Eastern California presents a unique opportunity for a relaxing soak in natural hot springs, surrounded by exceptional scenery. This lightly-visited area has lots of open, public land and a volcanic geology which keeps the springs warm. It also has a lot of generous locals who work very hard to keep some of these springs flowing, clean and easy to access.
There are so many hot springs in eastern California and western Nevada that they can fill an entire book. This guide features a few of the nicest and easiest to get to.
Outdoor Hot SpringsHilltop and Wild Willy's
Both of these springs are considered "public," and are quite popular, so don't be surprised if you end up sharing them with someone else. To reach them, turn east from Hwy 395 onto Benton Crossing Road, just south of the Mammoth Airport (the little green church on the corner is a good landmark). Travel east about 2.5 miles until you cross two cattle guards (parallel metal bars across the road that let cars pass but keep the cattle in).
Wild Willy's: Turn right just past the second cattle guard and follow the road, always taking the left fork whenever there's a choice. About a mile down, you'll reach a parking area where there's a sign and wooden boardwalk that leads about 200 yards away to the pools.
There are two man-made sitting areas here, their sides reinforced with cement. You'll even find small cup holders in the sides. When we visited, the area at the end of the boardwalk was nicer. The nearby rocks afford a little privacy for changing clothes. This spring is also called Crowley Hot Spring
Hilltop: This spring's hilltop location has the best views in the area. To get there, continue down the hill after you pass the second cattle guard and turn left onto the dirt road. At one time, the road went quite close to this spring and you may read other guides that say you can drive almost up to the pool, but we found it closed and too muddy to walk. Look for a small, flat hilltop and the telltale white mineral deposits that indicate a spring. You may have to go further down the road and walk along the fence to reach it.Travertine
Three pools sit on a hilltop, just a mile south of Bridgeport, with great views and easy to access. To reach them, turn east off Hwy 395 onto Jack Sawyer Rd., just south of Bridgeport.
Developed Hot Springs
Keough's Hot Springs: At this spa a few miles south of Bishop, you'll find a large pool fed by a natural hot spring, a snack bar and massage facilities, along with lodging and camping.
Benton Hot Springs: Located at the intersection of Hwy 120 and Hwy 6, they claim is one of the purest springs in California. In case you've heard it was closed, it was for a while in 2011 because of unexpected surges of hot water, but Christy and Michel reported in late 2012 that they're open again. If you stay at the nearby Inn at Benton, you can use their hot tubs for free.
Grover Hot Springs State Park is four miles west of Markleeville off CA Hwy 89, surrounded by alpine meadow and pine forest at 5,900 feet surrounded by peaks that just top 10,000 feet. The large, swimming pool a capacity of 50 to 75 and is so popular that you may have to wait to get in during busy times.
Sierra Hot Springs, 30 miles north of Truckee offers lodging and several pools for soaking, all of them clothing optional.
Hot Spring Tips
- If you find a hot spring on private property, get the landowner's permission before using it.
- The bottom of the spring can be slippery, and footing around the edges can be bad. Take care, especially if you go barefoot.
- Water temperature varies, and what may be nice today could be scalding tomorrow. Test it before you get in.
- Some springs will have a sulfur smell, which can be stronger at some times than others.
- Don't stay in too long. You can get too hot.
- If you have any conditions that might be aggravated by soaking in hot water, consult your doctor before you go.
- The water is nice to soak in, but don't drink it.
- If you don't want to change clothes outdoors, wear you swimsuit under your regular clothes.
- You may want to bring along some cold water to drink. The pools can get a little hot, and it will help regulate your body temperature.
- If the weather is cool, take towels to dry off with.
Clothing Is Optional
It may be technically illegal to bathe "au naturel," but in practice, clothing is optional at most of these locations. If nudity offends you and you see others at the spring, stop far enough away to check them out before you approach.
We found both clothed and nude bathers during our visit. In some cases, nude bathers would like a chance to suit up before you get too close. Take your time if you see them scrambling out as you approach.