Within about a 20-30 minute drive of Mammoth Lakes are a number of hot springs overlooking some of California’s most scenic vistas. The hot springs tend to be small – either natural pools or concrete. The roads are often rough to reach these hot springs and an all wheel higher clearance vehicle is recommended – although if the roads are dry and you are careful – you can reach any of the ones listed below with a 2wd vehicle. Often people camp at or near some of the hot springs in the area. It is also common for people to show up in the evenings, soak and then leave. Hot springs enthusiasts are ‘soakers’.
All of these are are well listed on Google maps and are fairly easy to find – surprisingly ATT cell service often works in and around the hot springs listed below (although is spotty at times). And note, Google maps shows even the most basic dirt roads in the area.
We do NOT recommend visiting any of these hot springs on holiday weekends in the spring or summer. It gets to crowded; parking is often limited and the hot springs are generally very small. If you are visiting during these times of the years, the best opportunity to use the hot springs without them already being filled with people is in the very early morning hours around sunrise.
Often soakers will enjoy the hot springs in the nude.
And one last note – these intimate hot springs are a great place to meet other people, most commonly many people from Los Angeles, Europeans traveling through on road trips and to a lesser extent, people from the San Jose Bay Area.
Crab Cooker Hot Spring
is located at the end of a fairly rough and rocky dirt road – from the primitive dirt parking lot, it is a short hike down to the hot spring. Not as easy to find as some of the other nearby hot springs but well worth the attempt. This gets our top pick as one of the most scenic hot springs locations in the area. The jagged often snow covered peaks of the nearby mountains form the backdrop – in Spring the landscape nearby is a bright green. Plenty of open space for camping.
This tiny hot spring pool is about ideally sized for just a few people. The soak pool is not right at the source of the water – (the water is piped in from a short distance away) – a water valve that is very difficult to turn allows one to control how much hot water is let into the tub. Sometimes the water level is to low and is not able to be piped over from the source. After the pool is drained and then refilled the water is often to scalding to be able to enjoy right away.
Just a few miles south of Mammoth Lakes on the 395, just past the airport, there is a road that leads east. Take it – it is called the Hot Creek Hatchery/Airport road. If you are driving south from Mammoth Lakes, you will have to first turn into the median lane and cross the oncoming traffic. This road leads to Hot Creek which is a creek that flows over bubbling cauldrons of hot gases mixed with hot water. The road is paved for the first part and then becomes dirt. It passes a fishing ranch.
In the winter, there may be snow blocking this road and you would have to cross country or snow shoe into the actual springs. Much of the creek is fenced off near the main entrance (there is a parking lot with steps leading down to the actual river). The reason why much of the creek is fenced off and closed for soaking is that many of the bubbling vents and hot water pockets are so hot they will scald and burn you.
Some years the water is so low that you can simply wade over to the hot water pockets. Other more unusual years after high rainfall and snow pack – the water will be a strong current and you will have to swim over to the hot water. Once you have crossed the cold water and are in the hot water its a great feeling. The water is hot enough that when you swim back across the cold water – it can sometimes feel quite pleasant.
Little Hot Creek Hot Springs
This ‘hot spring’ can be a bit confusing to find due to its somewhat isolated location and access via numerous dirt roads – some of which are in really bad shape. These are good factors if you are looking to ‘escape’ from some of the more visited easier to find hot springs in the region. Located in a small meadow surrounded by low gentle rolling hills. There are several nearby pull out areas for camping sites off of the dirt road.
A concrete tub is fed via a long pipe (with a valve that can be used to shut off the water). While not technically a hot spring, the water source is Little Hot Creek – which is very appropriately named due to its small size and the fact it’s waters are fairly hot (during a visit we found the waters were very hot but not quite scalding). A narrow wooden footbridge crosses Little Hot Creek to the actual soak tub. Several wooden slats are located next to the tub – useful for storing clothing in case you decide to get naked (as well keeping any other items you might have off of the dirt).
Rock Tub Hot Spring
This intimate hot spring is fairly easy to find and quite accessible from Mammoth Lakes. As a result due to its tiny size combined with ease of access can sometimes get crowded here. Comfortably seats just a few people – the water source is piped in. Often a brush or two will be on site in case someone wants to drain, clean and then refill the tub.
Sometimes people camp here although it’s not that private of a place to camp with people coming and going. The water isn’t that deep. If you sit with your back leaning on the north side of this little cement tub you will have excellent views overlooking the jagged mountains of the eastern Sierras. More of a family friendly environment here and we have often seen children with parents. As a result, not as popular for nude bathing as some of the other hot springs located more to the east of here.
Shepherd Hot Spring
We love the fact you can back up your car right next to this particular hot spring, open the door and literally fall out into the water! Fairly easy to find from the 395. Located in a picturesque meadow. Several nearby flat areas are conducive for camping; we have seen tents in close proximity to the springs. Also a fairly short trail connects this hot spring with the nearby Crab Cooker Hot Spring.
Small like a number of the others in the area – comfortably seats 2-3 people although more can certainly fit inside its cozy confines. One of the backdrop views is a tiny shallow lake not far away. Good views of other steaming hot water slightly to the south east when the ambient temperature is cold enough.
Wild Willy’s Hot Spring
Not sure where this hot spring got it’s name – but nonetheless its an intriguing name sure to catch the attention of anyone interested in hot springs in this part of the state. Perhaps the name comes from sometimes alcohol infused visitors. Offers a bit more soaking options then some of the other area springs. The larger pool can comfortably fit quite a few people and is a bit deeper then some of the other smaller hot springs in the area. A smaller pool is hotter and comfortably fits 1 person – maybe two.
There is plenty of parking on site – access from the parking lot is on foot on an alternating dirt/wooden walkway. About a 1/4 of a mile walk to reach the springs. Gorgeous views, great place to meet other people as the main pool is large enough to accommodate several groups at once. Can be a popular drinking place later in the day. Early mornings are a great time to visit.