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IT'S TIME TO ROLL AND FEEL

IT'S TIME TO ROLL AND FEEL

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DISCOVER THE BEAUTY OF MAMMOTH LAKES AND ITS THERMAL SPRINGS

Why to visit the Mammoth Lakes.

Nestled in its regal mountain beauty and tranquil alpine ambiance, it’s quite a feat to picture Mammoth Lakes perched on the rim of an ancient volcanic caldera. 

Roughly 760,000 years back, a colossal volcano erupted, leaving in its wake the relatively level basin that now cradles Mammoth Lakes. A delightful outcome of this fiery history is the area’s array of natural hot springs. 

Many of these simmering hot tubs, with some modified for safe soaking, are clustered between Bridgeport and Mammoth Lakes. Swing by the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center (located just west of U.S. 395 at 2510 Main St.) for info on locations and directions. Also, be sure to check access, as routes might be closed during the winter!

How do you reach Mammoth Lakes?

Mammoth Lakes is situated along the scenic Highway 395, linking Death Valley, the lowest point in North America (with the highest recorded temperature on Earth), to the picturesque Alabama Hills and the stunning Sierra Nevada mountains, housing the tallest peak in the contiguous United States. If a road trip to Mammoth Lakes is feasible for you, it’s highly recommended for the chance to indulge in California’s natural hot springs!

For those not within driving distance, flying is an alternative. While there is a small airport (Mammoth Yosemite Airport), it’s advisable to fly into a major hub for better airfare deals. Top choices include Los Angeles (a 4-hour and 40-minute drive), Las Vegas (a 5-hour drive), or San Francisco (a 5-hour and 10-minute drive). 

Skyscanner is a personal recommendation for finding the best airfare, offering flight comparisons, deal alerts, and travel package options. A rental car is essential for transportation to and around Mammoth.

Opting for this route, consider renting a high-clearance vehicle. Some roads leading to the hot springs near Mammoth can be rough, and navigating them in a low-clearance vehicle may pose challenges. Keep in mind that certain car rental companies may have restrictions against off-road driving, so it’s crucial to read the terms before hitting the road!

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When is the best time to visit Mammoth Lakes hot springs?

The ideal time to explore Mammoth Lakes and its hot springs is likely during spring and fall. These seasons offer pleasant temperatures, minimal bugs, and the possibility of a dusting of snow on the Sierra Nevada peaks, enhancing the scenic beauty.

Summer is a popular time to visit the Eastern Sierras when hiking trails are snow-free. However, daytime temperatures can be too high for enjoying the springs, and while they are delightful in the twilight or evening, mosquitoes can be quite bothersome.

As mentioned earlier, Mammoth is a fantastic winter destination, and the hot tubs can serve as a perfect après-ski indulgence. Be aware, though, that Mammoth often experiences significant snowfall in winter. Since the roads to the springs are generally not maintained, reaching them in icy or snowy conditions can be challenging. 

If you choose the winter option, be prepared to get creative in reaching the springs! And definitively, visit the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, where the US Olympic team trains.

What should you know before visiting hot springs in Mammoth Lakes?

Mammoth Lakes is truly a gem of a town, blending the opulence of a high-end ski resort with the charm of a rustic village. Unsurprisingly, Mammoth Lakes draws a diverse mix of visitors, ranging from the extremely affluent to nomadic hippie van-lifers and the ubiquitous ski bros.

Although the visitors here are wonderfully diverse, what truly sets this place apart is the breathtaking beauty of the natural landscape. So, with that being said, please honor this enchanting place and adhere to the Leave No Trace principles, particularly:

1. Dispose of waste properly

Pack it in, pack it out. If you indulge in a beer in the springs, ensure to carry out all the cans when you leave. Most of the springs lack outhouses, so it’s advisable to go before your visit. If nature calls while you’re there, make sure to do so at least 200 feet away from any water source.

2. Be considerate of others

There’s a good chance you’ll be sharing the hot springs with at least one other person—instead of giving them the stink eye, be friendly and make a new hot springs friend! 

If the springs are crowded and people are waiting, limit your soak to about 45 minutes so others can enjoy them too. Avoid playing loud music, pick up after your dog, and, in general, exhibit non-disruptive behavior. 

Besides all the “be nice to the planet” stuff, you might wonder, “Is there anything else I should know about visiting a Mammoth Lake hot spring?” Well, we’re so glad you asked! Here are a few additional tips:

1. If you want some alone time in a hot spring, consider getting there early: if you’re dedicated to soaking in peace, weekday mornings are your best bet.

2. If you’re personally interested in going au naturel in the springs, a word of warning—Mammoth County has occasionally issued tickets for public nudity in the past. Most of the hot springs consist of artificial tubs supplied by geothermal sources through pipes, featuring valves that bathers can use to regulate the water temperature. If you leave the valve to the hot water on for extended periods, the pool can become extremely hot—potentially causing burns!

Since it appears to be easier to warm the springs up by introducing more hot water than cooling them down, we recommend shutting the valves off (or at least mostly closing them) once you leave the spring to ensure the next visitor has a pleasant and burn-free experience. 

