Tucked into the rolling green hills of southeast Idaho, you’ll discover a couple of off-the-radar gems worth stopping for and exploring.
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 and even massage therapists.
“People from all over the world find Lava Hot Springs hot pools to be unique,” says Devanee Morrison, executive director of the Lava Hot Springs Foundation. “Two and one-half million gallons of odor-free, natural mineral water flow through our pools daily, ranging in temperature from 112 degrees to 102 degrees, creating the perfect soaking experience.”
If you want to spend time on the wild Portneuf River that flows through town, rent an inner tube and personal flotation device at TPD Tubes next to 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.
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. It’s a good idea to make reservations in advance for this popular activity.
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.
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 Lava Waffle on the other side of the street with a walk-up window. Hours can vary but are usually 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the summer. Choose among the many options, including Carmelly in My Belly, a waffle topped with dulce de leche and fresh whipped cream, Sunshine & Summer, which is topped with lemon curd, raspberries and cream and Chunky Monkey, which features Nutella, bananas and whipped cream.
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.
For more information, visit www.lavahotsprings.org