Hot Mineral Springs. I’ve been all over the world in search of them. Why? Because they have always revived my body and spirit. Many tout the health properties of steaming mineral water, which they say can provide relief for arthritis and digestive issues, give speedy recovery of wounds, increase blood flow and circulation, increase metabolism, and allow for absorption of essential minerals. I’m not sure if they do any of that. But what I do know is that soak in a hot spring is one of the few things that can release my gridlocked shoulder muscles and quiet the traffic jam of my noisy mind. When I was planning for my road trip, I was hoping I’d find some hot springs on my journey. That wish was granted in the State of Idaho.
By far my favorite hot springs to visit are those hard to reach ones that take a bit of creative energy to locate. Directions might be something like “park your car at mile marker 4 beside the river, then hike a quarter mile up the hill on the unmarked trail” or “walk through the RV park, crawl over the boulder, and hike up the hill along the river bank until you see the steam rising” (yes, both of these sets of instructions were given for springs I visited in Idaho). On my last full day in Boise, my new Boise BFF Shanti Sosienski took me to one of those off-the-beaten-path springs about an hour outside of town. It is called Deer Creek Hot Springs, or, as the locals call it, Skinny Dipper. Easily one of the most beautiful springs I’ve visited, it involves a series of 3 pools that vary in temperature and have a spectacular view of the Payette river. Unfortunately, Skinny Dipper wasn’t all relaxation. While attempting to take a photo I stepped on a slick spot and took a major wipe out. By major, I really do mean major. I have cuts and bruises in places you should never ever ever have cuts and bruises. Clearly I needed to heal those cuts and bruises and what better way than to visit more hot springs? So I headed straight to Lava Hot Springs, Idaho for 3 days.
Lava Hot Springs was originally a sacred gathering place for the Bannock & Shoshone Indians who designated the area as a neutral ground to be shared in peace by all tribes. The town now has a population of about 500 people. However, in the height of the summer tourist season up to 15,000 people visit per month. For once I was happy that I arrived during the off-season because it really did feel like I had the place to myself. I stayed at the historic Home Hotel which was built in 1918 and is the only hotel in the city that has private hot spring tubs in the rooms.
The heart of the town is the World Famous Mineral Pool Complex, which consists of five pebble-bottomed hot pools with temperatures ranging from 104 to 112 degrees. About 3 1/2 million gallons of water bubble out of natural underground springs and course through the pools every single day.
Although these were the nicest commercial hot springs I’ve ever visited, my favorite part of Lava Hot Springs was discovered through a conversation with Levi, the front desk clerk at my hotel. I asked him if there were any secret hot springs in the area about which only the locals know. After pausing briefly, and then slowly giving me a sly smile, Levi told me about a spring which bubbles up next to and then flows into the Portneuf River.
The locals call it Chicken Soup Hot Springs because, legend has it, in the 1920s women would put their chickens in the hot waters to help with plucking feathers. Early one morning Yoda and I found it with the intention of enjoying a private soak as the sun rose. Of course, I’d be lying if I said that soak was pure relaxation. You see, that same conversation with Levi the desk clerk told me about another local legend: ligers. Yes, you heard me, LIGERS – that mythical hybrid of a lion and tiger that Napoleon Dynamite so loved. Levi swears they live in the hills around Lava Hot Springs, but that their existence is kept under wraps so as not to disturb tourism. A search on Google does indeed show that in 1995 ligers escaped from Ligertown, an illegal breeding operation near Lava Hot Springs. Although the authorities claim they captured all of the ligers, Levi said the locals still have occasional sightings. I’m not sure what I believe, however while attempting to soak, I couldn’t stop thinking of the large animal droppings on the trail leading to Chicken Soup Hot Springs. They could be from elk, deer, moose, bobcats, or…THEY COULD BE FROM LIGERS. And with that thought, I quickly grabbed my clothes and bolted back to the safety of the hot spring tub in my room.