Has the long winter left you feeling a little claustrophobic? It’s not too early to start planning your summer camping trip — in fact, now is the time to lock down your reservations! Over the past few years, the Lava Hot Springs area has been more popular than ever with campers wishing to escape the hum of city life for the freedom of nature.
There are tons of opportunities for a memory-making trip. To get started, let’s answer this question: What type of camper are you?
The Family Fun Lover
Family adventures are definitely the more, the merrier — but whatever you choose has to please a crowd! These ideas will keep the fun rolling from sunup to sundown.
Splash through our famous pools. Our hot springs have been a summer tradition for generations of families, and it’s easy to see why — there are so many ways for kids to love them. Little ones will find plenty to explore at the Portneuf Kiddie Cove, which has fun features like water flowers, splash buckets, and geyserinos to keep them entertained for hours. Older kids will scream with delight while zooming down the Speed Water Slides at 38 mph. Meanwhile, parents can relax (even if it’s in alternating shifts) in calmer waters. Pro tip: Book your activities for mid-week if you don’t want to wait in line or prefer a less crowded experience. Plus, families enjoy discounted passes on Wednesday!
Float with the fam. The Portneuf River flows right through the town of Lava Hot Springs, and floating the cold water in an inner tube on a hot summer day is a treat that demands to be experienced. Gear up at Mountain Mayhem or one of several other downtown businesses that offer tube rentals.
Go fishin’. The area around Lava is teeming with trout. Family-friendly angling spots include nearby Chesterfield Reservoir, Blackfoot Reservoir, and the Portneuf River. Don’t forget your fishing licenses! You can purchase them at the Sunnyside Sinclair on Highway 30.
Where to stay: The Portneuf Bend Campground and Smith’s Trout Haven offer plenty of space for vacationing families.
The History Buff
A ghost town. An ancient healing site. Thousands of emigrants in search of a new start in the West. Lava Hot Springs has a rich, complicated past that will fascinate history lovers — and it’s all within a day’s drive.
Discover Lava before it was Lava. The Shoshone and Bannock people called this area Poha-Ba, or “Land of Healing Waters.” Learn about their beliefs, experiences, and way of life — in their own words — at the permanent Poha-Ba exhibit at the South Bannock County Historical Museum. You’ll also discover the history behind the improved hot springs, read about trappers and traders, and learn about early white settlement here.
Visit a ghost town. Nearby Chesterfield, situated along the Oregon Trail, was an important early town for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. From the 1880s to the 1930s, Chesterfield was home to immigrants from overseas and U.S. settlers who were searching for a better life. Unfortunately, ease was hard to come by — drought, missed opportunities, and financial crises bedeviled Chesterfield and the town’s population dwindled to next to nothing. The town site is still wonderfully preserved, though, and features original buildings. During the summer, volunteers lead tours and recant the history of the site. Chesterfield is less than 45 minutes away from Lava and makes an ideal day trip.
Travel like an emigrant. The celebrated Oregon and California trails wound their way beside the Portneuf River in the 19th century. You can get a taste of what it was like to make the arduous journey West (minus the deprivation) through Baker Ranch Scenic Wagon Rides. You’ll enjoy a trip, powered by draft horses, to Baker Ranch’s hideaway along Dempsey Creek. Tuck into a leisurely meal, stock up on some fresh raspberry jam, and learn a bit more about the rich history of the Lava area.
Where to stay: What better place to rest after a day of exploring than a Conestoga Wagon, just like the folks who traveled the Oregon Trail used? Check out the wagon camping options at Downata Hot Springs to book yours. RVers and folks who want a tent camping experience will love Crystal Springs Campground.
The Adventure Seeker
For some of us, camping isn’t complete without a few hair-raising experiences. Here’s how to combine your leisure time with some heart-pounding fun.
Face your fears on the diving platform. Ever watched the Olympics and wondered how you’d do during the platform diving competition? This is your chance to find out! The Lava Hot Springs Platform Diving Tower features three levels — 5 meters, 7 meters, and 10 meters — to test your skills (and your stamina). FYI: Kids under 18 must sign a waiver before climbing the ladder to the top.
Zip zip zip! Why not go all out? Soar above a canyon, find your balance on a challenging ropes course, and build new bonds at the Lava Zipline and Ropes Course Adventure. Over three hours, you’ll test yourself in new ways while experiencing knockout views. (Don’t worry, you’ll receive proper training before starting out on your journey.)
Barrel down a mountain. Lava is surrounded by stunning mountain biking trails that will take you through peaks and valleys and back again. Head straight for the mountainside “L” on the steep Centennial Trail or aim for a trail in the Portneuf Range — just check out Southeast Idaho High Country’s interactive map to plan your route.
Where to stay: After all that adventure, relax to the rush of the river at the Lava Estates Mobile Campground.
Love the camping life but wish it were a bit more … well, easier? That’s what glamping is for! Try these not-quite-roughing-it ideas.
Melt into a massage. Lava Hot Springs is a laid-back wellness destination with a number of resident massage therapists. Let the hot pools at the springs relax your muscles before a therapist unwinds every last knot — or, for even deeper release, experience a watsu-style massage in the water! Choose from a list of experienced therapists here.
Go shopping. One-of-a-kind gifts, jewelry, unique decor … shoppers will find a lot to love in little Downtown Lava. It’s the perfect size to while away an afternoon, complete with lunch or dinner at one of Lava’s popular local bars and restaurants.
Picnic in the park. Maybe a full meal cooked over a campfire isn’t in your future, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat al fresco! Pack a lunch (or grab to-go options at restaurants and markets downtown) and head to one of Lava’s parks. The Sunken Gardens at Lava Hot Springs are particularly lovely during the summer.
Where to stay: The cute, early 20th century accommodations at Bristol Cabins come complete with breakfast — no need to get up early to start the coffee! Or check out the adorable retro campers or glamping canvas wall tents at Lava Campground.
No matter which type of camping experience you prefer, it’s best to book now. Lava Hot Springs can fill up quickly during the summer thanks to its proximity to national parks and bigger cities. Check out even more ideas for the perfect warm weather getaway at lavahotsprings.org.