Lolo Hot Springs

"beautiful to see"

Lolo Hot Springs

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Interactive aerial photo showing place names and Indian Trails

© 2001 Airphoto, Jim Wark. All rights reserved.

These Springs are very beautiful to See, and we think them to be as good to bathe in &c. as any other ever yet found in the United States," avowed Private Joe Whitehouse. The water was "considerable above blood heat." In fact, it "nearly boiled where it Issued out of the rocks." Clark's reaction was quick. "I put my finger in the water, at first could not bare it in a Second."

Today the temperature of the water entering the outdoor swimming pool (the blue spot in the photo) is 86° Fahrenheit; that entering the smaller indoor plunge (scarcely visible to the left of the pool) is between 102° and 104°. Out of sight beyond the toe of the ridge at upper right is Granite Spring, which emerges from the granitic rock at 120°, and might be the one Clark tested with his finger.

Clark noted that "as Several roads led from these Springs in different derections," their Shoshone guide, Old Toby, took a wrong turn and led them three miles out of their way over an "intolerable" road. The maze of roads seen in this photo, mostly created for log-hauling trucks, are now used by recreationists who visit the springs for hiking, mountain-biking, horseback riding, and for cross-country skiing in winter. Among them is what remains of the luge run built here in 1965—reportedly the first in North America.

The highway connects Missoula, Montana, with Lewiston, Idaho. Notice that the creek originally flowed around a bend on the far side of the highway (blue line) and close to the spring, but was relocated by highway engineers and since then has flowed in a straight-line cutoff on the near side of the roadbed.

The company paused here for only a few minutes on their way west, but on their return spent the whole night of June 29, 1806, which provided Lewis with sufficient time to describe the place and the experience.

these warm springs are situated at the base of a hill of no considerable hight on the N side and near the bank of travellers rest creek which at that place is about 10 yards wide.    these spring issue from the bottoms and through the interstices of a gray freestone rock, the rock rises in iregular masy clifts in a circular range arround the springs on their lower side.    immediately above the springs on the creek there is a handsome little quamas plain of about 10 acres. the prinsipal spring is about the temperature of the warmest baths used at the hot springs in Virginia.

In this bath which had been prepared by the Indians by stoping the run with stone and gravel, I bathed and remained in 19 minutes, it was with dificulty I could remain thus long and it caused a profuse sweat    two other bold springs adjacent to this are much warmer, their heat being so great as to make the hand of a person smart extreemly when immerced. I think the temperature of these springs about the same as the hotest of the hot springs in Virginia.

Both the men and indians amused themselves with the use of a bath this evening. I observed that the indians after remaining in the hot bath as long as they could bear it ran and plunged themselves into the creek the water of which is now as cold as ice can make it; after remaining here a few minutes they returned again to the warm bath, repeating this transision several times but always ending with the warm bath.


Watering Place

"Hot Springs at Source of Lou Lou Fork
Bitterroot Mountains, Looking West"1

Historic painting of Lolo Hot Springs before modern development

Special Collections, Mansfield Library, The University of Montana, Missoula

John Mix Stanley's hand-tinted lithograph of this remote watering place possibly was the first ever published. It does not look west, but almost due south (190° from True North). At left is one of the rocks in the vicinity of the hot springs which, according to Sergeant John Ordway, "appear above the timber like towers in Some places," although the most impressive "tower" is opposite this one and adjacent to the springs (see next page). To the right of the granite outcrop, in the "handsom green or Small meadow" are the bathing ponds Indians had created by damming the outflow of the springs, which are out of sight beyond the trees at right.


View in 2002

Rock above Lolo Hot Springs

monolithic rock standing above the forest

Compare this view of the granite outcrop with the same feature in Stanley's painting (above), particularly with regard to the spacing of trees. In the absence of small periodic ground fires to thin out new growth and thus reduce competition for nourishment, moisture, and sunlight, this landmark is now mostly obscured by a crowded forest of young Douglas-fir, spruce, and lodgepole pine. The tall trees on the horizon at center, reaching far above the crown of the lower, even-aged trees document the fact that most of the area pictured was extensively logged in the 1950s or 60s. All of the land in this photograph is privately owned.


1. Isaac Stevens, Narrative and Final Report of Explorations for a Route for a Pacific Railroad near the Forty-Seventh and Forty-ninth Parallels of North Latitude, from St. Paul to Puget Sound (12 vols., Washington, D.C.: Thomas H. Ford, Printer, 1860), Vol. 5, Book 1, Plate 85.

Funded in part by a grant from the Montana Cultural Trust