Lava Hot Springs Pictures
Lava Hot Springs - Idaho's Geothermal City
It’s not just relaxing in the hot springs’ warm mineral waters that draw people here. The stunning location means there’s a host of outdoor pursuits in the wider area for every season, including hiking, skiing, biking and river tubing.
A Brief History Lesson
For centuries, the natural springs found in this quiet valley have been a place for rest, relaxation and spirituality, particularly with the migratory Shoshone Native American tribe. Following the arrival of European settlers in the 19th century who recognized the rich natural resources of the area, the town went through a number of name changes. Originally known as Dempsey after well-known local mountain man and trapper, Bob Dempsey, it became Hall City in 1911 in honor of John Hall, an Englishman who donated the land for the city.
On July 24, 1915, the village was officially incorporated and re-named Lava Hot Springs after the town’s unique natural resource (this day is still celebrated every summer on July 24th with the Founders Day Parade). With the improvement of road and rail services, curious visitors soon began to enjoy the rare benefits of the hot springs and it wasn’t long before hotels, restaurants and saloons started to be built, further adding to the town’s vibrant character.
Learn more about the history of Lava Hot Springs at the South Bannock County Historical Center Museum on 110 East Main Street.
All About the Hot Springs
Ranging from a balmy 102° F to 112° F in temperature, the therapeutic qualities of the famous hot springs are well known but it’s perhaps the smell (or lack of it) that really sets them apart. Thanks to the lack of sulphur in the water minerals, the hot springs are completely odorless so you can take in all the natural smells of the wild Idaho landscape. The springs are constantly changing and kept clean, with around 2.5 million gallons of hot mineral water flowing through the pools every day before making its way into the nearby Portneuf River.
Open to the public 363 days a year (closed on Christmas Day and Thanksgiving), the Hot Pool Soaking Complex is located on 430 East Main Street and features five outdoor gravel pools. In the high season between May and September, the pools are open between 8:00am and 11:00pm, while the winter season between October and April means the pools are open between 9:00am and 10:00pm.
Geothermal Swimming Pools
The popular Olympic Swimming Complex (195 North Center Street) also has its water heated by the hot springs and is ideal for a summer family getaway, featuring diving platforms up to 10 meters high and colorful, twisting water slides. With a 60 ft vertical drop and a terminal velocity of 38mph, these waterslides prove that Lava Hot Springs isn’t just for lounging around! Bear in mind that the Olympic pools are seasonal only and open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The indoor swimming complex on the same site is open all year round, however, as is the Portneuf Kiddie Cove so it’s a great option if you’re visiting in the winter season.
There’s a day fee for each complex that varies from kids to adults and the Hot Pools are equipped with dressing rooms, showers, restrooms and coin operated lockers.
With canopies to block the sun and rain as well as an innovative snow melt system for the winter months, the hot mineral pools are the ultimate way to experience the Lava Hot Springs. With steam slowly rising up from gentle waters and the mountains majestically soaring in the background, you can relax and let the worries of the world drift away for a little while. Feel free to have a gentle swim or simply sit back and enjoy the serenity of the secluded Idaho wilderness.
What To Do in Lava Hot Springs
Visit Main Street
While the town is dominated by the hot springs, there are plenty more things to do during a stay at Lava Hot Springs and perhaps the first port of call is to check out the historic downtown. Compact and easily walkable, the quaint old-west streets have the feel of a movie set and contains buildings that are over 100 years old. Head to the Dempsey Creek trading post on Main Street and step into a quirky time capsule with shelves full of local and Native American goods ranging from skulls and beads to jewelry and peace pipes.
Float the Portneuf
Lava Hot Springs is an outdoorsy city (much like Idaho itself) so if you’re here during the summer then floating the Portneuf River is a wild treat for anyone with too much energy to spend all day at the hot springs. Described by USA Today as “America’s Best River for Tubing” and filled with dips and drops, it’s a ride not to be forgotten. Simply rent a tube from one of the stands on Main Street and enjoy the 20-minute float through town down this rapid-filled stretch of the Portneuf.
Hiking and Wildlife Watching
Blessed with some of Idaho’s most scenic landscapes, Lava Hot Springs is an ideal base for hiking. Taking around two and a half hours to complete and starting from the Home Hotel, pick up on the famous Idaho Centennial Trail. Taking you to the ruins of the old Molydbenun mine or up to the ‘L’ side of the mountain, you’ll enjoy sweeping panoramas of the Gem State and views over Lava Hot Springs and the meandering curves of the Portneuf River. Look out for plenty of interesting wildlife in the area too.
Visit the Nearby Ghost Town of Chesterfield
Step back in time at Historic Chesterfield, a fascinating ghost town located 40 minutes north of Lava Hot Springs by car. Uninhabited since the 1970’s and now with its buildings lovingly restored to their original late 19th century condition, you can take a free tour and learn about the town’s rise and fall.
