It’s an unassuming town when you first drive down its main drag. But Lava Hot Springs, located in the southeast corner of Idaho, fools you with its first impression. As did my destination there, Aura Soma Lava Lodge.
The lodge’s main street front initially appears to be a colorfully refurbished motel. I realized quickly that the new two-story attached building was part of the complex. And, after a tour, I found that the buildings behind were part of the Aura Soma Lava Lodge complex. Also part of the complex was the lush park-like setting abutting the Portneuf River, two homes in “the park”, the labyrinth and hot springs pool also in “the park,” and five brand new tiny houses on “the park” edge.
Such is Aura Soma Lava Lodge and its setting, Lava Hot Springs—it’s like an unfolding Netflix binge-watching series that sucks you in and renders you reluctant to leave—only better. You find yourself thinking you could live there without really knowing why.
Lava Hot Springs Volcanic Waters
Perhaps it’s the town’s hot springs mineral waters. Its unique mineral content, first discovered by the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes and then Oregon Trail pioneers, is imbued with fifteen minerals, each with its own therapeutic history. The volcanic waters have been captured and contained in the two commercial hot springs bookends of the town—the historic Lava Hot Springs with five outdoor pools of varying temperatures and the newer Olympic Swimming Complex with its heated indoor and outdoor Olympic-sized pools, water slides and a hot water spa.
Along the Portneuf River are the secret non-commercial pools created by locals, places like “Chicken Soup,” reached by a short walk upriver from the town center.
Settling in to Aura Soma Lava Lodge
In between is Aura Soma Lava Lodge, which, like most of the accommodations in town, contained the community’s abundant supply of hot mineral water in a soaking pool available only for customers.
That first night, perched on the deck of one of the tiny houses named Oracle Sacred Space, my home for a three-day stay, was when it first struck me. I was entranced. I had just walked the unicursal labyrinth in “the park” at Aura Soma Lava Lodge, which I knew by then was a verdant 2.5 acres the lodge called Riverfront Meadow. I had soaked in the hot pool. I could hear the gurgle of the Portneuf River from my vantage point. And in my perfectly sized, perfectly tricked out tiny house decorated with lush color photography, I slept the sleep of the just.
I thought it couldn’t get any better, but no. The next morning, Aura Soma Lava Lodge owner, Evelee Hill, invited me to breakfast at the Chuckwagon across the street to meet some of her friends. It’s the kind of café you find in small towns—a place crowded with locals who meet there regularly where the real business of a small community gets conducted.
Her friends were installing colored lighting in one of Aura Soma Lava’s therapy rooms so chromotherapy could be added to the lodge’s menu of massage treatments, where I had an upcoming Ashiatsu Massage.
Now I’m a big fan of massages. I try them out wherever I travel. Ashiatsu, described as an “Asian barefoot massage technique that uses feet instead of hands to make deep compression strokes that glide over the body,” didn’t sound at all intimidating. I neglected to read the rest of the description. “The therapist stands at the side of the table and holds onto bars over their head to balance and adjust pressure.” That 90-minute session, in which I couldn’t tell the difference between the therapist’s hands and feet, sent me into a state of relaxed bliss. And for the second time, I entertained thoughts of pulling up stakes and moving to Lava Hot Springs, now with the added benefit of indulging in daily massages off the Aura Soma Lava menu of options.
Things to do at Lava Hot Springs
What I’m not a fan of is heights. In particular, heights that require a leap of faith jump into an abyss. Later, outside of town gazing up at zip lines and a ninja warrior obstacle course with owner Milan Zabka, it was hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm for his 40-acre hand-built experience called Zipline Adventure. A former ski instructor, he’s convinced anyone can do the course, which ranges from three zip lines to a human-powered Ferris wheel, a ropes course, a sphere inside a geodesic dome and a six-foot freefall from a 65-foot platform. Adrenaline junkies and groups wanting a team building experience give Zipline Adventure five stars for the experience and safety precautions.
Me, I demurred, not wanting to reverse the effects of the Ashiatsu Massage. Also, I wanted to check out the Intermountain Vippasana Association down the road, a 265- acre property being built as a meditation retreat center.
Lava Hot Springs is a walking town and a meandering walk takes you past Purple Moon Crystal Company that sells statues of Buddha, incense, prayer flags and crystals. Past Dempsey Creek Trading Company selling Native American crafts and Black Hills gold. Past The Atrium, an indoor mall with a barbershop, shooting gallery, tattoo parlor and coffee shop selling freshly roasted lattes. Past businesses renting colorful, oversized inner tubes to run Portneuf River and the South Bannock County Historical Museum.
And eventually to what locals call “the church” for its original purpose, now called Greystone Manor in its new identity as a bed and breakfast as well as an elegant dining spot. There I dined on Idaho trout and Idaho wine and for the third time pondered life as a Lava Hot Springs resident.
There’s something for everyone in eclectic little Lava Hot Springs. In the future, I want to return for their annual, weekend February Fire and Ice Winterfest when the town is at its quirky best. During the fest, locals and visitors don crazy costumes to float the frigid Portneuf River in the Polar Float Parade. I plan on watching from Riverfront Meadow at Aura Soma Lava Lodge and later, chilled out by the mere observation of floating a river on a bone-chilling day, soak in the lodge’s hot pool and sleep in 366 feet of fully equipped tiny house space. Maybe this time I’ll make it permanent.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a meal and accommodations for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.