Winter is magic at Lava Hot Springs — and not just because of the cold, clean air and an abundance of snow and sunshine. Everything you need for a much-needed break from cabin fever is within walking or driving distance, from chill-melting hot springs to mountaintop views that will take your breath away. We talked with local Brandon De Los Reyes for his favorite wintertime activities so you can get an insider’s insights into your next break.
Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism
1. Fire & Ice Winterfest: It’s not just one of the craziest winter festivals in Idaho — it’s one of the zaniest anywhere! Where else can you find fire dancers, costumed people in inner tubes floating the Portneuf River in freezing temperatures, and a wandering Abominable Snowman? This two-day festival always takes place the first weekend in February, which means you should mark your calendars for Feb. 4-5, 2022. Check out the full schedule here https://fireice.lavahotsprings.org/.
2. Lava Hot Springs Foundation Hot Pools: For decades, these pools have relieved the cold-weary joints of both residents and visitors alike. The five outdoor hot springs feature gorgeous pools with a handy snow melt system built into the surrounding decks, plus water that ranges from 102-112 degrees. Bonus: The water is chemical-free, which makes it even easier on winter-weary skin. If you’re bringing the whole family, check out the Indoor Aquatic Center, which features a kiddie cove and climbing wall. The two facilities are just four blocks away from each other.
3. Hiking: “We have really neat hiking trails, but the best one is the hike to the ‘L’ on the Bicentennial Trail,” De Los Reyes says. “It’s also the easiest for people to find. It’s fairly steep in a couple of places, so I wouldn’t call it a beginner trail because it has some elevation gain, but the hike is worth it.” If the weather is cold and icy, you might need a traction device like Yaktrax; hiking poles are also a good idea, because the trail can be a little rough in parts. You can find the exact route of the Bicentennial Trail, along with many other trails in the area, by visiting the Southeast Idaho High Country website.
4. Snowmobiling: The area around Lava Hot Springs is well known by local snowmobiling enthusiasts. “There are people who snowmobile all the way from Pocatello to Lava, soak in the pools, and then drive back,” De Los Reyes says. Even if you’re not up for a 70-mile round trip adventure like those folks, you can still find plenty of routes that cater to all levels of experience. There are hundreds of miles of groomed snowmobile trails snaking through forests that offer gorgeous views of Mt. Bonneville and the Portneuf River. Visit here for a full list.
5. Skiing and Snowshoeing: Pebble Creek Ski Area, which is perched atop Mt. Bonneville at 9,271 feet, is just 30 minutes away from Lava Hot Springs. With a 2,200-foot vertical drop and 51 runs, there’s something for everyone — and you can expect lift prices to be much lower than larger resorts. Snowshoers and cross-country skiers can tackle nearly any snow-covered trail around Lava, but Baker Ranch offers groomed trails for both beginners and intermediate-level enthusiasts. Make a pit stop in the ranch’s warming hut before completing your snowy journey.
6. Niter Ice Cave: Imagine descending below ground into a lava tube covered in ice. At the Niter Ice Cave, an undeveloped cave just 25 miles from Lava Hot Springs, you can explore this natural phenomena. “It’s not very deep and you don’t need any special equipment to visit it,” De Los Reyes says, though you will probably want sturdy shoes and warm clothing. You can find more info and directions to the cave here.
7. History: “Everyone should check out our museum at least once,” says De Los Reyes. The South Bannock County Historical Center Museum takes visitors through a crash course in area history, including the importance of hot springs over the centuries, the trapper era of this part of Southeastern Idaho, and the railroad project that brought the healing waters of Lava Hot Springs to the masses for the first time.
8. Zipline: The Lava Zipline Adventure is open year-round, but you’ll need to time your visit right in the winter — this super-popular adventure outing is only available on the weekends once the temperature drops. However, the wait will be worth it: Take in outstanding views of snowy surroundings during this 3.5-hour excursion.
9. Fishing: Both the Portneuf River and nearby Chesterfield Reservoir offer excellent opportunities to nab trout, no matter the season. Fly fishing enthusiasts love the Portneuf, while Chesterfield offers a seasonal specialty: Ice fishing. You’ll have to check conditions before you go (never walk on ice less than four solid inches), but this spot is a traditional winter favorite for brown, cutthroat, and rainbow trout.
10. Downtown: When in doubt, head downtown! Lava’s historic and lovely city center offers charming boutiques filled with one-of-a-kind gifts and cozy restaurants and bars. It’s the perfect place to decompress after a winter adventure.
Ready to plan your wintry getaway? Check out the resources on our website, including lodging information, shopping ideas, and even more things to do!