Take a Dip in Lava Hot Springs near Yellowstone
Soak in hot springs and float down a river west of Yellowstone.
Tucked into the rolling green hills of southeast Idaho, you’ll discover a couple of off-the-radar gems worth stopping for and exploring in the charming town of Lava Hot Springs.
Immerse yourself in world-class hot springs in the quaint town of Lava Hot Springs. In the heart of town, you can soak in five wonderfully sulfur-free outdoor pools heated to 102-112 degrees by natural underground springs. But in a nod to the wellness vibe of this town, a number of the charming hotels in town also have their own private hot springs, spas and massage therapists. Head here mid-week for the best rates and least number of people.
Tubing in Lava Hot Springs
If you want to spend time on the Portneuf River that flows through town, rent an inner tube and personal flotation device at one of several stands near the hot springs complex. It’s a fun float with several rapids that will get your heart racing. About a five-second float from where you get into the river with your raft, you’ll see a natural pool on the opposite side of the river where natural hot springs flow into the river. If you can maneuver your tube quickly, you can pull over and sit in the hot springs area, which is cordoned off with rocks. It’s a great soak in hot water, and you can watch all the tubers as they start their wild float down the river.
Farther down the river, before the bridge, head right for a smoother descent down the first big rapid. Just after the first bridge, you’ll want to head left to avoid a large drop-off that has been nicknamed by locals “The Mutilator.” If you cannot maneuver yourself far left (if you’re looking down the river), try to at least lean forward to avoid tipping back as you go over the drop off on the right side. People have hit their heads on the rocks as they have tipped backwards over the drop when they go to the right-side. Then, float downriver less than a mile to the take-out where you can either walk or take an open-air shuttle back up to where you started. Tip: wear water shoes rather than flip flops that will get stuck in the mud or fall off your feet and get swallowed by the river.
For more water-related fun, walk four blocks to the Olympic Swimming Complex, which features a huge swimming pool, three diving platforms that are 5, 7 and 9 meters high and speed slides with 60 foot drops. The platforms are fun to jump off (or even more fun to watch others make the leap), although you do need to sign a waiver in advance to jump off.
Zipline, Golf or Hike in Lava Hot Springs
Continue the fun on dry land as you fly through the air at a private canyon with Lava Zipline Adventure. You’ll get picked up by the company in town and drive to the canyon for a half-day of fun. Tour depart twice a day and you’ll get the chance to tackle three ziplines and an American Ninja Warrior style obstacle course. It’s a good idea to make reservations in advance for this popular activity.
The town also has a nine-hole public golf course. Lava Hot Springs Golf Course is just one mile south of town. It’s in the Dempsey Creek Valley, offering stunning views and a fun venue to golf.
If you’re looking to stretch your legs, head to the trailhead of the Idaho Centennial Trail, marked by a large white and blue wooden sign next to the Lava Hillside Suites. You can follow the trail to the town’s “L” that sits on the mountain over town. You’ll cross over a small bridge and pass over two small dirt roads along the way. At the first dirt road, head left to the trail. At the second dirt road, head right to pick up the trail again. The hike is steep but short and well-worth it for the views you get of town and the surrounding area.
Restaurants in Lava Hot Springs
When you’re hungry, stop by Ye Old Chuckwagon Restaurant for great scones and cinnamon buns at breakfast, good-sized burgers for lunch and dinner and an informal, relaxed atmosphere with booths and regular tables. It’s on the corner of Second Street and Main and is the place to go for relaxed meals.
There’s also the Shack, a local favorite for burgers and fries. Take your food to one of the town’s many parks to enjoy a picnic lunch. New in 2023, Eruption Brewery serves local beer and pizza.
Or check out the upscale Portneuf Grille & Lounge, which is located in the Riverside Hot Springs Inn & Spa. The restaurant is a highlight of the historic 1914 hotel. Its menu features Northwest-inspired cuisine and includes vegetarian and gluten-free dishes, along with classics like U.S.-aged prime rib steak.
For a delicious four-course meal, head to the reservation-only Greystone Manor Bed and Breakfast and Event Center where you can savor your various dishes, including an entrée of salmon, beef or chicken, on the patio or in the dining room.
A newcomer in town is The Rooftop Bar, which sits at the top of Lava Hillside Suites. It opened in 2020 and is owned by brothers Cody and Brandon De Los Reyes. You can’t miss it as it sits 75 feet above Main Street, presiding over town with exceptional views of Lava Hot Springs and the valley it sits in. No children are allowed at the bar, which does not serve food. It’s definitely worth walking up the steps to have a drink at the bar and watch the sunset and the lights begin to light the town at night.
If you’ve forgotten any hiking gear, head to Ace Hardware on Main Street. Owned by local Bryce Church, this is a one-stop shop for all the random things you may need, be it extension cords and sewer hoses for your RV to water bottles.
Lava Hot Springs in Fall, Winter and Spring
But Lava Hot Springs is not just a summer destination. Visit anytime of a year to escape the stresses of every day by soaking in the town’s hot pools, getting massages and simply unwinding in a town where you can walk everywhere. In fall, winter and spring, you’ll find fewer people in the hot springs and affordable lodging, helping you to stretch your budget for a longer getaway.
If you want to get a workout in winter, Pebble Creek Ski Area (pebblecreekskiarea.com) is less than an hour from Lava Hot Springs. With 54 trails and three lifts, it offers a mix of beginner, intermediate, advanced and expert slopes. If you’re interested in a ski or snowboard lesson, book in advance for a private or group lesson.
Pebble Creek Ski Area also offers adaptive skiing for anyone with disabilities who are interested. No skiing experience is necessary. A highlight is the area offers night skiing Friday and Saturday nights from January to March. Check Pebble Creek’s website for exact dates of opening and closing.
Private Hotel Pools in Lava Hot Springs
Most hotels have their own private soaking pools or have tubs in your private room like Home Hotel that bring the hot springs water to you. Harkness Hotel offers a salon and spa that offers hot stone massages and facials. Lava Hotel & Spa offers on-site massage therapy and private hot springs as does the adults-only Riverside Hot Springs Inn & Spa. Lava Hot Springs Inn & Spa offers private pools, aquatic body work, plus massages and reflexology.
You’ll find a wide variety of lodging options in town from bed and breakfasts to chain hotels to vacation home rentals. The camping options are particularly great, with many options along the river. Crystal Springs Campground offers kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals while Smith Trout Haven has a stocked trout pond you can cast a line at.
For more information and to see a calendar of year round events, visit www.lavahotsprings.org