Just down the road from Livingston, Montana, in the heart of Paradise Valley sits Chico Hot Springs Resort and Day Spa. Nestled below majestic Emigrant Peak, Chico is a locals’ favorite as well as a world-class destination resort.
It’s hard to explain what makes Chico so special. Sure, the location is amazing — big craggy Absaroka peaks cut up the sky — and the historic inn is lovely, but there is something more than that. Something akin to a feeling or intuition. You have to go to experience this first hand.
Between soaking in hot springs, getting a massage or facial, enjoying fine dining, kicking up your heels in the bar, cross-country skiing and mushing sled dogs, you could spend weeks at the 110 year old inn and never get bored. Here’s how to make the most of your Chico getaway.
Chico is best known for its natural hot spring-fed pools. In the early 1900s, the springs were thought to heal everything for kidney troubles to skin disorders. Today, they are known to soothe muscles and relax the soaker. The springs flow from deep beneath the ground into two mineral hot springs pools. The smaller and hotter of the two pools is a toasty 103 degrees, while the larger pool hovers around 96 degrees. Temperatures vary a little depending on geothermal activity and weather.
The pools are both outside (the smaller pool is covered) and open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Each night they are drained and scrubbed so chemicals are not needed to keep the water clean. Admission to the pools is included for inn guests or can be purchased by day visitors.
Outside food or beverages cannot be brought into the pool area, but lunch, dinner and drinks are available from the family-friendly Poolside Grille and Saloon. There is also a walk-up bar window for those who like a cold brew or bloody Mary with their soak.
There isn’t a lifeguard on duty, and children must be accompanied by an adult. Locker rooms including showers, changing areas and lockers are located in the pool area.
Insiders tip: Bring your own pool toys or purchase balls, noodles and floaties at the gift shop or the Poolside Grille.
The exceptional food in the Chico Dining Room is a combination of locally grown (on the premises in a garden and geothermally-heated greenhouse) and fine food. The steaks are generous, the seafood is flown in fresh and all of the baking is done on the premises. What’s more, Chico boasts one of the region’s finest wine lists. The Sunday brunch (8:30-11:30 a.m.) draws diners from around the state and around the world.
For casual food, Percie’s Poolside Grille hits the spot. Pizza, burgers, ribs, salads and burritos fill the bellies of soakers, families and recreationists as they overlook the pools. It’s one of the few places in Montana where you won’t get any strange looks for wearing a swimsuit at the table.
Every Friday and Saturday night, the Chico Saloon hosts some of the best bands in the region. Guests looking to two-step, Western swing or simply boogie down will love dancing on the wooden dance floor. When the band isn’t playing, a pool table, foosball, shuffleboard and televisions entertain the crowd. Food from the Poolside Grille can be ordered at the bar. Check out the music schedule here >
If soaking in mineral springs and eating great food isn’t relaxing enough, take advantage of Chico’s Day Spa. Massage, geothermal therapy, herbal wraps and tanning sessions top the list of ways to beautify and revitalize at Chico.
Inider’s tip: Make your spa reservation when you book your room — spots fill up fast. Call the spa at 406.333.4553
Flying along behind a team of quiet sled dogs, while Mill Creek gurgles past is one of the most memorable ways to explore the Absaroka Mountains surrounding Chico. You can learn to drive a team in just a few hours or sit in the basket, wrapped in a sleeping bag and enjoy the ride.
Absaroka Dogsled Treks offers a variety of tours that leave from Chico, which start at 9:15 a.m.
Tenderfoot: Two hour trek (6 miles)
Yukon: Half-day trek with a picnic lunch (10 miles)
Denali: Full day trek with a buffalo steak and trout lunch (18 miles)
Yes, even in winter you can ride through the mountains on the back of one of Chico’s trusty steeds. The horse barn is home to a herd of well-trained horses and mules. Even if you aren’t up for a ride, stop by the corral to say hello to Chico’s wrangler crew. Rides last one or two hours. Or for those without fear of saddle sores — a three-hour adventure. Trail rides take place around Chico or in Yellowstone National Park.
If you prefer getting around on your own bipedal motion rather than the back of a horse or by being pulled by dogs, there are plenty of trails in the area for cross-country skiing. Just beyond Chico, in Old Chico, the snow-covered dirt road winds up Emigrant Canyon. A gradual uphill climb follows Emigrant Creek upstream. Other cross-country skiing options in the area include the trails and roads in the nearby Mill Creek drainage and Big Creek Trail across Paradise Valley.
For an in-depth guide to cross-country ski trails in the Livingston area visit our Livingston, Montana skiing guide or pick up a copy of Melynda Harrison’s book, Ski Trails of Southwest Montana: 30 of the Best Cross Country and Snowshoe Trails Around Big Sky, Bozeman and Paradise Valley. Available locally at Timber Trails in Livingston and online >
Chico Hot Springs offers a diverse selection of lodging, from quaint and cozy guest rooms in the turn of the century Main Lodge to the luxurious North 40 Cabins, with a wide variety of modern accommodations in between. Rustic cabins and the Fisherman’s Lodge dot the hillside, while the modern Lower Lodge is less than a minute’s walk to the Main Lodge and pool. Chico’s most unusual accommodation is the Short Line Caboose 606, an actual caboose moved to the property and renovated in 2004.
For more info on Chico Hot Spring Resort and Day Spa visit them online > or call 406-333-4933 in Montana, 1-800-468-9232 outside Montana.
Melynda Harrison is a writer, naturalist, wife, mom, cross-country ski enthusiast, hiker, reader, knitter, jungle gym, napkin, Malamute lover, kid hauler and head over heels about being outside with her family. To read more about Melynda’s outdoor adventures visit her blog, Your Wild Child or her web site.