Free camping in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho? Portneuf Lower is a free campground located only two miles north of town. It’s run by the Idaho Department of Fish & Game as a “sportsmen’s access”, intended for hunters and fishermen. While many fishermen do come here to try their luck at hooking a trout, it’s more popular with campers. The campground rests right on the banks of Portneuf River. Because it’s only two miles from Lava Hot Springs, it’s very popular with campers looking to grab a free campsite instead of paying upwards of $100.00 a night at one of the KOA’s in town.
Portneuf Lower Campground, Lava Hot Springs, ID
Portneuf Lower is probably is the best kept secret with respect to free camping in Lava Hot Springs. Well, at least it was. While RV parks in town cost as much as $100.00 a night, and still get sold out during weekends in Summer, Portneuf Lower often has several places where RVers can boondock, and only be two miles away from town.
The campground is located right on the Portneuf River. You can literally camp right on the banks, and hear the sounds of gentle waterfalls pouring over travertine slabs. Instead of waking up to the sounds of your neighbors screaming kids, you get to hear birds singing for their breakfast.
It’s anyone’s guess why 99% of RVers prefer to shell out big bucks for a back-in site sandwiched between two other RVs only six feet away. But, Portneuf Lower is far more idyllic, far more closer to nature, and feels much more like genuine camping. While we often encourage others to give boondocking a try, we can’t complain that a place like Portneuf Lower Campground still has plenty of room for us to set up camp.
The Idaho Department of Fish & Game says there is only a 10-day maximum stay here. But, we camped here for 21 days, and never heard a word from anyone. We noted other campers that were here before we arrived, and were still here after we left.
The Union Pacific railroad does run past Portneuf Lower, and the train does blare its horn when it runs on by. But then again, the same tracks run right past the entire town Lava Hot Springs. Both KOAs in town, as well as other campgrounds, all get the same earful of train horn, every couple of hours. It’s not like Portneuf Lower is any worse.
It’s called Portneuf Lower because there’s also a Portneuf Upper, located about 7 miles north along Blaser Highway. But, Portneuf Upper doesn’t have a campground; it’s strictly a place for fishing.
Access into the campground is hard packed dirt. Some roads through here can be rutted and bumpy, but any vehicle can make it, four wheel drive not necessary.
Now that’s we’ve blown the secret on Portneuf Lower, I suppose we can expect hoards of RVers to flood this place. Maybe not. If you’re looking for a place to camp while enjoying the mineral waters of Lava Hot Springs, there’s just no reason to waste $100.00 a night on a back-in space. Go to Portneuf Lower instead, and start learning how to boondock.
Pros and Cons
Pros: Camping right the banks of the Portneuf River, only two miles from Lava Hot Springs, a hundred feet or more from your nearest neighbor.
Cons: Train rolls by every couple of hours and blasts horn. Access roads can be bumpy. Some sites are grown over with tall grasses.
Pit toilets are the only amenity. Otherwise, you can get propane tanks filled at the gas station in town. RV dump state with potable water can be found at the KOA at the east end of town. They have trash dumpsters too.
Cellphone Signal Strength
Verizon 4G cellphone signal comes in fair to good at 2-3 bars.
Insects, Pests, & Wildlife
Very peaceful during the week. The weekends are still peaceful, but you will see an OHV racing by now and then. These are not secluded campsites, you won’t find much privacy here. The train does come by every couple of hours, and it does blast its horn, but it also does so when it goes through Lava Hot Springs.
Safe or Sketchy?
Seems pretty safe boondocking here. We camped here for three weeks. We often went into town for supplies and to relax in the springs, and never had a problem leaving our trailer unattended.
How Crowded Is It?
It gets pretty crowded during the weekend. During the week, about 3/4 of sites are taken. But, you are allowed to camp anywhere here. You are allowed to make your own roads, and clear out a new site. The Idaho Department of Fish & Game, does not seem to mind.
Idaho Department of Fish & Game
Southeast Regional Office
Southeast Regional Office:
Tel: (208) 232-4703
GPS: 42.6422, -112.0044
Nearest Town: Lava Hot Springs, ID
Max Stay: 10 days
Amenities: Pit toilets, KOA Holiday East has propane, trash dumpster, and dump station
Access: Hard packed dirt all the way through
Verizon Coverage: 2-3 bars
Crowded: full on weekends, 3/4 full on weekdays