An even 10 soakers luxuriate in the hot mineral waters at Symes Hot Springs Hotel on a chilly Monday afternoon. Gray skies and large, plopping rain drops don’t deter them. They simply shimmy down a bit farther into the steaming pool, or tiptoe quickly from the main soaking area to an octagonal bath heated to a simmering 106 degrees. Water from this smaller oasis spills over a rocky lip into its larger counterpart, continuously flowing from the depths of the earth into the pools and back again, bringing with it a host of minerals that soothe, and some say, heal.
The pools are situated in the shadow of the iconic Symes Hotel. With its rounded adobe walls, the resort infuses the small mountain town of Hot Springs with a little southwestern flair. Homesteaders Fred and Florence Symes purchased the property in 1926, constructing the first bathhouse in 1928 and the hotel two years later. The mineral-rich waters that fill modern pools today were enjoyed long before by Native Americans and French-Canadians who frequented the region for fur trade. The original hotel was a single story building with 20 baths complete with ivory enamel finishings.
In the late 1930s, a second story was added on the property, coupled with a multitude of other improvements over the ensuing decade.
Current owners Leslee and Dan Smith came upon the hotel by happenstance during a trip in the mid-90s to Montana with the purpose of arranging a fall hunt. After their scheduled visit to Victor, the couple ventured on to Quinn’s Hot Springs in Paradise and Lolo Hot Springs in Lolo.
Leslee, a soaking aficionado, decided their stay wouldn’t be complete without one last stop.
“I said, well I want to go to the town of Hot Springs because they must have a hot springs there somewhere,” Leslee recalled.
They passed by the defunct Camas Hot Springs bathhouse on Spring Street, which had closed its doors in the 1980s, and came upon the Symes Hotel.
It had a for sale sign in the window. One drive through the quirky hamlet of Hot Springs and they were sold. Two weeks later, the Smiths returned and purchased the property.
They grew the hotel to 31 rooms, including a jacuzzi suite, along with 15 cabins and apartments surrounding the main building. In 1997 they installed the soaking pools which remain to this day. Behind the two primary soaking areas is a third pool surrounded by cedar fencing with water as hot as 108 degrees.
Inside the hotel, off the main lobby is a hall full of private soaking tubs for those wishing for a little more peace and quiet. Others may enjoy the mix of tourists that come from as far as Europe and Asia to take a dip in the waters or enjoy live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
Smith said the Symes employs 30 people year-round, making them one of the largest employers in the community. The hotel also functions as a popular venue for community events like Hot Springs Artist’s Society gatherings and summer music festivals.
While there are many reasons for a stay at the Symes, no visit would be complete without a relaxing soak.
“I would just say, bring your swimsuit and get a floaty. Cold water swimming has its place, but hot water swimming is really relaxing,” she said. “You just kind of get hooked on the hot water.”
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.