The town of Mammoth Lakes is absolutely charming- the coziest little skitown, set against the breathtakingly beautiful eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. And best of all? The town is loaded with gorgeous natural hot springs, perfect for relaxing in after a day adventuring in the mountains.
I recently spent a week in Mammoth Lakes and had the challenging task of trying as many hot springs as I could find (it’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it!). So for everything you need to know about the best Mammoth Lakes hot springs, keep on reading for where to find them, what to bring, and tips for making the most of your visit!
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Table of Contents
- How do I get to Mammoth Lakes?
- When should I visit Mammoth Lakes hot springs?
- What should I know before visiting hot springs in Mammoth Lakes?
- What are the best hot springs in Mammoth Lakes?
- What to bring to hot springs in Mammoth Lakes
- Where to stay in Mammoth Lakes
Pssst…. are you a fan of hot springs? ME TOO! If you love hot springs as much as me, you might be interested in checking out these other posts:
- 17 Practical Tips for Visiting Umpqua Hot Springs in Oregon
- 7 Amazing Hot Springs in Stanley, Idaho: Everything You Need to Know
How do I get to Mammoth Lakes?
Mammoth Lakes is located along scenic Highway 395, which connects Death Valley, the lowest place in North America (and boasts the hottest recorded temperature on Earth!), to the stunning Alabama Hills and on to lovely Sierra Nevada mountains, home to the highest peak in the contiguous United States. So if you can swing a road trip to Mammoth Lakes, I’d definitely recommend a stop to enjoy some California natural hot springs!
If you’re not within driving distance, you can alternatively fly in. While there’s a tiny airport here (Mammoth Yosemite Airport), I’d recommend flying into a bigger hub to score a better 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). You will also need a rental car to get to and around Mammoth.
If you’re going this route, I recommend renting a high clearance vehicle. Several of the roads to the hot springs near Mammoth are BUMPY and you may have trouble getting there intact in a low-clearance vehicle (I’ll note which ones are particularly challenging to get to in low-clearance vehicles below). Note that some car rental companies have restrictions against driving off paved roads so, as always, be sure to read the fine print before driving off the lot!
When should I visit Mammoth Lakes hot springs?
The best time to visit Mammoth Lakes for its hot springs is likely in the spring and fall, when the temperature is pleasant, there’s limited bugs, and the Sierra Nevadas will likely have a dusting of snow on their peaks, adding a bit more magic to the scenery.
Summer is a popular time to visit the Eastern Sierras with the hiking trails free from snow, but word of warning- 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 can be pretty bad.
As mentioned above, Mammoth is one of the best places to visit in California during the winter and the tubs would be a perfect apres-ski treat. Note, however, that Mammoth can get quite a bit of snow in the wintertime (did the whole “ski resort town” give that one away?).
Since the roads to the springs are largely unmaintained, you may have a challenge reaching them in icy or snowy weather. When my husband, Justin, and I visited, we met a woman who lived in the area and snowshoed to the springs in the wintertime. So if you go the winter route, be prepared to get creative with how you reach the springs!
What should I know before visiting hot springs in Mammoth Lakes?
Mammoth Lakes is an absolute gem of a town and is an interesting mix of extremely bougie ski resort town (I saw lots and lots of private jets there!) and rustic village (think: tiny liquor store in an A-frame cabin). Perhaps, unsurprisingly, Mammoth Lakes attracts an eclectic mix of visitors- from extremely wealthy folks to nomadic hippie van-lifers and all the ski bros (what’s a ski bro, you might ask? It’s a dude who describes everything as “siiiiiiiiick” and insistently talks about “fresh pow”).
And while the visitors here couldn’t be more unique, what truly makes this place special is the stunning beauty of the natural landscape- I’ve seriously never seen more spectacular sunsets in my life! So, with that being said, please respect this magical place and follow the Leave No Trace principles, especially:
- Dispose of waste properly. Pack it in, pack it out. If you drink beer in the springs, make sure to pack out all the cans when you leave. Speaking of beer consumption, it’s worth noting that most of the springs don’t have outhouses, so go before your visit. And if you need to relieve yourself while you’re there, make sure to do so at least 200 feet away from any water source.
- 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 the other person the stink eye, be friendly and make a new hot springs friend! If the springs are too crowded and people are waiting to get in, try to limit your soak to about 45 minutes so others can enjoy the springs too. Don’t play loud music while you’re in the springs, pick up after your dog, and generally, follow non-jerk-y behavior.
