Lava Hot Springs, a town of 400, attracts 45,000 visitors a month in the summer

A family takes on a ride a floating platform while tackling the Porteuf River in Lava Hot Springs recently.

LAVA HOT SPRINGS – With only a couple of weeks before school starts in Utah, the Mayor of Lava Hot Springs Jon Thomson said the town of 400 souls is expecting some big crowds of people wanting to get one last vacation in.

Lava Hot Springs is busy during the week, but on the weekends it get crazy with people visiting the town of 400 residents.

The hot springs have been used for centuries to soak weary travelers or stay worm in the winter. At one time it was part of the Bannock Native American reservation.

The tiny town only about an hour-and-a-half drive away can average 45,000 people a month visiting the pools and hot springs during the summer. That doesn’t even account for the people that come to town and don’t use the pools, but enjoy the historic town.

“The crowds this year are pretty normal for summer,” Thomson said. “The weekends are crazy more so than the weekdays.”

All of the hotels are generally full all of the time, but in the summertime the campgrounds are full and that increases the number of visitors coming to town.

“It is still an affordable place to bring a family,” the retired aerospace engineer said. “A family can stay a couple of days and have a good time for not much money.”

The town caters to families. It’s a lot cheaper to go to Lava than go to Disneyland and there is plenty to do, the mayor said.

A lifeguard at the Lava Hot Springs pool scans the water with his eyes to make sure everyone is safe.

Thomson has lived in Lava for 25 years and has seen the pool areas built up over time.

We started getting considerably bigger crowds five years ago and there was a jump five years before that,” he said. “About two years go some national travel magazine did a write up on us and mentioned tubing on the Portneuf River.”

The article said the town had the most floatable river in the country.

“Since the article came out the traffic on the river has grown exponentially,” Thomson said. “And since then, the float tube business has gone crazy.”

This year there was not much snowmelt, so the river didn’t ever get to high or fast. People used to bring their own innertubes from cars or trucks but that has changed.

“A company called the River Rat brought Gater Tubes and started a tube rental business,” Thomson explained. “Since then, there are (more) companies renting tubes.”

River Rat is no longer in Lava but there are still five tube rental places in Lava. He said the time to come and tube the river is during the Polar Bear Run during the Fire and Ice Festival. This year it will be held February 5-6, 2021.

“Floating the river is the biggest draw, the hot pools and our indoor-outdoor swimming pools are next,” he said.  The Portneuf River and Lava Hot Springs were deeded to the State of Idaho in 1902.”

Swimmers line up on the bridge waiting their turn to take one of two slides to the pool. Lava Hot Springs has 45,000 visitors a month during the summer.

The mayor also said the Sunken Gardens, a landscaped botanical garden, is worth a visit

“The scones at the Chuck Wagon restaurant or waffles from the Lava Hotel Waffle Shop is another draw,” he said. “We have a killer nice museum that has the whole history of Lava on display.”

The pools and river in Lava are owned by the State of Idaho and managed by The Lava Hot Springs Foundation. The recreational area is a not for profit. The hot springs are one of 130 soakable hot springs in Idaho.

“At one time this was part of the Fort Hall Indian reservation,” he said. “The state got the hot springs as part of a treaty and formed a non-profit foundation to run it.”

All of the profits go to improving the public pools.

“The pools have been improved over the years,” Thompson added. “The big slides that have been added within the last 10 to 15 years come from money made at the pools.”

Rowdy Goodwin serves up a square ice cream in a cone at Lava Hot Springs Sweet Stuff located at 34 E. Main St. recently.

Parking is the number one problem for the town. The small streets were designed over 100 years ago.

“You can’t increase the size of the town or add parking where there is no space,” Thomson said. “Our goal is to make it so everyone has a pleasant experience.”


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