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*see our 5-Bambi rating legend at the end of this review.
That prickly-excited feeling again! Towing Beauty up from Nevada on the 80 and then north on 93 to Twin Falls, then the Oregon Trail (Hwy 30) into Buhl and, like a portal to another dimension, Magic Valley opens up before us.
Magic… That’s the name they gave it in the early 20th century when a dam and canal project spit so much water up on that harsh basalt-encrusted barren plain that farms and dairies and vineyards sprouted up out of the rich volcanic ash. Snowy, majestic mountain ranges border the valley – so low on the horizon I first took them for incoming clouds or spired Mormon temples.
The Snake River, though tamed, still dominates Magic Valley eviscerating it like a drunken butcher. French-Canadian trappers called that torrent, La maudite rivière enragée—“the accursed mad river.”
It must have seemed a cruel joke when exhausted people – native people, explorers, travelers and early settlers – gazed confusedly down those deep perpendicular bluffs where gushing life-giving water – too deep and dangerous to access – taunted and teased. Words other than “magic” must have described the ground beneath their feet.
As we crossed the Perrine Bridge, Jim and I watched daredevils with a thirst for thrills prepare to base jump and we wondered how many people, wagons and herds have been swallowed by The Snake for no reason other than basic thirst.
We, too, came to this valley seeking water. Weary travelers. Californians in a strange land. We didn’t come to watch acts of daring-do. We came to immerse in the softer, warmer side of The Snake.
“The whole valley…is the most interesting spot of earth that I ever beheld. Here is a grand field for the geologist, mineralogist, naturalist, & any other kind of ‘ist’ that you can conceive.” —Dr. Wakeman Bryarly, 1849
Miracle Hot Springs in Buhl, is where Jim’s sister Delores, recommended we stay. Last Fall – late September – we camped across Hwy 30 at Banbury Hot Springs on the Snake River. Miracle’s campground is snuggled down beside Salmon Falls Creek.
We’ve a passion for hot water and sometimes go to some crazy places to find it. There’s really nothing quite like immersing in geothermal water that’s been brewing and steeping in volcanic rocks for 100 to 1,000 years.
“It’s all about the magic of that water. The water contains over 50 minerals, which can be therapeutic and might make you feel much better. This is our miracle — the water.” —Enoch Olsen, co-owner of the family-owned Miracle and Banbury Hot Springs
Most hot springs in Idaho are residual energy from a 17-million-year-old meteorite collision in southeast Oregon – water is convected along the fault lines around the deeply embedded and stationary meteor and the North American tectonic plate supplies the friction. As the plate slowly moves, the hot spot periodically erupts volcanic lava – leaving a traceable path of volcanic activity behind such as Yellowstone National Park and these two wonderful hot springs – two miles apart – which operate separately, but together under the same ownership.
Miracle Hot Springs continuous flow of natural hot spring water is soft and silky to the touch with a sensational alkaline pH of 9.6. We’ve never experienced any water quite like it. Due to a catastrophic flood, Miracle was remodeled/recreated in 2012.
The main area has four outdoor public pools
The soothing surroundings and modern pools have lockers and indoor showers. The pool temps range from 100-105. Off-season, non-holiday and weekdays are the best times to experience a restful, therapeutic soak. But with 15 private enclosed, open-air rooms available year-round on a first-come, first-served basis, as well as six VIP private hot pools (large, family size) which can be reserved in advance – a luxurious soak and/or massage awaits anyone, anytime … except on Sundays.
The pools and office are closed on Sundays for religious observance. However, campers are allowed to stay on Sunday and experience other pleasures in Buhl like a scrumptious steak dinner at Snyder Winery or top-notch brews and pub food at Magic Valley Brewing Company.
Banbury Hot Springs is artesian spring fed through a layer of iron pyrite “fools gold,” which gives the water a cool minty green color.
Compared to Miracle, Banbury is old and even crumbling around the edges, but I love the exquisite patina, and the depth and breadth of the pool.
Banbury is a large pool kept at about 100 degrees with a diving board, basketball hoop and a climbing log for the kids. It also has private bathing rooms available upon request or reservation. Plastic buckets are provided for bather’s belongings and there are indoor showers. The Olsens recently acquired Banbury and plan to remodel – and some might say that project us overdue – but, I like it just the way it is … Okay, the showers could use a re-do … But, there’s plenty of room to spread out and stretch, soak, float and gaze as bald eagles catch thermals above The Snake … Magic.
For those so inclined, licensed massage therapists for singles or couples are available at Miracle.
Both resorts have tent and RV campgrounds and when you pay for entrance to the pools, it includes access to both facilities. Each time we camped there we had great experience with the wonderful staff. Just great people!
Geodesic dome houses are available for rent at Miracle, with prices ranging from $69 to $94/night. Banbury offers a log cabin and several additional rooms next to the pool. Pets and smoking are not permitted in these structures.
The camp sites are large grassy spaces with some gravel and bordered by tall cottonwood trees. Sites feature wood picnic tables and fire rings. Excellent 24-hour security is provided.
The laundry – a single washer and dryer (at Banbury only) are not recommended.
Both campgrounds have sites on the river and Banbury offers kayak and paddle board rentals. It’s an easy bicycle ride from one resort to the other.
Access to the camp sites might be difficult. Narrow gravel roads with some steep grade and tight turns could be a challenge for larger rigs. Also, since this is a river we prefer the higher sites. Just as we arrived a couple of weeks ago, the water was receding from a flood and several tent campsites were still under water.
We had electrical difficulties, which may have been due to the flooding at Miracle Hot Springs. Protecting our rig and our equipment from bad electricity is our responsiblity, not our hosts – but upgrades to both of these campgrounds would be appreciated.
Cell phone services are not available at Miracle Hot Springs and there is no WiFi. Your only easy option is to travel over to Banbury and utilize their WiFi, the only sweet spot is to the right of the main office, near the picnic park.
Spring camping at Banbury comes with flowers! Enjoy!
We would like to give a higher camping score, but with no cell service or Wifi and the minimal laundry facility at Banbury (which needs improvement) we give Miracle Hot Springs and Banbury Hot Springs a 3 Bambi rating. But you give them a try and when you do, please let us know what you think!
|Our “BAMBI” rating system for Public and Private campgrounds and resorts explained:
– One Bambi: Should’a boondocked.
– Two Bambi’s: Better than a Cracker Barrel or Walmart.
– Three Bambi’s: Adequate for a short stay.
– Four Bambi’s: Great place! Met our expectations for an extended stay. Needs minor improvements or is not ideally situated for all our preferred recreation (walking, cycling, swimming, kayaking) without driving.
– Five Bambi’s: Destination Camping at it’s best! Critical as we are, there’s nothing we’d improve, and you can bet your sweet Bambi we’re going back!