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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. This little detour resulted in us stumbling across some of the best 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 into a dirt road.
Elvis, our van that we converted in a Home Depot parking lot in winter in Toronto, rattles quite a lot (mainly the cooker). Driving dirt roads always makes it sound like the van is going to fall apart. We were about to turn around and join the road again 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 snowmelt. In all honesty, 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. The next few hours we came across some amazing Mammoth Lake hot springs that I wanted to share with you here. If you’re in the area you have to check out these hot springs in Mammoth Lakes.
11 of the best Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs
Below you’ll find information on 13 hot springs near Mammoth Lakes, CA. But, before we get into that PLEASE read the following information.
VERY important things to know before going to Mammoth Lakes hot springs
If you’re planning to visit the Mammoth Lakes hot springs PLEASE remember to be respectful. That means following these guidelines.
- Leave no trace by following Leave No Trace principles. Not sure what they are? Here’s a refresher. Don’t leave anything (this includes clothes that for whatever reason people decide to leave).
- If you move the shut-off valve put it back in place so it’s not too hot for the next person.
- Don’t be too rowdy, people come here for peace not to be harassed by your speakers and choice of music.
- Most of the hot springs in the Mammoth Lakes area are pretty basic. That means there’s no changing rooms and washroom facilities.
- DO NOT drive off the dirt roads to get closer to the hot springs. The ground is a sensitive ecosystem.
- Don’t bring glass: it breaks easily and can injure others since it’s a pain to clear up.
- Don’t expect mobile phone signal – this includes using Google maps for directions.
- Weather in the mountain changes quickly – be prepared.
- Don’t expect the springs to be quiet, they’re a popular place.
- Swimsuits are optional and you’ll find many people follow this.
Crab Cooker Hot Spring
The first of the hot springs in Mammoth, CA we came to was just a few minutes from where we parked up. 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 and underwear(?!)).
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 because it’s so hot. 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.
Because the water is pumped in it also tends to be far cleaner than some of the other hot springs near Mammoth Lakes. The spring here sits higher than most of the other hot springs so you can get beautiful mountain views if it’s not rainy like when we went!
The tub fits about 5-7 people easily and 12-15 if you’re squashed in tight.
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 kind 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 probably rises to 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 from 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 what’s effectively a hot springs lake but please don’t even think about trying to get into the water.
Benton Hot Springs California
These hot springs are on the Benton Hot Springs camping area and each campsite has a private hot spring pool! They’re man-made pools where the hot water is piped in so they’re clean too.
The campground also has 7 rooms in the Inn and the rate includes breakfast. There’s a historic miner’s cabin, 5 houses with private hot tubs and then the aforementioned camping sites. Staying at the hot springs campground is ideal if you don’t want to have to share your hot spring with anyone.
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. It’s also considered one of the most natural hot springs in the area since the water isn’t pumped in from a pipe. This means that the water tends to be muddier.
At Wild Willy’s Hot Springs there are two large main pools and some smaller pools too. The larger one is about 35 degrees Celcius and the smaller is around 40C on average. Whichever pool you soak in you’ll get a gorgeous view of the Sierra Mountains. One of the most famous pools here is the heart shaped hot spring.
One of the coolest things about Wild Willy’s is that there’s some BLM land nearby. This means you can camp for free by the hot spring. For more about finding places to camp for free in North America, check this post.
From the parking lot there’s a boardwalk for most of the way and a few stairs. It’s the pool that takes the most effort to get to but since it’s boardwalk it’s not too slippery underfoot.
Hilltop Hot Spring
This spring is in between both Crabcooker hot spring 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 a few more but then you’d get a bit squished!
Based on the name, you might be thinking you’d have to climb a hill in order to get your soak on. But don’t worry, this pool is just at the end of a pretty flat and short trail. It’s just behind Pulky’s Pool and has a valve to control the water temperature.
Pulkey’s Pool offers stunning mountain views from the tub. It’s big enough for about 8 people and it’s easy to find. Enjoy stunning mountain views while you soak.
Travertine Hot Spring
Soak in 103-degree (39C) water while taking in expansive views of the Sierra’s. Travertine Hot Springs is just south of Bridgeport and sits within state parkland.
At the Travertine Hot Springs, there are 5 hot pools in total. One near the parking lot is man-made and the other of these Sierra hot springs are a bit smaller. You can find two of them by going around the corner from the first one, and the other two by walking downhill slightly.
There is a small bathroom here by the parking lot unlike at the other springs.
