July 22, 2008
The sleepy hamlet of Lava Hot Springs rests alongside Hwy 30 in Idaho, west of the even sleepier town of Soda Springs and southeast of the busier city of Pocatello. Had I not been clued in about its existence by a former employer who raved about the town’s inexpensive massages and outstanding Thai food, I probably wouldn’t have found it.
Deeded to the state of Idaho in 1902, along with the Portneuf River, Lava Hot Springs was originally part of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. It later entered a treaty agreement between the United States government and local Shoshone Indians.
As with many mineral spring areas, use of the hot springs as healing waters long preceded the treaty, going back centuries. Trappers and traders called the area home, including a locally well-known trapper by the name of Bob Dempsey, who married a local Lehmi Tribe chief’s daughter. For a period of time, the town was called Dempsey.
Aura Soma Lava is one of several lodging establishments in town and offers a variety of options, from street front motel rooms at their Oregon Trail Lodge to private suites, a chalet and a cottage. In my perpetual quest for seclusion while traveling, I chose the latter and was glad I did.
The cottage was ideal, just the type that makes me want to move right in and make it my own. Set alongside an expansive lawn, it had a bedroom with king bed, cozy side room with daybed and trundle, full kitchen and_ private bath and a back deck with private hot tub. The rooms were decorated in soothing colors and I felt myself relaxing the moment I stepped inside.
Small towns are convenient for walking. Though back far enough from the main street to be quiet, the cottage was an easy stroll from most everything in town. I left the car parked and did my exploring on foot, including my trek to the mineral pools.
Lava’s Hot Mineral Springs are filled with natural mineral water that flows into the pools at temperatures between 102 and 112 degrees. More than two million gallons of water pump through the multiple pools daily, emptying out into the Portneuf River. Minimal landscaping adds both foliage and flowers to the property and the city’s park-like Sunken Gardens overlook the property, adding even more of a natural touch to the scene.
In case the hot mineral pool soaking itself isn’t enough to turn muscles to putty, a massage studio is conveniently situated on the grounds, I took advantage of both and somehow managed to slither back to my cottage without having to be carried, though I was so relaxed, I’m not sure how.
Visitors have flocked to Lava Hot Springs since the railroad first came to the town in 1905, yet there is a remarkable absence of tourist development. A small handful of commercial businesses can be found along the main street, but they are scattered and varied.
Aura Soma Lava has a semi-trendy, yet down to earth coffee shop located on Main Street, just up the block from the cottage. Wifi is available to customers and I purchased a miniature coffee cup from a shelf of gift items.
There are quite a few choices for lodging, yet dining options are few. But yes, there is excellent Thai food to be found at the east end of town at the Riverwalk Thai Restaurant. I made sure to fit that into my visit.
One exception to the area’s lack of commercialism is the Olympic Swimming Complex, situated at the west end of the town. Waterslides with a 60’ vertical drop provide faster paced activity for those seeking more than a peaceful soak in mineral waters. In addition to the outdoor pool, which closes during winter months, an indoor aquatic center is open year-round.
A developer might look at the area as having untapped potential, yet part of the charm of the area is the lack thereof. I weighed this as I took a walk through town before leaving, taking in a few final views of the surrounding scenes.
The historic hot springs pools held small clusters of guests relaxing, and the Sunken Gardens were quiet and peaceful. The tube rental shacks appeared non-pretentious and the sight of the tubes bouncing along the river came across like a simple scene of natural, outdoor fun. I came to the conclusion that Lava Hot Springs is perfect just the way it is. I hope when I return someday that I find it unchanged.