You’re probably asking yourself “okay, besides all that ‘be nice to the planet’ stuff, is there anything else I should know about visiting a Mammoth Lake hot spring?” Why, I’m so glad you asked! Here’s a few additional tips to keep in mind while you’re visiting:
- If you want to have some time alone in a hot spring, I’d recommend getting there early (like… early early). When Justin and I visited, we usually got to a spring around 5:45 AM or so and, on weekdays, usually had the place to ourselves for about an hour (bonus- the hot springs are an excellent place to watch sunrise!). When we went around the same time on weekends, though, we ran into some other early morning folks trying to beat the crowds. So if you’re really committed to soaking in peace, weekday mornings are your best bet.
- Local custom treats the hot springs as clothing optional, meaning you may see some, ahem, strangers’ genitalia during your visit. Given that many of the springs are pretty small (holding around six or less people), it can feel a bit odd and…. intimate, at first. After a short while, though, it stops feeling like a big deal, so I say embrace the weird and just consider any surprise nudity as just part of the experience!
If you’re personally interested in donning your birthday suit in the springs, word of warning- apparently, Mammoth County has, from time to time, given out tickets for public nudity in the past (perhaps that kind of goes with Mammoth’s confusingly eclectic vibe?).
- The majority of the hot springs are actually man-made tubs and have pipes running the hot water from their geothermal source into the tub, with shut-off valves for soakers to control the temperature. If you leave the valve to the hot water on for long periods of time, the pool will get hot- like boil-your-skin-off hot.
Since it seems to be a bit easier to warm the springs up by introducing more hot water than cooling the hot springs down, I’d 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 non-burn-y time.
What are the best hot springs in Mammoth Lakes?
Without further adieu, here are the five best hot springs in Mammoth Lakes, including where to find them.
1. The Rock Hot Tub
The Rock Hot Tub (located here) is a shallow pool that comfortably fits about four people (you could probably squeeze up to six if you were real friendly!). The water is piped in from a bog about 400 feet away, but, unlike most of the springs in the area, there’s no valves to control the temperature. As such, I think a more accurate description of this one is a “warm-ish spring”- it’s definitely the chilliest in the area! While this spot is perhaps lacking in heat and space, it has one of the best views of the Sierra Nevadas.
The springs are located right off Whitmore Tubs Road- from the southern entrance of the road from Benton Crossing Road, you should be fine driving here in a low clearance vehicle (although the road can get washboarded or muddy after storms).
Bonus- most of the hot springs, including the Rock Hot Tub, is located on Bureau of Land Management (often referred to as “BLM”) land. You can camp on this BLM land– for free!- for up to 14 days at a time. Justin and I camped at the Rock Hot Tub during our stay in Mammoth- not only did it have decent mobile connectivity, but we could literally walk about 100 feet and plop into our own personal hot spring!
If you plan on camping near any of the Mammoth Lakes hot springs, make sure to double check that camping is allowed where you’re staying and again, please follow the leave no trace principles.
2. Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
This spring (located here) is perhaps the best known one in Mammoth and the only where you soak directly in the source of the hot water, a babbling hot creek. To get here, you’ll follow a 1.5 mile dirt road to a parking lot- during our visit, the road had some pretty nasty potholes, so I’d recommend having a high-clearance vehicle to make this drive. Once you’re in the lot, you’ll follow a well-maintained and flat wooden boardwalk for about 0.25 miles- the views of the mountains from the paths are stunning, so take your time and enjoy your journey to the springs!
Eventually, you’ll reach the hot creek, which has several tiers where groups of bathers can sit, as well as a separate heart-shaped pool, about 50 feet away from the creek. The creek is a pleasantly warm temperature, whereas the heart-shaped pool is bordering on hot tub temperature (and may be too hot for more sensitive folks).
Between the creek and the pool, Wild Willy’s can hold a LOT more people than most of the other springs- probably around 30 or so. Because of this aspect, I’ve heard Wild Willy’s can have quite the party atmosphere on Friday and Saturday nights- so, depending on if that’s your jam, factor that into when you decide to visit!
Wild Willy’s is so stunning, it’s easily one of my favorite hot springs I’ve ever visited (and I’m no hot springs newbie!). In fact, I loved Wild Willy’s so much, I wrote a whole post to help you make the most of your visit there!
3. Hilltop Hot Tub
To get to this hot spring (located here), follow the small footpath from the dirt parking lot that will lead you through a marshy field and, after about 5 minutes, spit you out at the foot of a man-made pool. Hot water is piped in from a creek into the pool, which allows you to control the temperature of the water with valves.
