year-round, you’ll be happy to learn that pool passes are included in your nights’ stay at The Symes, which offers only non-smoking rooms, as well as spots for tents and RV parking.
We love that they have a hotel package that includes their incredible massage therapist mentioned above – just view their pricing page for more on that special.
And lastly, The Symes welcomes pets to their humble abode for a small fee with only a few exceptions, so don’t forget to pack the dog treats!
Less of lodging and more of an undiscovered gem, the unpretentious and gorgeous Big Medicine Hot Springs offers numerous places to pitch a tent, park a camper, or rope up your horses, as well as plentiful nearby trails.
Big Medicine Hot Springs’ admission is $5 and based on the honor system, so you’ll want to treat this Kootenai and Salish land with the respect it deserves. Alright, onto another hot spring! When in Rome…
Wild Horse offers nurturing and curative soaks, as well as rejuvenating stays in cabins, tipis, tents, or your RV. We’re huge fans of their tipi accommodations (bring your own gear, similar to camping!), but they have no shortage of cute little cabins to make your stay even more restful.
Unlike some of our other accommodation options, this is definitely not a luxurious stay – it’s somewhere between rustic, glamping, and camping. But it’s just one more facet in the beautiful gem that is Montana, so we love to see it!
Another fantastic nature outlet, Sophia Springs offers private hot springs for your overnight stay. We love the positive energy that the owners bring to this space – it’s clear that continually improving Sophia Springs is their passion project.
With a number of suites, one guest house, and spots for RV parking and tent camping, Sophia Springs is near the top of our list of recommendations. They truly seem to have a pulse on what their customers want and need in a space fully designated for unwinding and relaxing. A+!
Hot Springs certainly centers around its nutritive waters, but there’s so much more around the area that we’d love to bring to your attention, from blues festivals to community-centered runs.
- March – Bigfork Brewfest (Bigfork, MT)
- May – Bigfork White Water Festival (Bigfork, MT)
- July – Symes Hot Springs Blues Festival
- July – Flathead Cherry Festival (Polson, MT)
- July – Flathead Lake Run (Polson, MT)
- July – Poker Paddle (Polson, MT)
Activities Near Hot Springs
- Lonepine, MT (9 miles)
- Camas Prairie, MT (12 miles)
- Plains, MT (21 miles)
- Weeksville, MT (28 miles)
- Big Arm, MT (34 miles)
- Polson, MT (46 miles)
- Kalispell, MT (64 miles)
- Bigfork, MT (66 miles)
- Flathead Lake
- Baldy Mountain (Blanchards Corner, MT)
- Thompson Peak
- Little Bitterroot Lake
City Parks & Pools
- Camas Recreation Center
- Hot Springs City Park
National and State Parks
- Pablo National Wildlife Refuge
- Wild Horse Island
- Big Arm State Park
- Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge (Marion, MT)
Local & Nearby Favorites
- The Foxhole Eatery
- Fergie’s Pub (A local favorite!)
- Creekside Inn Sports Bar and Grill
- Barber Shop Beer Parlor
- The Legendary Montana Bar
- Daily Grind Espresso Bar
- Coffee Hound
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