Warm Up in Chico Hot Springs
Where the road ends, Montana memories are made
Photography by Lynn Donaldson
Thirty miles from the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park, in a wide valley with mountain views of the Absaroka Range to the east and the Gallatins on the west, Chico Hot Springs has for more than a century welcomed travelers for a soak in its geothermically heated pools, a nourishing meal and comfortable lodging.
First opened as a place where gold miners could board in the late 1800s, and later attracting people in search of health cures, it now hosts guests from all over the world. The original inn, built in 1900, is on the National Historic Register.
The lounge off the main restaurant has reclaimed barnwood walls and Victorian-style décor.
Rustic but with modern amenities and a renowned restaurant, Chico welcomes visitors in search of the Western experience. You won’t find TVs or telephones in the rooms, and cell service can be spotty, but there’s Wi-Fi in the main lodge and other locations. Accommodations include lodge rooms, cabins, a restored caboose and even Conestoga-style wagons.
Guests tour on a carriage pulled by Percherons.
Guests indulge in daily dips in the hot springs, and fish, hike, bike and raft in the summer. In the winter, there’s cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding and wagon rides. And since the northern entrance to Yellowstone is open year-round, visitors can make the 45-minute drive to go on such expeditions as wolf-watching tours or photo safaris.
Wagon rides are popular with winter guests, says Seabring Davis, who with her husband, Colin, bought the property in 2015. “The big draft horses are beautiful and frisky because they like going out on the rides,” she says of the Percherons who are stabled in a circa 1897 barn.
The 1897 stone-and-clapboard barn still functions as a horse barn for trail rides and wagon outings, as well as an event venue.
Davis says the cool weather attracts a different crowd. “In the winter it’s more intimate—couples and smaller family trips. And we definitely have a tradition of people coming over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays year after year.”
Colin Davis, a native Virginian who first visited the property when he was a student at Montana State University in Bozeman in the mid-1970s, said he was immediately entranced. “Being at the end of a road with tremendous hiking right out the door, it draws you in,” he says. “It is its own little enchantment. You feel protective of it.”
Blanketed in snow, Chico Hot Springs sits at the base of 10,900-foot Emigrant Peak in Montana’s Paradise Valley. The original lodge has been welcoming guests since 1900.
The Davises love that the property has always been independent and family-owned, and they consider themselves more caretakers than owners. “We consider the staff to be family, and ask our staff to treat guests as friends and turn friends into family,” Seabring says.
A new cookbook sure to inspire mountain chefs is The Western Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes from Montana’s Chico Hot Springs Resort, by Seabring Davis.This recipe is one of our favorites from the book and is sure to brighten up dreary winter days.
Baby Kale with Warm Goat Cheese Medallions and Flathead Cherry-Mint Vinaigrette
Bitter greens are the landscape for a sweet refreshing dressing complemented with the crunch of pistachios and the tang of warm, creamy goat cheese. This recipe is ideal to make ahead if you are entertaining; the dressing holds for two weeks. Serves 4
6 cups baby kale
1 cup blackberries
½ cup pomegranate seeds
FOR THE CHERRY-MINT VINAIGRETTE
¼ cup fresh, pitted Montana Flathead (Lambert variety) cherries
(Substitute the same amount of dried cherries if not in season. Use ¼ cup red wine vinegar and soak for 30 minutes.Drain, discard vinegar and combine cherries with other ingredients as directed.)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup sunflower oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine cherries, vinegars and mint in a blender and puree. When the ingredients are well blended, slowly add the olive oil and sunflower oil to emulsify the dressing to a light, creamy texture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill for an hour or more.
FOR THE GOAT CHEESE MEDALLIONS
4 ounces organic goat cheese
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup chopped pistachios
1 cup canola oil
Begin with chilled goat cheese and cut into four 1-ounce pieces. Roll each into a ball and coat with flour, dredge in egg, and then gently press into pistachios, coating completely. Press each piece into a disk about 1 inch thick. Set medallions on a plate and refrigerate for an hour.
Just before serving, heat the oil to medium; fry the cheese medallions until the pistachio crust is evenly browned, just under 2 minutes per side. Remove to a plate with a paper towel.
Quickly toss the baby kale in the vinaigrette until it’s lightly coated. Plate the greens, place a medallion on each plate, and garnish with extra chopped mint, pomegranate seeds and blackberries.