Sometimes there’s nothing like a relaxing soak in a hot spring. Here are some of our favorites in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
Fairmont Hot Springs Resort is an upscale year-round resort in Anaconda, Montana, 19 miles northwest of Butte. The resort offers four hot spring pools, a waterslide, spa services, golf, tennis, two restaurants, and a lounge. Georgetown Lake, the Discovery Ski Area, and one of Montana's finest blue-ribbon fisheries, the Big Hole River, are each just a short, scenic drive away. If you want to rent a car, fly to Butte’s Bert Mooney Airport. If not, Anaconda’s Bowman Field is closer to the resort. They’ll pick you up from either airport for $10/person, each way.
Yellowstone National Park is famous for its geysers and hot springs, but they’re strictly off-limits to bathers. That’s to protect the delicate springs, and because most of them are too hot. Indeed, it seems almost every year somebody jumps or falls into one of them and gets cooked. But there is one place in the park you can safely and legally bathe: the Boiling River in northern Yellowstone, between the North Entrance and Mammoth Hot Springs. Open autumn through winter during daylight hours, it’s closed once the river rises in springtime and becomes dangerous, and often doesn’t open again until late summer. The Boiling River is created where a large hot spring enters the Gardner River, allowing the hot and cool waters to mix into a comfortable temperature. It’s a great place to stop, relax, and soak up the natural beauty of Yellowstone. Don’t forget your swimsuit. Skinny-dipping is against the rules; ditto for alcohol. The closest airport is Gardiner (spelled differently than the river), but you’d have to hitchhike; Bozeman is the year-round option or Yellowstone when it’s snow-free (it’s not plowed).
Thermopolis, Wyoming, east of the Yellowstone area, is home to numerous natural hot springs. Walk along travertine formations and look for bison in Hot Springs State Park, which has a free bath house. Visit the Wyoming Dinosaur Center or Hot Springs County Museum, where you can belly up to the same bar where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once imbibed. Thermopolis also offers more hot spring activities, a historic district, golf, fishing, and whitewater rafting in Wind Canyon.
Idaho is a hotbed for hot springs, and some of them are accessible from Idaho’s beautiful backcountry airstrips (not in winter, unless your airplane is ski-equipped). For detailed information on landing at these strips, plus hot springs and other recreational info, buy the two-volume Third Edition of "Fly Idaho!" Don’t forget the brand-new Idaho Aeronautical Chart, which shows the airstrips missing from FAA charts. Which strips to try? Johnson Creek and Garden Valley offer long runways and shower facilities. At Johnson Creek in central Idaho, you’ll hike up a hill to a tub that’s placed so that naturally hot water runs into it. Garden Valley is just a 20-minute flight northeast of Boise; walk a mile upstream to the hot spring, situated along the south fork of the Payette River. Farther upstream you’ll find the Warm Springs airstrip, with several clothing-optional hot springs an easy 2.3-mile (round-trip) hike away, but you won’t be alone here; the springs are popular. Pilots with mountain flying skills and equipment can fly to Atlanta and walk to the hot springs just outside of town (population ca. 300, seems like 30), or fly to Thomas Creek, deep in the wilderness along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Stay at the luxurious Middle Fork Lodge, where hot spring water is piped to the outdoor tub and pool, or hike upstream or downstream to additional hot springs. Full descriptions of these and other Idaho hot springs are in Fly Idaho!; the e-version has a searchable database. Enjoy!
Share your favorite destination in the AOPA Hangar: Places to fly, things to do, where to eat!