Wild Willy’s Hot Spring in Mammoth Lakes, California: A Complete Guide

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Wild Willy’s Hot Spring is one of the most stunning hot springs in Mammoth Lakes, California. Imagine soaking in a cozy warm stream, with 360-degree views of majestic mountains surrounding you- and best of all, it’s totally free!

This gorgeous spot is a must-see if you’re on a California road trip or simply exploring Mammoth Lakes. So if you find yourself in this part of Southern California, add Wild Willy’s Hot Spring to your bucket list and use the tips that I’m sharing below to make your visit as epic as possible!

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Table of Contents

What is Wild Willy’s Hot Spring?

Wild Willy’s Hot Spring is unique amongst the plethora of hot springs in Mammoth Lakes, given that you’ll be sitting in natural hot springs. Other springs in the area, like Rock Hot Tub or Crab Cooker, have man made pools that hot water is piped into from the geothermal source.

Woman looking at the snow-capped eastern Sierra Nevada mountains and standing in Wild Willy's Hot Spring in Mammoth Lakes, California

It’s also special given the size- most hot springs in Mammoth Lakes only hold anywhere from one to six people if folks get REAL friendly in the man-made stone tubs. Wild Willy’s, on the other hand, has both a tiered hot stream where soakers can sit and a large separate pool, which allows for probably about 30 or so folks to enjoy at the same time. 

Pssst... looking for other natural hot springs to enjoy in the area? Check out Buckeye Hot Springs and Travertine Hot Springs in the nearby town of Bridgeport for some more geothermal fun!

How do I get to Wild Willy’s Hot Spring?

Wild Willy’s Hot Spring is located about 20 minutes east of Mammoth Lakes, an adorable ski town tucked away in the Sierra Nevadas.

The town is located along Highway 395, one of the most scenic drives I’ve ever been on, from Death Valley, the lowest place in North America, 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 live within driving distance, I’d absolutely recommend a road trip to explore the hot springs, Mammoth Lakes, and the countless other beautiful places in the surrounding area.

Woman walking along Movie Road in the Alabama Hills of California

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, Wild Willy’s is located in a pretty remote area 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 Wild Willy’s. Once you’re in Mammoth, you’ll need to drive to the parking lot of the springs (located here), which will require driving 1.5 miles down a dirt road, which, when we visited, was washboarded and had some REALLY nasty potholes.

I’m sure some people make it in normal sedans if they drive SUPER slow and happen to be a pothole ninja, but, in my opinion, it’s not worth the stress and possible flat tire (in any area without cell signal, 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!

Road leading to snow-capped eastern Sierra Nevada mountains in Mammoth Lakes, California

A note on getting to the parking lot- in our experience (whether you put in the location of the hot springs or the parking lot), the Google Maps application will helpfully take you down that aforementioned bumpy gravel road and, when the road diverges here, it will tell you to take the road to the right. The parking lot is actually down the road to the left (the road to the right is usually gated off anyway!),

Once you make it to the parking lot (congratulations!), you’ll need to walk down a 0.25-mile well-maintained gravel and wooden path to the springs. While the trail is flat and should be accessible to most people, it involves some stairs at the end, so is likely not wheelchair accessible. The walk to the springs is so gorgeous (really, most of this area is!) so be sure to look up and enjoy the view every once and a while. And after 0.25 miles, voila- you’re at the springs!

Water in front of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains along the Wild Willy's Hot Spring in Mammoth Lakes, California

When should I visit Wild Willy’s Hot Spring?

The best time to visit Wild Willy’s and the surrounding area is likely in the spring, 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 (we visited in early May and our visit was literally perfect).

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.

Cracked ground in front of eastern Sierra Nevada mountains in Mammoth Lakes, California at sunset

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 one of the absolute best places to visit in California during 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?).

Man snowboarding on a half-pipe at Mammoth Lakes, California in winter

The land that Wild Willy’s is on is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”), which frequently locks the gate to the access road when it accumulates too much snow. If that happens during your visit, you can park along Benton Crossing Road and walk or snowshoe down the road to the parking lot instead (adding three miles round trip to your hot springs voyage). 

What should I know about Wild Willy’s Hot Spring before visiting?

Wild Willy’s is spectacularly beautiful- a steaming creek composed of perfectly tiered pools, surrounded for miles in every direction by vibrantly-hued sagebrush and snow-capped mountains.

Woman standing in Wild Willy's Hot Spring in Mammoth Lakes at sunrise

As a visitor to Wild Willy’s, 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. During our visit, there were some beer cans floating in the pool, which is so heartbreaking in such a magical place. Don’t be that guy and pack out all your cans, wrappers, and other waste when you leave.

