A wonderful opportunity to enjoy our beautiful state of Montana happened March 6 – 8, 2009. We had made our reservations a few months prior for a weekend get away for both ourselves and my husband Bill’s parents Wayne & Gayle Daniels. Early Friday afternoon on March 6th, we left Great Falls via Highway 15 heading south towards Helena, with Chico Hot Springs as our destination. Chico Hot Springs is about 25 miles from Livingston, Montana.
One of my favorite pictorial spots on the drive was the vicinity of Wolf Creek. The variety of the topography that surrounds the highway throughout there is astounding. The combination of snow-topped mountains and rock walls going straight up at great heights are beautiful. There were winding semi-frozen creeks all around. No matter where we looked, the view was breathtaking.
Impressing my husband Bill and my Father-In-law Wayne, both hunters, was the bountiful wildlife we saw, especially the Antelope, White Tail and Mule Deer. There were well over 100 Antelope in one of the larger herds we passed, and we spotted a large Elk just past Townsend. After only being removed from the endangered species list in June of 2007, we were all in awe of the many Bald Eagles in a variety of settings. We saw both adult and juvenile eagles and their nests. Both the female and male adult bald eagles have a blackish-brown back and breast; a white head, neck, and tail; and yellow feet and bill. The juveniles are a mixture of brown and white. It takes 4 or 5 years before they reach adulthood. Due to there not being a safe place to pull over at the sightings I was unable to get any pictures of them on this trip. For more information on Bald Eagles visit www.baldeagleinfo.com. We also saw several Golden Eagles.
We arrived at Chico Hot Springs a little before 7:00PM. We checked in with Janet N. at the front desk and she gave us the keys to our cabin. We stayed in one of Andy’s Cabins located about 10.5 miles away from the Hot Springs. We were very delighted how warm and cozy the place was. The four of us shared this 2 bedroom cabin with a full kitchen, living room with a fireplace, bath and full size stackable washer and dryer.
After we got unpacked, Bill told us about the outdoor hot tub. Of course, keep in mind it was about 21° outside!
We had 9:00PM reservations for dinner at The Chico Dining Room. Reservations are recommended, as this is a popular establishment for both guests and locals. The food is incredible there! We all listened closely as the lovely Mira told us about the delectable appetizers we could share. Bill has been an avid sushi fan for years and introduced it to me last summer when we took a trip to California. We were very pleased that a special appetizer of Ahi Tuna was being offered that night. The fresh tuna had just been flown in. It was seared briefly on both sides, served with pickled ginger, and Wakome, which is a type of sea vegetable, more commonly known as seaweed salad. What a treat! Next we all enjoyed a wonderful spinach side salad with a light amount of a creamy Italian dressing on it. There were homemade thin and crispy fennel bread sticks and a basket of fresh hot Heirloom Bread and butter.
There were several choices for our main course. My in-laws Wayne & Gayle chose the Prime Rib, served with a horseradish sauce, green beans and mashed potatoes. Bill & I like to share, so we ordered the Beef Wellington for two. My mouth is watering just thinking about it again! It melts in your mouth. The presentation was lovely. Mira brought it forth and carved it tableside, serving me the end pieces because they were cooked medium and the the center cuts for Bill, which were medium rare. She then complemented our plates with mushrooms, fresh asparagus and mashed potatoes arranged in four petite swirled mounds that were toasted on top. It was served with a dish of Wellington sauce on the side for us to add at our leisure. Pleasing to the body & spirit!
As dinner wound down, Mira returned to offer the grand finale…dessert! She brought forth a dessert cart of sinful temptations. Each couple decided to share a ’signature dessert’ originally created by Chef Larry Edwards, that has been served there since early in the 1970′s. It is known as both Orange Flambe or the Flaming Orange. This is a very theatrical treat.
It starts with a hollowed out orange, coated inside with a bittersweet chocolate. It is then filled with wonderful Wilcoxson’s vanilla ice cream that has been mixed with Grand Marnier, Triple Sec, Vodka, sour cream & frozen orange juice. This delightful concoction is topped with a heaping meringue. Mira brought them out, sat one between each couple, poured 151 Rum on the top, and lit them on fire. We all must have a little Pyromaniac inside because we all oohed and awed. Once the pretty blue flames depleted, we dipped into the most flavorful toasted marshmallow I have ever tasted! From start to finish, all of us enjoyed this exceptional dining experience.
After dinner we ventured over to the Chico Saloon to enjoy some entertainment. The music for the weekend was provided by Little Elmo & the Mambo Kings, out of Helena. They play a mixture of Boogie, Blues & Swing. What an awesome group! In addition to being excellent musicians, they are great entertainers too. The place was packed and everyone there had a great time.
