Enjoying a late, lazy afternoon micro-brew on the creaky front porch of Jackson Hot Springs Lodge and watching Hwy 43 for traffic that never comes. Every 20 minutes or so a car drifts on by, seemingly a weird intrusion on the massive landscape of the Big Hole Valley. A steady roll of cyclists from the direction of Dillon is the only sign of life; all of them, no doubt, looking forward to soaking hunched shoulders and aching hamstrings in the earthy heat of the wondrous springs just steps from my rocker.
Let me tell you, Jackson Hot Springs, and its close cousin, Quinn’s Hot Springs in Paradise, Montana, are undergoing terrific “makeovers” under the same new ownership which values quality, presentation, and a sense of preserving “authentic” Montana as essential to their success. While Quinn’s is farther along in the process, Jackson is not far behind, as focused attention on food and accommodations is bringing about gradual change. Menu offerings are “big city best”, while plans for room improvements and a complete re-do of the pool are in the early planning stages.
Rooms are basic, but in the affordable range, and I found out that you can even pop open a tent overnight on the grounds for $30, which includes access to the springs. Jackson’s menu and entertainment are scrumptious and lively--not always in that order. Check them both out online when you get a chance.
What I like is that the most important things are in place, and have been for decades. Authenticity—anchored by a large, old-time dance-hall bar, the walls hung with trophies from Montana and Africa; Tranquility (see first paragraph!); and Montana’s Great Outdoors, with all-season access to everything from fishing on the Big Hole River to skiing at Lost Trail or Maverick. All up-and-down the valley you can find great skiing and snowmobiling, world class fly fishing, a ghost town or two, crystal digs, unending mountain hiking, biking, and horseback riding, and even a bit of history at the Big Hole Battlefield, where the Nez Perce and the U.S. Calvary fought to a memorable draw. All this and more in the shadow of a magnificent forest and mountain scape.
The overall effect is rustic, offbeat and, I realize now, perfectly sublime. Oh, and did I mention that cell phone signals are sporadic--at best. What’s not to like?
Well, I suppose that I would be entirely negligent if I didn’t add that for history buffs there is another satisfaction of knowing that William Clark of the Lewis-Clark duo also camped just here, reporting (sic):
“...at about 12 miles we come to a boiling hot Spring at the edge of this plains which is large and handsom we halted a fiew minutes at this Spring found a peace of vinison in it well boiled which we expect the party left for us. we eat it. I drank Some of the water found it well tasted but So hot that I cannot hold my hand in a Second of time.”
~ (sic) William Clark July 8, 1806
But, despite all the diversions, the biggest attraction of the trip is that healing water created by miles-deep geothermal activity and a mumbo-jumbo of geologic formations and pressures somehow result in a large, pleasurable bathtub of hot mineral water in which you can soak at about 100 degrees, more or less. The pool itself now yawns at the sky, after previous owners neglected removing vast amounts of humidity from a steel roof that collapsed; but, if you’re a fan of open-air springs as I am, it will suit you just fine.
Let’s see, then...Hot Springs + Authenticity + Tranquility + The Great Outdoors. Yep, that about covers it.
Shhh....let’s keep this one to ourselves.
~ Bill Muhlenfeld
Jackson Hot Springs Lodge