Crab Cooker Hot Spring is an incredible hot spring in Mammoth Lakes, California, offering naturally steamy waters for you to soak in while gazing at stunning mountain vistas- and best of all, it’s totally free! This spring needs to be added to your bucketlist if you’re visiting Mammoth Lakes or taking a Southern California road trip.
So if you find yourself in that area, make sure to plan a pitstop here and follow the tips that I’m sharing below to make your visit at Crab Cooker Hot Spring as epic as possible!
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Table of Contents
- What is Crab Cooker Hot Spring?
- How do I get to Crab Cooker Hot Spring?
- When should I visit Crab Cooker Hot Spring?
- What should I know about Crab Cooker Hot Spring before visiting?
- What should I bring to Crab Cooker Hot Spring?
- Where should I stay when visiting Crab Cooker Hot Spring?
Pssst…. are you a fan of hot springs? ME TOO! For information on other hot springs in the area, check out our post on 5 Incredible Hot Springs in Mammoth Lakes, California.
Looking for more (I don’t blame ya!)? You might be interested in checking out these other posts:
What is Crab Cooker Hot Spring?
Crab Cooker Hot Spring consists of a manmade stone tub, which has hot water piped in from a geothermal mineral spring located about 30 feet away. It’s located in a valley, with rolling hills in every direction and 360 degrees views of gorgeous mountains (Crab Cooker is frequently selected by visitors as the most beautiful hot spring in Mammoth Lakes!).
How do I get to Crab Cooker Hot Spring?
Crab Cooker Hot Spring is located about 20 minutes east of Mammoth Lakes, California, the cutest little ski town tucked away in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The town is located along Highway 395 (hands-down one of the most gorgeous drives I’ve been on), stretching from Death Valley, the lowest place in the entire continent, to the lovely Alabama Hills and the Sierra Nevadas, home to the highest peak in the contiguous United States.
So if you live within driving distance, I’d highly recommend a road trip to explore Mammoth Lakes, its hot springs, and the myriad of other spectacularly gorgeous places in the surrounding areas.
If you’re not within driving distance, you can alternatively fly in. While there’s a tiny airport in Mammoth (Mammoth Yosemite Airport), I’d recommend flying into a bigger airport to get a more reasonable price on airfare. Your best bets will be flying into 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).
I swear by Skyscanner to score the best airfare (you can compare flights, set alerts for good deals, and find awesome travel package deals). Regardless of which airport you fly into, Crab Cooker is kind of located in the middle of nowhere, so you will need a rental car to get to the springs and around Mammoth.
Regardless of whether you’re bringing your own car or renting one, I’d highly recommend driving a high clearance vehicle to Crab Cooker. Once you’re in Mammoth, you’ll need to drive to the parking lot of the springs (located here), which will require driving 1.1 miles down a dirt road, which, when we visited, had some REALLY gnarly potholes. The roads leading to a few of the hot springs in Mammoth Lakes are pretty nasty, but, in my opinion, Crab Cooker’s is the worst!
If you like to play it fast and loose, I’m sure some folks have made it in normal sedans if they drive super slow and are a pothole wizards, but I don’t think it’s worth the stress, frustration, and money associated with a flat tire (in any area with questionable cell service, no less!). If you’re renting a car, note that some car rental companies have restrictions against driving off paved roads so, as always, be sure to read the fine print before leaving the lot!
Once you make it to the parking lot (congratulations- you did it!), you’ll need to locate a short footpath on the south side of the parking lot (it’s a bit hard to find, but the trail slopes down the hill a bit) and walk a couple hundred feet to the springs.
If you don’t have a four wheel drive car, you could alternatively consider driving to the nearby Shepherd Hot Spring (located here), which can be accessed via a much better maintained road, and parking there. From that parking lot, you can walk 0.3 miles (one-way) southeast to Crab Cooker along a footpath. Once you’ve had your fill at Crab Cooker, you can make your way back to Shepherd and try that one out as well- I love me a two for one hot spring special!
When should I visit Crab Cooker Hot Spring?
The best time to visit Crab Cooker Hot Spring and the Mammoth Lakes area is likely in the spring, when the temperature is lovely, there’s limited bugs, and there’s a good chance the Sierra Nevadas will have a dusting of snow on their peaks, adding just a dash more epicness to the scenery (we visited in early May and it was absolutely perfect).
Summer is a popular time to visit Mammoth Lakes, as the Sierra Nevadas become snow-free for hiking and backpacking adventures, but word to the wise- it’s often too hot to enjoy the springs during the day and while they’re pleasant to soak in at twilight or in the evening, the mosquitoes may or may not eat you alive.