The tub is pretty small (comfortably holding about six people) and is one of the easiest springs to get to from Benton Crossing Road. As such, it can be more crowded than some of the other springs on this list- so, if having the springs to yourself is a big deal to you, I’d recommend trying to aim for a weekday to give yourself the best shot of soaking in peace.
Protip: The springs are open all year, but the county can close the parking lot in the wintertime, due to snow. If that’s the case, you can park on the side of Benton Crossing Road and just walk about 300 yards down to the springs’ dirt parking lot.
4. Crab Cooker Hot Springs
Many people that we met at Mammoth insisted that Crab Cooker (located here) has the best view of all the springs in the area. Given that all them are stupid gorgeous, I can’t play favorites, but nonetheless, Crab Cooker lovely, consisting of another man-made rock tub, with water piped in from a nearby mineral spring approximately 30 feet away.
To get to the springs, you’ll need to drive down a rutted, unpaved road- I’d highly recommend using a high clearance vehicle to get here. Once you’re in the parking lot, look for a boot trail leading from the right of the lot- you’ll follow the path about 0.2 miles to the small tub.
Crab Cooker comfortably holds about six people and can get very hot if the valve controlling the water flow is left on (thus, its name!). So a friendly reminder to turn off the valve when you leave, if you’re lucky enough to have the springs to yourself!
If you’re interested in visiting Crab Cooker, I wrote a whole post packed with practical tips and tricks about visiting.
5. Shepherd Hot Springs
Located a short drive or even a 0.4-mile one-way hike from Crab Cooker, Shepherd Hot Springs (located here) is another option. The road leading to these springs is not quite as treacherous as some of the others in the area (usually navigable with any passenger car) and thus, this spring can see a bit more traffic than some of its neighbors.
Once in the parking lot, Shepherd, consisting of a cement pool with water piped in from a nearby spring, will be immediately in front of you. I actually skipped this pool, due to its traffic and the not-so-pretty construction of the tub (I’m a hot springs snob, what can I say), but, like all the springs in the area, the view of the Sierra Nevadas looks quite epic.
The pool can hold about six people and stays around 100° F year round.
Tip: Need even more hot springs in your life? Consider checking out Travertine Hot Springs (about an hour north of Mammoth) or Benton Hot Springs (an hour east) to scratch that hot springs itch.
What to bring to hot springs in Mammoth Lakes
Luckily, you don’t need to bring much to visit the springs, but here are some items to consider packing to make the most of your visit.
- Bathing suit: As mentioned above, some folks think this one’s optional, but if you don’t fall into the birthday suit camp, remember, instead, to pack a swimsuit. If you’re into that Baywatch look, I’m wearing this suit in all the photos in this post (both in red and white) and for the fellows, I’d recommend trunks like this that wouldn’t look too out of place if you went straight from the springs to out to a night on the town (for what it’s worth, Mammoth seems to have a pretty casual vibe).
- Towel: Bring a quick-drying, easy-to-pack towel, like this one. For whatever reason, it seems like I always forget to pack towels when I visit hot springs and it’s no fun making my way back to the car, sopping wet and way too cold.
- Water shoes: The floor of the pools can be a bit hit or miss. While the bottoms of the man-made pools are generally pretty smooth, they can get a film of funky algae on them and be quite slippery.
With respect to the natural springs, the ground can be muddy and rocky. It might be a good idea, especially if your trip involves any other water activities, to pack shoes that can double as water shoes if necessary- for example, Justin has a pair of Tevas he loves that would work perfect for this (see here for women’s). Chaco’s are also a popular hiking sandal/water shoe choice (see women’s here and men’s here).
- 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 the springs, 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 a warm cozy hot spring 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.
- Offline maps: The cell signal here can be a bit spotty in the area so before you start driving down any gnarly, BLM roads, make sure you have a map of the area downloaded on Google Maps so you can get around even without service.
Where to stay in Mammoth Lakes
If you’re a fellow RVer like me (or prefer tent camping), great news! Mammoth Lakes is packed with excellent dispersed camping spots, like around the Rock Hot Tub, Whitmore Tubs Road Dispersed Camping, or the Hot Creek Hatchery Spur Road. If you prefer, instead, a campground with hookups, consider 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 and the surrounding area.
- 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!
Okay, so you know how I said that Mammoth has kind of a unique mix of hippie, outdoorsy folks and then ultra-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 enjoy exploring Mammoth Lakes and its beautiful hot springs. Have you visited Mammoth Lakes? Which hot spring is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!