Facility Review: Dillons Russian Steam Batch): About a year ago I trekked out to Dillon's bath house in Chelsea and met a visitor from Idaho. I told her I wanted to visit Idaho when I went to Utah for commencement, what should I do there? She said without hesitation: "Go to the Lavas!" So I said, "OK, I will!"
Now, it shouldn't be a surprise that someone you meet at a spa suggests you to go a spa. But the sauna lady wasn't alone in her enthusiasm. On my first evening out in Salt Lake City, after my class at La Bombe (see Studio Review: La Bombe), I was enjoying a drop-dead amazing meal at the Red Iguana while being subjected to the conversation of a young set of double-daters at the next table. One of the young ladies was from Idaho, and as her date awkwardly tried to make conversation with her about that, one of the men blurted out "I LOVE LAVAS HOT SPRINGS!" and they all jumped in with "I KNOW! ME TOO!!" A good omen.
I finally made it to the Lavas a few days later, conveniently still sore from class at La Bombe and from hiking Bryce Canyon the day before. It was my first time in Idaho, and as I turned off the highway to approach the springs I saw little farms with horses outside and ACTUAL RED BARNS. I'm a city girl and finding out that scenes from my childhood Fischer-Price playsets and Richard Scarry books actually exist is a mindfuck.
I was confused going into the Lavas park. The first thing you see after the colorful welcoming arches is a large building with an indoor pool. I tried to go there to buy tickets/get visitor information, and the kind cashier was as confused as I was until he realized I was looking for the hot springs which was in a different part of the park. The Lavas also has the indoor pool and a rumoredly epic Olympic swimming pool (which hadn't opened for the summer yet).
Lava Hot Springs, ID is actually it's own town, and in addition to the pools it has a little downtown area of a few blocks lined with small hotels, restaurants and ice cream parlors, and a few gift shops. And at the end of the main street were the hot pools.
The hot springs were nothing stupendous to look at. There was a handful of pools partially covered by red tents. I guess I expected something called "the lavas" to be more naturey and less circusy.
My all-day pass was $9 and I rented a towel for something like $1.50. (Seriously, why am I going to bring a beach towel from Boston to Idaho.) The locker rooms were pretty bare-boned. There were curtained stalls where you could get dressed (particularly modest people in this part of the country I guess), an area with trough-style showers, and coin-operated lockers. Word to the wise, you only get to lock it once per 50 cent deposit, so don't plan on grabbing your phone out of your locker every 20 minutes!
The hot springs consist of a variety of pools at different temperature. A regular was explaining that the hottest pool, all the way on one side, is where the water comes up, and then it's circulated down to the other pools, which are gradually cooler as the water gets away from its source. She also said that the company sometimes adds (fresh spring) cold water to keep the pools at the correct temperature as needed. There were two smaller jacuzzi pools that were quite pleasant until I noticed a man giving himself an intimate massage with one of the water jets. However, I should point out that unlike most of the spas I've reviewed, this place is fully coed and fully non-naked, so I wouldn't expect any other funny business. (There were private and couples' massages as well though, so I can't speak to that!)
The crowd seemed to be largely Utah- and Idaho-based, with some foreign tourists and plenty of characters. The first people I saw were a couple of Japanese bikers, and there was a family of Native Americans who had previously lived in Alaska. Also, Idahoans have a lot of tattoos.
My one problem was that I had a pretty hefty sunburn from hiking Bryce Canyon the day before. The good news is that I had been wearing long jeans and 3/4 sleeves, so the sunburn was only on my face and forearms. But that meant I had to walk around keeping my arms out of the water, which was comfortable to awkward depending on the height difference between the underwater sitting steps and the edge of the pool. So my advice is to try not to get a sunburn before you go to a hot springs because OW.
I spent maybe an hour, 90 minutes hanging out in the pools, then got dressed and walked around the town a little, then back to the pools for another hour plus. And I have to say, my soreness ceased. My sore lats from poling and quads from hiking were all better as I drove back to Utah. Worth the $9 and the 2-hour drive.
Lava Hot Springs, Idaho
Amenities: Multiple pools ranging from 102-110 F, locker rooms/showers, towel and swimsuit rental, massages available at extra cost, nearby indoor pool and Olympic pool (not included in hot springs admission)
Drop-in Price: $7-9 for an all-day adult pass
Photo by me