Fall can also be great for all of the same reasons as spring, but unfortunately, with all of the wildfires in California in the last few years, you run the risk of having super smoky air during your visit.
Mammoth is a renowned destination for skiing and is one of the best places to visit in California during the winter– can you imagine a better apres-ski treat than soaking in a hot spring? Note, however, that Mammoth can get quite a LOT of snow in the wintertime and the road leading to Crab Cooker Hot Spring, which is owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, is not regularly maintained.
If the road is impassable due to snow during your visit, you can park along Benton Crossing Road and walk or snowshoe down the road to the parking lot instead (which, roundtrip, will be a little over two miles). After that workout, you will have EARNED that hot spring soak!
What should I know about Crab Cooker Hot Spring before visiting?
Crab Cooker arguably has the best view of all the hot springs in Mammoth- a small pool at the bottom of a bowl of rolling hills of vibrant sagebrush, with incredible vistas of the Sierra Nevadas in the distance.
As a visitor to Crab Cooker, it’s your responsibility to care and respect for this naturally gorgeous land, including following all of the Leave No Trace principles, like:
- Dispose of waste properly. Pack it in, pack it out. The springs are a great place to kick back and have a beer while you watch the sunset, but be sure to pack out all your cans and other waste when you leave. Speaking of waste, there’s no outhouse to relieve yourself by the hot springs or the parking lot, so use the restroom before your visit and if you need to go while you’re there, make sure to relieve yourself at least 200 feet from any water source.
- Be considerate of others. It’s well-known that the view from Crab Cooker is epic and as such, it’s one of the most popular springs in the area. So there’s a decent chance you’ll be sharing the hot springs with others during your visit- instead of giving others the stink-eye, be friendly and make a new hot springs friend! Don’t play loud music while you’re in the springs, pick up after your dog, don’t be obnoxiously inebriated, and generally, follow non-jerk-y behavior.
- Plan ahead and be prepared. Cell phone coverage in the area can be really spotty- make sure you download offline maps on your Google Maps app before you head to Crab Cooker.
If you visit in the winter and need to hike or snowshoe to the springs, check the weather before you head out to make sure you’re not hiking out to the springs in blizzard conditions and ensure you have all the gear you need (e.g., a warm coat and snowshoes or microspikes) before starting your trek.
Okay, so besides all of the “respect the planet” stuff, what else should you know about visiting Crab Cooker? Here’s a few tips to help you make the most of your visit:
- Crab Cooker fits about six people if you’re REAL friendly so if you happen to visit at a busy time (i.e., unless you’re visiting in the winter, weekday evenings and anytime on weekends), you may have to wait your turn for a soak. If others are waiting to enjoy the springs while you’re in them, try to limit your visit to about 45 minutes so everyone gets a chance to soak in all that goodness!
- On a related note, if you’d prefer to experience Crab Cooker by yourself, I’d recommend getting there early (like REAL early). When my husband, Justin, and I visited most of the hot springs in Mammoth on weekdays around sunrise, we’d usually get them to ourselves for about an hour or so.
Each of the springs, however, will get busier and busier the later it gets and it’s pretty unlikely you’ll get the springs to yourself if you visit on a weekend, regardless of the timing of your visit (even when we showed up at sunrise on the weekend to hot springs in Mammoth, other early birds were there with the same idea as us!). So if having the springs to yourself is super important, I’d definitely aim to visit very early on a weekday.
- As mentioned above, hot water is piped into the tub from a nearby geothermal source, controlled by a valve that you can shut on or off. Crab Cooker truly lives up to its name- the water coming from the pipe is HOT (sometimes well over 105°), so if the valve is left open for too long, the tub will be uncomfortably hot to sit in. If you’re lucky enough to snag the springs to yourself, be sure to turn the valve off when you leave so that the folks who visit after you won’t get scalded when they try to enjoy the springs.
- As is the case with most of Mammoth Lake hot springs, Crab Cooker is treated by some visitors as clothing optional, meaning you may see some surprise genitalia while you’re here. At first, it can feel oddly intimate to see others jumping into the tub with you sans clothing (especially in such a small space), but after a bit, it loses its novelty and stops feeling so weird. Just chalk it up to being part of the Mammoth Lakes hot spring experience!
If you’re personally interested in bearing it all, word to the wise- apparently, Mammoth County has, from time to time, given out tickets for public nudity in the past. So if you’re like me and try to avoid having an indecent exposure charge on your record, you may want to consider swimsuiting up.
- Wanna know the best time to visit for photos? Both sunrise and sunset are absolutely stunning! For sunrise, the rising sun hits the peaks of the Sierra Nevadas and provides soft golden light, whereas sunsets in Mammoth provide punchy pink and orange skies. I’d give the slight edge to sunrise as you’re more likely to have the springs to yourself, but if you don’t care about having other folks in your photos and are down to make some new hot springs friends, then sunset can’t be beat!
