Growing up, Spring Break was always a vacation week for my family. My dad was in the Army and he would take leave from work while we had the week off. We would load up the car and drive somewhere to visit for the week. Some of the places we were able to travel: a small town in Iowa to visit family, Washington DC for museum time, and the coast of Spain for a beach trip. No matter how big or small the trip was we made great memories that I still cherish today. Now that I am a parent I want to make the same type of memories with my children. Due to my husband’s job we can’t always take a week of vacation when the kids have off school, but he can usually take a day or two. So last year we decided to surprise the kids and make the two hour drive north and visit Lava Hot Springs in Idaho. Lava Hot Springs is filled from underground pools with pure all-natural mineral water. No chemicals are added; there is no sulfur so there is no odor like other hot springs. The natural temperature is 102-112 degrees. They have 5 outdoor pools (with natural rock floors) that vary in temperature; depending on how close you are to the fault where the water comes up from the ground. My kids called them giant hot tubs.
Tips for Visiting Lava Hot Springs
Make Reservations in Town
There are a couple of hotels, Bed & Breakfasts, tent camping, and RV camping sites in town. When we went for Spring Break it was quiet in town, and there were plenty of rooms. All of the winter ski tourists (there is a ski resort locally) were gone and the summer tourists don’t show up until it is warmer. We reserved a couple of rooms in one of the hotels across the street from the hot springs. It ended up being a perfectly placed hotel. Once we arrived and parked, we didn't drive again until we left to go home. We were able to walk everywhere we wanted to go.
Be Prepared for the Beach, and the Mountains
We found that even though it was early in spring, the kids still needed sunscreen since we were outside in the sun most of the day in the water. You will also need beach towels while you are swimming, and the hotels do not like you to take their towels (trust me!). If you forget towels, they can be rented from the store at the hot springs for a couple of dollars a day. On the flip side it is still chilly during the spring, so there might be snow on the ground. We had a little snow, but at 60 degrees during the day (and buds on the trees) my boys were comfortable throwing snowballs at each other while wearing shorts. The girls did want coats and hats in the evening when we went to dinner. It got cold once it was dark - so be prepared.
Bring Cash (but just a little)
We found everything in town to be surprisingly inexpensive. We did go during off-season so that made it nice. Entrance to the hot springs varies by visitor’s age. $1.50-$9.00 for day passes. Wednesday is family day, at $16.50 for a family of 4, it is a total deal. We just happen to be there on a Wednesday too. Dinner was at a family owned Pizza restaurant just two blocks down from our hotel. They also had dinner specials, and family deals. After dinner we walked down the street to the local grocery store and bought fruit, snacks, and treats for the night. We passed an arcade that looked fun, but the kids really just wanted to put their suits on and go back to the hot pools.
Once we were done swimming in the hot pools all day, and then again all evening, out girls were exhausted. We decided to stay in and play games. Our hotel had tables with chairs in each room so we set up a game table with snacks and played games late into the night. Swimming late into the evening was an option since they stay open until 10 or 11 (depending on the day) but since we are split having two “little” girls and two “big” boys staying in was a better option for us.
Sometimes making amazing family memories over Spring Break doesn't have to cost a lot, or take you far from home. Sometimes all it takes is a tank or gas, a hotel, swimsuits, treats and a board game.