The Roving Diner: Chico Hot Springs Restaurant and Resort


Chico Hot Springs Restaurant and Resort

Chico Hot Springs Restaurant and Resort. The Lobby Entry to the Main Lodge with the Bar in the Background.

Back in the 70’s and early 80’s I had the opportunity to go to Chico Hot Springs a couple of times as a musician and in the late 80’s and once in the 90’s as a guest. It is located near the small town of Pray Montana. You could sneeze on one side of Pray and hit the other.

“Why there?” You might ask. Because it is also located in the heart of the Paradise Valley 22 miles south of Livingston (listen to Jimmy Buffet’s Livingston Saturday Night if you want the vibe) and 30 miles north of Yellowstone National Park.

Back in 1981, I seem to recall that there was financial uncertainty to the point of, worries if the Art family could afford to keep it going. During the 80’s the Paradise valley became the home to a lot of celebrities as well as the Church Universal and Triumphant. I don’t know if either helped but it seemed to be doing much better when I went there in 1989, as part of a Yellowstone vacation.

There was a piano in the lobby with a sign on it that said if you don’t know how to play please don’t. Seated at that piano was none other than Dennis Quaid, fresh off of his role as Jerry Lee Lewis in Great Balls of Fire. Although somewhat intoxicated, he played beautifully.

Part of the reason that I went was because I was told the restaurant was amazingly excellent. It was. The hotel seemed in need of some sprucing up still but it was comfortable. When I was there in the 90’s, I believe the restaurant was either being managed or the chef was sharing responsibilities with a restaurant in Livingston. (I don’t think I hallucinated this part but maybe I am confused.) It was good but not great.

I never went back, but that was because I was not in that part of the country very often. Move forward to 2013. I made reservations to stay at the resort at the end of a scheduled trip to the park. I had friends from New York (a big town somewhere east of Billings) visiting and thought it would be the perfect way to end our vacation together. It is a setting that you would never see in NYC.

Chico Hot Springs Restaurant and Resort.

The Main Lodge at Chico Hot Springs.

I was told the Main Lodge was full but there were rooms in the Fisherman’s Lodge. I didn’t know what that meant based on the fact that when I was there, the Fisherman’s Lodge did not exist. I said that would be fine and was happy with the price at $129 per night. We paid an extra $20 to have our little pup, Miss Sadie, with us.

It was dark when we arrived on a Monday evening. The place was packed with a wedding party as well as regular guests. It was bigger than I remembered with more buildings. As it was later in the evening we checked in and went to the restaurant.

The Main Lodge looked pretty much as I remembered it.

Chico Hot Springs Restaurant and Resort.

The Main Lodge Lobby.

It is 114 years old with wooden floors and large wooden beams. It has an old west style that is both charming and comfortable. The dining room was also just as I remembered it, a little dark but comfortable nonetheless.

Chico Hot Springs Restaurant and Resort.

The Dining Room.

Our server was an amiable chap named Daniel. You know how sometimes when you go to a restaurant near closing time and it feels like you are getting the “bums rush” so the crew can get done for the night? Daniel would have none of that. He was possibly the best server I have ever had in Montana. He knew every detail of the menu including a full description of the specials without reading them off of a card. His attention to detail was impeccable, his manner easy with touches of humor inflected along the way.

The food varied from good to great. My guest Vita had the scampi and while it looked good and was cooked properly, it lacked pizzazz and was relatively bland in taste. That being said the rest of the meal was fabulous. We had (in addition to the scampi) salads, bruschetta, a giant pork chop and lamb chops. All were prepared perfectly. The plate presentations were beautiful and everything came in a timely fashion. Not too quick and not too slow. The vegetables were fresh having mostly come right from Chico’s own garden.

Chico Hot Springs Restaurant and Resort.

Rows of Fresh Goodness. The Garden Gate. Indigo Rose Tomatoes Growing in the Greenhouse. (These purplish gems are sweet in addition to being colorful.)


Chico Hot Springs Restaurant and Resort.

The Garden From the Hill Above.

How many restaurants can brag their own garden.

We passed on dessert because we were all too full, however we did ask Daniel to give us the presentation regardless, to see what they were offering. There was a Banana Maple Cake with Candied Pecans, a Flaming Orange, Crème Brule and more. We were barely able to say no but it was late so we passed.

Chico Hot Springs Restaurant and Resort.

The Pool.

The next morning Amy and I hit the pool early and enjoyed a good hot soak after which we toured the premises. There is now a banquet hall, a lower lodge (which replaced an old motel style building) the Fisherman’s lodge which is a new older style motel, cabins, a house that sleeps 12, chalets,  and even an old train caboose that is retro-fitted to be an apartment style accommodation.

Most fascinating to me was the garden and the lengths to which Chico has gone to provide local meats and foods. I was incredibly impressed. It is the essence of what is great in the hospitality industry and deserves any and all of the recognition that it gets. The staff was magnificent from the front desk, to the servers, to the folks that were cleaning the rooms. (A special shout out to Anna Marie whose daughter lives in Missoula.)

Chico Hot Springs Restaurant and Resort.

The Friendly Staff.

The Art family have built an amazing business in the heart of Southern Montana. Their attention to detail is uncompromising. With the torch being passed to their children, it now looks like Chico is here to stay. I recommend that you go there to stay.


Visit the “Taste It” archive or check out Bob’s recipes.


Bob Zimorino is a full-time real estate agent with Lambros/ERA Real Estate, a retired Certified Executive Chef, a musician with the popular local band Mudfoot and the Dirty Soles, a dad, and a grandpa. He shares the experiences from his life that helped shape his careers and hobbies. His weekly “Taste It” blog is his take on the evolution of food in his lifetime.