What should I bring to Crab Cooker Hot Spring?
Great news! You don’t need to bring much to visit Crab Cooker, but here are some items to consider packing to make the most of your visit.
- Bathing suit: If you don’t plan on soaking in your birthday suit, remember to bring along your swimsuit instead! For most of my time exploring Mammoth Lakes hot springs, I wore this suit (I have it in both red and white) and for the fellows, I’d recommend trunks like this that won’t look out of place if you went from the springs straight out to a night checking out Mammoth’s breweries (Mammoth has a casual, bro-who-just-got-back-from-skiing vibe).
- Towel: Remember a quick-drying, packable towel, like this one. For whatever reason, it seems like I always forget to pack towels when I visit hot springs- can confirm that it’s no fun to get out of the warm, cozy springs and walk back to your car while soaking wet.
- Water bottle: Sitting in hot springs can be dehydrating, especially if you’re drinking any kind of alcoholic beverages. To be kind to the planet and to cut down on wasting money on bottled water, Justin and I both have giant Nalgene bottles that we take everywhere, from international trips to hiking excursions and, yup, even hot springs!
- Dry bag: When we visited Crab Cooker, we packed all of our electronics (our camera, tripod, and cell phones), our towels, any beverages we wanted to bring, and other odds and ends into our dry bag. This made carrying all of our stuff to and from the springs super easy and also eliminated the fear that we’d drop all of our expensive gear into one of the springs. We wind up using our dry bag a ton, from using it as a bear bag when we go backcountry camping to kayaking excursions, so if you’re an outdoorsy person, I’d definitely recommend picking one up!
- Jacket: The weather can be a bit unpredictable in Mammoth Lakes, due to its mountainous terrain and, even in the best and most predictable weather, nothing is sadder than stepping out of Crab Cooker’s steamy waters into the cold air. So I suggest bringing along a light, packable jacket (like this one for women or this one for men) to make that transition out of the hot spring a little easier.
Where should I stay when visiting Crab Cooker Hot Spring?
If you’re into camping (either via tent or RV), great news- Mammoth is FULL of gorgeous, free dispersed camping spots. Sadly, since Crab Cooker is located on land owned by the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water, camping is not allowed here (we did see folks camping when we visited, but don’t be that guy- that’s how hot springs get shut down!).
Luckily, there’s tons of other surrounding Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) land, like at the Rock Hot Tub, Whitmore Tubs Road Dispersed Camping, or the Hot Creek Hatchery Spur Road. Since random pockets of land around the Mammoth Lakes hot springs are owned by entities other than BLM, it may be worth double checking with the local BLM office whether where you’re camping is okay, by contacting the local office at (760) 872-5000.
And if you’re looking for camping with a bit more amenities (BLM land just offers wild, open wilderness with no amenities like bathrooms or trash cans), consider an established campground, like McGee Creek RV Park & Campground.
Do you prefersleeping in accommodations that don’t have wheels? If so, here’s some accommodations to check out:
- Sierra Nevada Resort and Spa: If you’re looking for affordability, excellent customer service, and a comfortable place to stay, this modest hotel fits the bill. While the rooms certainly aren’t the most luxurious or up-to-date, this is a great option if you’re just looking for a place to rest your head while you explore Mammoth Lakes.
- Mammoth Mountain Inn: With easy access to the mountains, this is another no-frills lodge that offers a comfortable stay for a decent price. Bonus: if you happen to have furry friends with you, great news- this inn welcomes pups (for an additional fee, of course!).
- Tamarack Lodge: Yet another historic and rustic lodge, with lots of privacy on its lake. Plus- free breakfast!
If you prefer more bougie accommodations, word of warning- Mammoth Lakes is an interesting place, a meeting ground for hippie, outdoorsy folks and then, like, ultra-rich people (as in, own a private jet, rich people). The accommodations market kind of reflects that- either you have mountain lodges from the 1950s with “rustic charm” or more modern and upscale hotels- with more expensive rates. So if you prefer a more luxurious experience, here’s a few more options for you to consider.
- Westin Monache Resort: Impeccable service, perks (like a shuttle around Mammoth) and a stellar pool with a mountain view.
- Juniper Springs Resort: Want even more bougie? Check out this resort, with two heated swimming pools, six hot tubs, and ski-in/ski-out access to the mountains, perfect for a romantic getaway.
I hope you love your time exploring (and enjoying) Crab Cooker- what did you think about your time there? Any tips I missed? Let me know in the comments below!