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Road Trip: Fairmont Hot Springs and Anaconda

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The Anaconda Smelter Stack in Montana is one of the tallest surviving masonry structures in the world at 585 feet. ADOBE STOCK


The Anaconda Copper Company smelter stack, completed in 1919, is one of the tallest free-standing brick structures in the world at 585 feet. In comparison, the Washington Monument is 555 feet tall. It stands less than three hours from Big Sky towering over the former mining town of Anaconda. I’ve visited the area often and at different times of year; seeing the large brick structure surrounded by black smelt is always a profound reminder for what this area represents to Montana’s past.

My recent trip was a wintery one, but Fairmont Hot Springs and Anaconda is a worthy destination during any season and spring is my favorite time of year to go.

I stay at Fairmont Hot Springs, since during COVID the resort’s hot springs were closed to the public permanently and are now only open to guests of the hotel. Soaking in the two large pools (one inside and one outside) and the enormous outdoor hot tub is why we stay at the resort. For both kids and adults, the three-story enclosed water slide alone makes the trip to Fairmont worthy.

This trip, my daughter and I waited until sunset when the families with young kids dissipated and neon lights illuminate inside the slide at night. I can honestly say, there’s really nothing like shooting out of a large water slide lit up like a dance club into a large hot spring under the Montana sky. Especially after a cocktail served by the waitstaff poolside.

With two restaurants that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, an 18-hole golf course, frisbee golf, tennis courts, farm animals, lawn games and more, Fairmont Hot Springs is certainly a destination on its own, especially in the warmer months. But the town of Anaconda has plenty to see and do as well.

I won’t even drive past Anaconda without planning my trip around a stop at the restaurant, O’bella. As an East Coaster who grew up at family meals in the North End, Boston’s Italian neighborhood, I’m hard pressed to find authentic Italian food in Montana. Which is why I don’t miss an opportunity to dine and drink Italian wine at this special little spot on Main Street.

Their food is made-from-scratch and with love, which is apparent as you witness the staff buzzing around the intimate dining room checking in on guests to ensure they are happy and well-fed. Just as every Italian restaurant should be, it’s dimly lit, Sinatra plays loudly throughout, and a chalkboard listing the house-made cannoli flavors of the evening greets you at the door behind the host – we tried every flavor while sipping espresso as we paid our bill, which was less than $100 for an appetizer, two entrees, dessert, and wine.

After feeling entirely too full, we rallied back to Fairmont for a late-night soak. Open until 10 p.m., I always try to use the pools and hot tub before bed, since at night the vibe is a lot quieter and the soakers a lot older than during the day.

In the morning, we returned to Anaconda for bloody mary’s and brunch at Donavan’s, which has the most amazing fluffy biscuits that pair well with pretty much anything. A local’s spot, their breakfasts are big enough for two to share and the coffee is strong.

After brunch, we made a stop at Smelter City Brewing, a staple on Anaconda’s Main Street with a good local vibe. Located in the town’s historic electric building, they host local musicians and brew quality beer. I’m not much of a beer connoisseur, but my friend did buy a growler to take home after trying one of their IPAs.

What I lack in my knowledge of good microbrews, I make up for in my experience at perusing flea markets. The Black Dog Antiques and Interiors is one of my favorite places in all of Montana.

Full of character, outside you’ll see an antique truck and plenty of colorful vintage skis against yet another historic brick building that was vacant for many years and is now refurbished. The indoor antique mall hosts more than 30 dealers who sell vintage clothing, collectibles, western jewelry, home decor and more. On this trip, we saw unique railroad and mining items, antique snowshoes, furniture, antlers, and other Western memorabilia. I purchased some turquoise jewelry, which cost half of what I’ve purchased in Bozeman.

After our flea market visit and before heading home, we stopped at Peppermint Paddy’s. While they are known for their pork chop sandwich, the owner made me one of the best BLTs I’ve had in Montana – toasted wheat bread, an abundance of chopped bacon, fresh green lettuce and tomato, and just the right amount of mayo. Perfection.

We sat amongst the locals with our late lunch and coffees while we heard chatter about rising real estate costs, local rents, and “out-of-towners” buying homes for short-term vacation rentals. It sounded like the conversations that circle around Big Sky.

While locals, and businesses tailoring to locals, still outnumber tourists in Anaconda, it seems to be yet another town experiencing major change and growth. On the streets off Main Street, peppered with small bungalows that reflect the area’s former mining industry, you’ll see several homes refurbished and remodeled amongst those that look more tired. Every time I visit, there seems to be more remodeled homes popping up around town.

However, the sense of old Montana and the history that oozes out of this part of the state still shines through when visiting, as does the pride from its residents. I just hope the people who are keeping that history and pride alive can continue to do so as the area grows. But for now, a trip to Fairmont Hot Springs and this former mining town filled with lots of character is still a gem in the Treasure State.

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