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Sometimes the best things happen when you take a detour. That’s what I discovered when we pulled off the main road just before entering Mammoth Lakes in California. That’s how we stumbled across the Mammoth Lakes hot springs – one of my favourite moments from our 3 month road trip across America.
I’d seen a picture on Instagram of some hot springs. They were geotagged as “Mammoth Lakes”. The icon on Google Maps put it right in the middle of the town but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t where the hot springs were…
As I was driving along I saw a sign for “Whitmore Hot Springs” and decided to turn off.
It turned out Whitmore Hot Springs is actually a small village rather than a spring. You see, these hot springs aren’t that easy to find (which I kinda like). We carried on driving towards nowhere and the paved road turned to dirt road.
Elvis rattles quite a lot (mainly the cooker) so driving dirt roads always makes it sound like the van is going to fall apart. We were about to turn around when we started to see a few cars parked here and there in amongst the hills. They were quite far off the main dirt road, down ever dirtier roads. We picked one and started driving down it; trying to avoid as many potholes as possible (easier said than done on a narrow road in a van!).
The weather wasn’t exactly the greatest. The sky was white, there was still snow in places, and the ground was squelchy with all the rain and snow melt. In all honestly I felt a little bit like I was in Wales in January (that’s not necessarily a bad thing, just not how I imagined California).
We came to a point in the road where we didn’t fancy risking driving Elvis any further so we got out and searched for a hot spring on foot.
Crab Cooker Hot Spring
We spotted one just a few minutes away from where we left Elvis. From where we were it didn’t look that hot. But, as we got closer, you could see the steam coming off the top. Just what we needed on a cold and rainy day!
I put my hand in the spring and was pleased to find it was hot. A proper hot spring. (We’d been disappointed with a hot spring in New Mexico which turned out to be barely warm and was surrounded by other peoples’ rubbish).
Turns out using your hand like that isn’t a good way to test the temperature – yes, I know I should’ve known that.
I placed my leg in only to jerk it out a split second later before shouting “OWW IT’S TOO HOT!”, much to Thom’s amusement.
We later found out that this particular hot spring is called Crab Cooker Hot Spring. And we also found out that each hot spring has a shut off valve/a pipe that needs blocking which controls the amount of hot water coming from the source. I guess someone hadn’t blocked off the pipe before us resulting in too much of the water from the source getting into the spring.
Hot Creek Geological Site
After the disappointment of not being able to relax in the hot spring we continued on to Hot Creek Geological Site. I was king of over the idea of getting in a hot spring after burning my foot, so that fact that you’re not allowed to get in the water here didn’t both me. Seriously though, don’t try to get in the water – people have died doing so.
The land is super unstable and you can actually hear the water bubbling away from the moment you step outside of your car. The steam rising off the main spring must rise over 10ft and the colour of the water in that particular area was a cool, icy blue.
The water at Hot Creek Hatchery reaches temperatures as high as 220 degrees Celcius! Knowing that, it seems crazy that swimming here was ever allowed. But it was! Apparently the site started to geyser back in 2006 and that saw the closure of Hot Creek Hatchery as a bathing place. Nowadays most of the area is fenced off preventing you getting too close.
Despite the fact you can’t swim anymore, it was absolutely incredible. The snow-capped Sierra mountains in the distance, the hills, the creek and the steam rising off the numerous springs. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
It’s free to visit but please, please don’t even think about trying to get into the water.
Other Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs
Whilst we weren’t exactly lucky on our hot springs quest, I still thoroughly enjoyed the scenery. We carried on up the road to the town of Mammoth Lakes after visiting Hot Creek Hatchery where we enjoyed a hot chocolate in local cafe ‘Looney Bean’.
If you’re in search of some hot springs near Mammoth Lakes then try the following.
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs/Crowley Hot Springs
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs (weird name, I know) have a bit of a reputation for being a party destination. There’s a lot of space and the spring can hold quite a few bathers.
There are two large main pools. The larger one is about 35 degrees celcius and the smaller is around 40 on average. From both you’ll get a gorgeous view of the Sierras.
Hilltop Hot Spring
This spring is in between both Crab Cooker and Wild Willy’s hot springs. It can get busy on weekends and when we visited the area, it’s probably where we saw the most cars.
You could fit about 4 people in Hilltop Hot Spring and probably more but then you’d get a bit squished!
The Rock Tub Hot Spring
The Rock Tub is one of the busier springs in the area. Although you’re not supposed to camp at the spring, people still do. Try and visit on a weekday when you’ll be more likely to have the spring to yourself.
At about 2 feet deep and large enough for six to eight people it’s a good one for visiting with friends
The downside is that this spring doesn’t have a valve to regulate the water temperature like the above Hilltop Hot Spring, so be prepared for some seriously hot water!
Shepherd Hot Springs
Shepherd Hot Springs is a just a single pool like most of the other springs in the area. The pool you sit in is right next to the source (so don’t get in the wrong one!). You can adjust the temperature of the pool with a valve on a pipe about 20 feet away from the bathing pool.
You’ll have to drive down a dirt road to visit Shepherd Hot Springs but the road there isn’t too bad compared to some.
Little Creek Hot Springs
I couldn’t find out much about this hot spring to the north of Hot Creek Geological site, but I’d imagine it’s not too dissimilar from the rest.