After a good nights sleep, we lazed around the cabin a bit and then headed back to the Hot Springs. Living with Firbromyalgia, I was thrilled to find that these relaxing waters in the large open-air pool rarely change even a few degrees from the even temperature of 98°. The small pools mainstay is 103° and is covered. Talk about bliss! There was snow on the mountaintops around us. We were soaking up the soothing warmth of the therapeutic water while sipping drinks from the Chico Saloon, which has a poolside window making ordering easy.
After our leisurely dip in the Hot Springs, we decided on an early casual dinner at Percie’s Poolside Grille, accessible from both poolside or from the parking area. Wayne and I both decided upon Fish and Chips. The fish was perfectly battered. Gayle had a Chicken Quesadilla, lightly seasoned. Bill had a Black and Bleu Burger, which he enjoyed immensely. Again, we were very pleased with the friendly staff and fare.
Our next stop is a favorite of mine and Gayles’… shopping! We headed for the Chico Gift Shop and Espresso Bar. In addition to buying a few books, Bill and I shared a Huckleberry Latte that was full of Montana flavor.
We took a scenic drive around the area on the way back to our cabin. Four deer had gathered near the Yellowstone river posing for me to take their picture. Again, we were surrounded by majestic scenery and wildlife.
When we got back to the cabin it was dark. Once settled in, Bill and I decided to head out for a nice soak in the hot tub. The folks thought we were crazy, and they may have been correct. It was about 17° outside before the wind chill factor! We removed the cover from the hot tub and quickly got in. It didn’t take long to realize that my hair was frozen! I had what looked and felt like dreadlocks made of ice. As the wind got stronger, I found that if I kept the back of my frozen head facing towards the wind, it acted like an insulator. Talk about an exhilarating experience! The hardest part was getting out, covering the hot tub, and running back into the warm cabin without freezing first! This entire scene gave all of us a good laugh.
We then headed to the Chico Dining Room, looking forward to their gourmet breakfast buffet before the trip home. For me, the palatable highlight of the buffet choices was the Swai fish. It had been broiled in a light garlic sauce. This was very, very delicious! Bill and I don’t drink regular milk and we were both pleased to find Soy Milk among the drink choices at the buffet. Cassie, our server, made sure we were comfortable, had everything we needed, and kept our cups of coffee, good coffee, full.
If you are interested in obtaining many of the recipes from the Chico Dining Room, Seabring Davis has written a wonderful book entitled ‘A Montana Table – Recipes from Chico Hot Springs Resort’ published by The Globe Pequot Press. Also included inside are some tidbits on the history of Chico Hot Springs. In addition to being available at Chico Hot Springs Gift Shop, it is widely available in bookstores such as Barnes & Noble.
Prior to leaving we chatted a bit more with Janet N. and Nic M. in Guest Services. During our weekend stay Janet and Nic shared some of their much appreciated knowledge of Chico Hot Springs with us. The entire staff was friendly and and very accommodating.
The history of Chico Hot Springs is fascinating. There’s a delightful little book originally written by local Historian Doris Whithorn and re-written by Seabring Davis simply titled ‘The History of Chico Hot Springs’. We obtained our copy at the Gift Shop. It is also available at Chico Hot Springs front desk or at Amazon.com.
Chico Hot Springs was established in 1900, although many changes have occurred over the years. The actual water remains steadfast and the main draw for visitors throughout the years. For centuries Native American tribes who called this area home, including the Crow, Flathead, and Sioux, have used the geothermal pools located at the base of the Absaroka Mountains in the southeastern end of Paradise Valley. This is the source for Chico Hot Springs. Mike and Eva Art have owned Chico Hot Springs since 1973. Together, along with their daughters Jackie and Andy, they have turned their visions into a wonderful place for people of all ages to gather together.
Over the years this magical place has attracted people from all over. There is a photograph of the famous western artist, Charles M. Russell visiting in 1908. There’s also the story of artist Russell Chatham, from Livingston, Montana, who in traded some of his beautiful paintings for room and board. Warren Oates, Dennis Quaid and Whoopi Goldberg are a few of the many other celbrities that have enjoyed Chico Hot Springs. It’s a place where everyone feels comfortable.
Many people return over and over throughout their lifetimes. This was Bill’s 6th or 7th time visiting and our 2nd trip there together. Both of his boys have been there in the past. We are already checking schedules and planning to return again, hoping that all of our children and grandchildren can join us on our next trip.
There also is a Day Spa located at Chico Hot Springs. It is owned and operated by Tom and Melissa Johnson. Among their many services, there is a geothermal therapy offered there called ‘The Yellowstone River Rock Massage’ that is calling my name! Bill and I plan on sneaking away to the spa on our next trip there.
You know that you have been to a little part of paradise when as you pull away, you are already making plans to come back as soon as possible. It’s a place where happy memories are made and carried on from generation to generation. We plan on keeping Chico Hot Springs as a part of our family traditions for many years to come.
For reservations call: (406) 333-4933 or 1-(800) 468-4933. Be sure to let them know that you read about them on BecauseICanInMontana.com!