While winter is an ideal time to enjoy the hot springs (due to the lower levels of visitors), the opportunity to hit the slopes at nearby Pebble Creek is also one that shouldn’t be missed. Located in the Portneuf Range and around a 35-minute drive north from Lava Hot Springs, the resort is centered around the 9,271 ft tall Bonneville Peak, the range’s highest summit. There are slopes for skiing and snowboarding of all experience levels and an adult day pass will set you back around $52, while child passes come in at $36.
Where to Stay in Lava Hot Springs
Riverside Hot Springs Inn
Constructed in 1914 and famous for hosting President Theodore Roosevelt, the historic Riverside Hot Springs Inn is a stylish boutique hotel located next to the Portneuf River on East Portneuf Street. The illustrious old hotel was originally dubbed the “Honeymoon hotel” due to its elegance and is still for adults only. Blessed with access to the town’s hot springs, the Riverside has its own soaking facilities, spa and massage sessions so you can spend the day getting pampered at the hotel should you wish. Guests can also enjoy some of the finest food in Southeastern Idaho at the fine-dining Portneuf Grille & Lounge.
Almost as old as the Riverside (it dates back to 1918) and just as classy, the chic Home Hotel on 306 East Main Street is perfectly located and features plush accommodation (with King and Queen size beds) for relaxing during your stay in the town. And if you want to avoid the summer crowds, their in-room natural hot springs baths mean you can enjoy the city’s unique natural attraction in the privacy of your own room.
Lava Hot Springs Inn
Located just north of Main Street on Centre Street, the Lava Hot Springs Inn offers a range of accommodations alongside a number of different pools to suit your needs. Choose from the Lava Hot Springs Hotel, a bed & breakfast, a vacation rental or a cottage. And with several hot springs pools, a water therapy pool and even a 44 degree cold plunge pool, guests here will have a variety of different relaxation options.
RV Sites and Resorts
There are numerous RV campsites dotted around the town, so those driving have plenty of choice. Lava Hot Springs East KOA, Lava Hot Springs West KOA and Mary’s Place Campground are all pleasant riverside locations with good facilities and in good proximity to downtown.
Where to Eat in Lava Hot Springs
Portneuf Grille & Lounge
Led by executive chef Alonzo Thomas, the Portneuf Grille & Lounge is located at the Riverside Hot Springs Inn and offers a Northwest-inspired fine-dining experience. Sourcing their beef from a local organic farm only 8 miles out from Lava Hot Springs, the refined restaurant offers expertly crafted dishes using the finest and freshest ingredients along with an excellent wine selection. Reserving a table is recommended.
An authentic family-owned Thai restaurant, the Riverside Café is a fine option if you’re in the mood for a casual dining experience with some rich Thai flavors. Located at the top of the hill on the east side of town near the Portneuf River, the Riverside serves a selection of classic dishes including Choo Chee red curry and Phat Kiang. They’re open Tuesday to Sunday from 1:00pm to 9:00pm and closed on Monday.
Start the day right with a hearty breakfast at the Chuckwagon Café on 211 East Main Street in the heart of the downtown. This local favorite is open all day but makes for a great place to enjoy your morning, especially if you have an activity-packed day ahead. The breakfast menu is served until 11:30am and includes omelets, pancakes and house skillets.
Location and Directions
Lava Hot Springs (Google Map) is situated in Southeastern Idaho in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and is in a fairly remote location in relation to any large cities. It’s a four-hour drive along the I-84 E to Lava Hot Springs for those looking to drive across state from Boise, while coming up from Salt Lake City will take just over two hours on the I-15 N.
For those without a car, Salt Lake Express runs a bus service throughout the day from Salt Lake City to nearby McCammon which takes around three hours and costs approx. $40. You’ll then be able to make the 11-mile journey to Lava Hot Springs via taxi which should only take 15 minutes.
The nearest air service can be found at Pocatello Regional Airport with daily direct flights to and from Salt Lake City.
What Time of The Year Should I Visit?
Lava Hot Springs’ soothing hot pools are open all year round and your experience will differ greatly depending on the time of year that you choose to visit.
The town becomes very busy in the summer (starting in June, but particularly in July and August) with tourists basking in the warm weather, kids enjoying the Olympic Pool’s water slides and the many opportunities to go hiking, biking and river tubing. At this time of year, it’s often best to enjoy the hot mineral pools in the early morning and later in the evening, when there will be less crowds. In fact, one of the highlights of a stay here is the chance to relax under the stars on a summer evening while enjoying the stillness and the clear mountain air.
The town is much quieter during the winter months and is preferable for those who desire a more secluded experience. Despite the cold temperatures, the hot pools are still beautifully warm and are far less busy. There are also plenty of opportunities to go skiing at this time of year with the Pebble Creek Ski Resort only a 35-minute drive away.