The best hot springs in Mammoth Lakes

1. The Rock Hot Tub

This shallow pool comfortably accommodates about four people (possibly up to six if you’re friendly!). The water is transported through pipes from a marsh located approximately 400 feet away. However, unlike most springs in the area, there are no valves to control the temperature. 

As such, a more accurate description of this one is a “warm-ish spring”—it’s notably cooler than others in the vicinity. While lacking in heat and space, it offers one of the best views of the Sierra Nevadas!

The hot springs are conveniently located off Whitmore Tubs Road. If you enter the road from the southern side via Benton Crossing Road, you should be able to navigate it comfortably even in a low-clearance vehicle (though it might get washboard or muddy post-storms).

As a bonus, most hot springs, including the Rock Hot Tub, are situated on Bureau of Land Management (often called “BLM”) land. The beauty of this is that you can camp on this BLM land—for free!—for up to 14 days at a stretch. 

If you’re considering camping near any of the Mammoth Lakes hot springs, ensure you verify that camping is allowed at your chosen spot and, once again, adhere to the Leave No Trace principles!

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2. Wild Willy’s Hot Springs

Wild Willy’s Hot Springs is perhaps the most renowned hot spring in Mammoth, and it’s the only one where you immerse yourself directly in the origin of the hot water—a bubbling hot creek. 

To reach this spot, follow a 1.5-mile dirt road to a parking lot. Once in the lot, a well-maintained and flat wooden boardwalk takes you about 0.25 miles (0.4 km). Enjoy the stunning mountain views along the path; it’s worth taking your time to savor the journey to the springs!

Eventually, you’ll arrive at the hot creek, featuring several tiers where groups of bathers can sit. There’s also a separate heart-shaped pool located about 50 feet (ca. 15 m) away from the creek. The creek offers a pleasantly warm temperature, while the heart-shaped pool is more akin to a hot tub (potentially too hot for those more sensitive to heat!).

Wild Willy’s can accommodate a considerably larger number of people compared to most other springs—probably around 30 or so. Due to this, Wild Willy’s can have a lively atmosphere, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. So, depending on your preference for a party vibe, consider the timing of your visit!

3. Hilltop Hot Tub

To reach this hot spring, located here, follow the small footpath from the dirt parking lot. The path will guide you through a marshy field and, after about 5 minutes, bring you to the foot of a man-made pool. Hot water is piped in from a creek into the pool, allowing you to regulate the water temperature with valves.

The tub is relatively small, comfortably accommodating about six people, and is one of the easiest springs to access from Benton Crossing Road. Consequently, it may be more crowded than some other springs on this list. If having the springs to yourself is a priority, aiming for a weekday visit gives you the best chance of enjoying a more secluded soak.

Pro tip: The springs are open year-round, but the county may close the parking lot in winter due to snow. If that’s the case, you can park on the side of Benton Crossing Road and walk about 300 yards (0.27 km) down to the springs’ dirt parking lot.

4. Crab Cooker Hot Springs

It offers the best view of all the springs in the area. To access the springs, you’ll need to drive down a rutted, unpaved road, and using a high-clearance vehicle is highly recommended. Once in the parking lot, look for a boot trail leading from the right side of the lot. Follow the path for about 0.2 miles (0.32 km) to the small tub.

The Crab Cooker comfortably accommodates about six people and can become very hot if the valve controlling the water flow is left on. So, a friendly reminder to turn off the valve when you leave, especially if you have the springs to yourself!

5. Shepherd Hot Springs

Located a short drive or even a 0.4-mile one-way hike from Crab Cooker, Shepherd Hot Springs, situated here, is another option. The road leading to these springs is not as challenging as some others in the area (usually navigable with any passenger car), and consequently, this spring can see a bit more traffic than some of its neighbors.

Upon reaching the parking area, Shepherd, featuring a concrete pool supplied with water piped in from a nearby spring, will be directly in your view. The pool can accommodate about six people and maintains a temperature of around 100 °F (ca. 38 °C) year-round.

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What to bring to Mammoth Lakes

Fortunately, you don’t need to pack a lot to enjoy the hot springs, but here are some items to consider bringing to make the most of your visit:

1. Bathing suit: While some may consider this optional, it’s a good idea to pack a swimsuit if you prefer not to go au naturel.

2. Towel: Don’t forget to bring a quick-drying and easily packable towel. It’s never fun to make your way back to the car sopping wet and too cold.

3. Water shoes: The pool floors can vary, and while man-made pools generally have smooth bottoms, they can get slippery. For natural springs with muddy and rocky terrain, consider packing water shoes or sandals that can double as suitable footwear for water activities.

4. Water bottle: Sitting in hot springs can be dehydrating, especially if you’re enjoying alcoholic beverages. 

5. Dry bag: Consider using a dry bag to protect your electronics, towels, beverages, and other essentials. This makes carrying your belongings to and from the springs easy and eliminates the risk of dropping expensive gear into the water.

6. Jacket: The weather in Mammoth Lakes can be unpredictable, and stepping out of a warm hot spring into the cold air can be a bit challenging. Bring a light, packable jacket to make the transition more comfortable.

7. Offline maps: The cell signal in the area can be spotty, so download offline maps on Google Maps before venturing onto remote roads. This ensures you can navigate even without a reliable cellular connection!

Are you prepared?

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