    Speaking of waste, the only available outhouse is in the parking lot- be sure to make use of it instead of relieving yourself near the springs (imagine if everyone who visited the springs used the nearby land as their own toilet- yuck!).
Sign along the Wild Willy's Hot Spring trail
  • Be considerate of others. There’s a good chance you’ll be sharing the hot springs with other people- instead of giving other soakers 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 Wild Willy’s. 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 the appropriate gear (e.g., a warm coat and snowshoes or microspikes) before starting your trek. 

Okay, so besides all of the “kumbaya, protect the planet” stuff, what else should you know about visiting Wild Willy’s? Here’s a few tips to help you make the most of your visit:

  • As mentioned above, Wild Willy’s boasts both a hot creek and a separate heart-shaped pool for visitors to enjoy. The creek is fairly shallow, such that soakers generally have to sit along the bottom to enjoy its perfectly warm waters.

    The pool, on the other hand, is considerably deeper than the creek and HOT- think slightly warmer than a hot tub (and may be too hot for sensitive folks). As is the case for all hot springs, make sure to carefully test out the water with a couple toes first before plopping down- the water in certain areas can be burn-your-skin-off hot at times. 
Woman sitting with a mug of coffee with the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains in the background in Mammoth Lakes, California
  • As is the case with most of Mammoth Lake hot springs, they’re treated by some visitors as clothing optional, meaning you may- surprise!- see some stranger’s junk while you’re here. It can feel a bit odd at first to see folks walking around in just their birthday suits, but it’s kind of just part of the experience, so just embrace it!- 

    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.  
  • If you want to have some time alone in Wild Willy’s, I’d recommend getting there early (like… early early). My husband, Justin, and I visited on a Friday around 5:45 AM to catch sunrise and had the place to ourselves for about an hour. 

    The springs become busier and busier, the later it gets and, due to how many soakers the springs can hold as compared to the others in the area, Wild Willy’s can get, well, a bit wild in the evenings, especially on weekends. So, depending on whether a party scene is your jam, you may want to plan the timing of your visit accordingly.
Woman standing in Wild Willy's Hot Spring with the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains in the background at sunrise in Mammoth Lakes, California
  • Wondering what’s the best time to visit for photos? Both sunrise and sunset are absolutely stunning here! For sunrise, the rising sun hits the peaks of the Sierra Nevadas and provides soft golden light, whereas sunsets in Mammoth provide incredibly vibrant 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 into drinking brews with some bros, sunset can’t be beat!

What should I bring to Wild Willy’s Hot Spring?

Luckily, you don’t need to bring much to visit Wild Willy’s, but here are some items to consider packing to make the most of your visit.

  • Bathing suit: If you don’t plan on taking a dip in the nude, remember to bring along your swimsuit. If you’re into that Baywatch look, I’m wearing this suit in all the photos in this post (I have it in both 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’d be no fun to get out of the warm, cozy springs, just to walk the 0.25 miles back to the parking lot while cold and soaking wet.
Woman standing in Wild Willy's Hot Spring with mountains in the background at sunrise in Mammoth Lakes, California
  • Water shoes: Since Wild Willy’s is a natural hot spring, the bottom of the pools can be quite muddy and rocky. It might be a good idea, especially if your trip involves any other water activities, to pack hiking sandals 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!
Woman facing the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains in Mammoth Lakes, California
  • Dry bag: When we visited Wild Willy’s, 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 Wild Willy’s warm 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 Wild Willy’s Hot Spring?

If you’re into camping (either via tent or RV), great news- because Wild Willy’s is located on BLM land, you can actually camp in the parking lot for free! While you can technically stay on the land for up to 14 days, I suspect camping at Wild Willy’s wouldn’t be very peaceful- the area obviously gets a lot of traffic and we met a fellow in another spring who admitted to double parking in Wild Willy’s lot, given how crowded it was. 

Safari Condo Alto trailer parked in front of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains at sunset in Mammoth Lakes, Nevada

Luckily, there’s tons of other surrounding BLM land, like at the Rock Hot Tub, Whitmore Tubs Road Dispersed Camping, or the Hot Creek Hatchery Spur Road. While most of the hot springs in the area are located on BLM land, random pockets of the land is owned by other entities, like the  Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. So if you want to double check whether your campsite is located on BLM land, contact 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 Wild Willy’s and 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!
Window looking out at a mountain in Mammoth Lakes, California

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 plane, 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) Wild Willy’s- what did you think about your time there? Any tips I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

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