Just 200 miles south of the small town of West Yellowstone is the even smaller town of Lava Hot Springs, Idaho (population 400, one main street). Judging by the appearance of the buildings and the signage, you would think you had been transported back in time to the mid-1960s (not as it occurred in Haight-Ashbury).
We pass through many small towns of this vintage in our journeys. What sets Lava Hot Springs apart is the fabulous centerpiece of hot springs pools that dominate the downtown. Honestly, I don’t understand why this little town hasn’t become a world-class resort. These are the most beautiful, pristine, well-cared-for developed hot springs we’ve encountered anywhere. There are five pools, ranging from 98 degrees to a scalding 110 degrees. Crystal clear hot water continually flows through the pools from the springs, eliminating the need for chemicals. Two of the large pools have pea-gravel bottoms that feel wonderful to walk on, massaging your feet with each step. There’s a huge immaculate changing room with heated floors. The outdoor sidewalks are even heated. The landscaping is lovely. And the cost? Eight dollars for an all-day pass, with the pools open from 9 a.m. until 10 or 11 at night.
You can guess how we spent our three days in Lava Hot Springs. We stayed right across the street at the Lava Spa Motel and RV Resort, where we strolled to the hot pools at least twice a day. Our other daily activity consisted of hiking straight up the hill above our campsite into the fall foliage.
(A word of advice: If you’re coming here, bring your own food and wine. The wine selection is atrocious, as you can see in the photo. The grocery store is only marginally better than the one in West Yellowstone, which had absolutely nothing that we wanted to buy. Fortunately, we had stocked up as we passed through Pocatello.)