Buckeye Hot Spring
Buckeye Hot Spring is in the Toiyabe National Forest just north of the town of Bridgeport. This spring boasts two soaking pools next to a clear mountain stream. The water here generally hovers around 100 degrees (38C). At Buckeye Hot Springs you’ll find two pools next to a calming mountain stream.
When you’re done soaking in the hot water, take a dip in the ice-cool stream for the real hot springs soaking experience!
Oh, and if you want to camp nearby, there’s some Forest Service campground space about 1 mile away.
The Rock Tub Hot Spring
The Rock Tub is one of the busier springs in the area. Try and visit on a weekday when you’ll be more likely to have the spring to yourself. The tub is about 2 feet deep and large enough for 6-8 people if you squeeze in; 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 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. If you take the drive slowly you should be able to make it without a 4×4.
Keough Hot Springs
These hot springs in Bishop, CA are the place to go if you’re looking for something a little less wild. The Keoughs hot springs near Mammoth were established in 1919. Of all the Eastern Sierra hot springs, these are the largest, and they feature a waterfall cooling system as well as a hot soaking pool. There are sun loungers, picnic areas and a peaceful rock trail.
Looking for RV camping in Mammoth Lakes, there’s some available here!
What to pack for Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs
So, obviously what you need to pack totally depends on the weather and the season you visit these Mammoth Lakes hot springs. However, something to bear in mind is that you’re in the Sierras. That means that winter gets really cold and the weather year-round is pretty changeable. Since the gates are closed in the winter you’ll most likely be visiting on better weather days.
Here’s what you should pack for visiting Mammoth hot springs California:
- A swimsuit
- Sandals/shoes that can get dirty
- A jacket in case it’s chilly once you’re out of the tub
- A towel. I like these quick-drying ones
- Lots of water; it’s important to stay hydrated when you’re soaking in the pools!
Where to stay near Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs
If you’re planning a weekend getaway to the Mammoth Lakes area, here are a couple of recommended places to stay near Mammoth Lakes whether you want to go camping at Mammoth Lakes or stay in a Mammoth Lakes hotel.
Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs camping
If you’re planning to spend a bit of time in the area and want to go camping in Mammoth Lakes, there are a couple of options. You could camp at the dedicated campsites in the area, or you can also find free camping in Mammoth Lakes on BLM land. No prizes for guessing which we prefer!
Camping: There are a few options for camping near the hot springs at Mammoth Lakes. There’s Browns Owen River Campground just a few miles down the road from Wild Willy’s hot spring. This one costs around $30 a night and has bathrooms and approximately 80 campsites. Reserve ahead of time during summer. There’s also Benton Hot Springs Campground where you’ll get your own private tub while camping near Mammoth Lakes if that’s more your style. There are 11 campsites here ranging in price from $60-$70 a night.
Free BLM Campgrounds near Mammoth Lakes: Mammoth Lakes has a lot of BLM Land. If you’re unfamiliar with BLM land read this for more information. In short, it’s public land that you can camp on for free. If you’re looking for hot springs camping in California, there’s some right next to Wild Willy’s Hot Springs and a few other areas mentioned above. There are no facilities here so you should pack out everything you take with you including human waste.
Hotels in Mammoth Lakes, California
The town of Mammoth Lakes is pretty small but since it’s a ski town there are plenty of options for lodging in Mammoth Lakes. Here are a couple I recommend.
Quality Inn: Affordable room rates which include breakfast and in a great location for Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs, Yosemite National Park and more.
Tamarack Lodge & Resort: Stay in a historic lodge by booking this hotel in Mammoth Lakes. On returning to the hotel, sit by the fireplace or grab a drink at the hotel bar. It’s full of mountain charm and offers seasonable bike and boar rentals too.
Cabins at Mammoth Lakes
Being a ski resort town, there are also some super cute cabin rentals at Mammoth Lakes that you can stay at. Here’s a pick of my favourite Mammoth Lakes cabins on Airbnb. These are perfect if you’re visiting Mammoth Lakes with friends and want somewhere bigger to hang out at.
Tiny home in Mammoth: This absolutely stunning tiny home has plenty of natural light which is great since you won’t want to miss out on the scenery!
6 Person log cabin in Mammoth Lakes: One of the most beautiful cabins in Mammoth Lakes, this log cabin has 3 bedrooms and absolutely everything you need for a Mammoth Lakes getaway with friends.
Sweet Water Hideaway Guest House: Another beautiful log cabin for people, this one comes with a wood-burning fireplace and gorgeous surrounding scenery.
Cabin on Hilton Creek: If it’s a peaceful romantic getaway in Mammoth Lakes you want, try this cabin on the edge of a creek in the forest.