After a day of adventure on the slopes, trails, and shores of Mammoth Lakes, head out to the Long Valley Caldera for a relaxing dip in one of the area’s many hot springs.
Over millions of years, earthquakes, glaciers, and volcanic eruptions have shaped the adventure playground that we now call Mammoth Lakes. Thanks to a super eruption over 700,000 years ago, the earth’s surface sank a mile down into the mostly-depleted magma chamber.
This formed a large depression called a caldera, and makes up the area now called the Long Valley Caldera. Magma still rests underneath the caldera, heating the water underground, and feeding hot springs.
Tubs made of stone and cement are maintained by volunteers with water pumped in from nearby hot springs allowing you to soak while enjoying expansive 360 degree views of Long Valley and the mountain peaks that wrap around it. The best part? All of the Mammoth Lakes area hot springs are open to the public for free.
How Visit to the Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs
The Long Valley Caldera is located southeast of Mammoth Lakes. From town, head south on Highway 395. Go past the Mammoth/Yosemite airport and turn left onto Benton Crossing Road at the little green church.
You will find the best Mammoth Lakes hot springs off of Benton Crossing Road. Most require you to drive on unpaved roads. In good conditions, a sedan can manage them. Four wheel drive and higher clearance vehicles are helpful, especially after rain or in the snow.
Related read: 7 Beautiful Camping Spots in Mammoth Lakes, California
When to Visit the Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs
There’s truly no bad time of year to visit the Mammoth Lakes hot springs. During the spring and fall you will experience less bugs and less people. During the winter and spring your views will include snow capped mountains. In the summer head to the springs for the sunrise or early evenings to avoid the heat, bugs, and crowds.
Summer nights and weekends at the hot springs get crowded and sometimes a bit rowdy. In the winter the roads are not always maintained, but if you’re up for an adventure, you can park off Benton Crossing Road and snowshoe to the springs.
Related read: 10 Best Hikes In Mammoth Lakes, California
What to Bring to the Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs
Pack your swimsuit, towel, and water shoes as the bottoms of the tubs get slippery. The hot springs are unofficially “clothing optional”, so mentally prepare for that.
The Long Valley Caldera has no services, so plan to pack out everything you pack in, including toilet paper. Don’t forget water and snacks. You may want a dry bag for your phone or other belongings, but you should be fine without one.
Keep in mind that weather changes quickly so a jacket or dry change of clothes may come in handy. Cell service is decent in the valley, but make sure to take screenshots of directions and maps of the area and save them to your phone just in case.
Here are the five best hot springs near Mammoth Lakes, California.
1. Shepherd Hot Springs
Best known for: 360˚ views and seclusion.
- Camping: dispersed
- Size: 6-8 adults comfortably
Shepherd Hot Springs has the longest unpaved drive of the Mammoth Lakes area hot springs, but don’t let that discourage you. This hot tub rewards you with an up close, personal and secluded view of Glass Mountain and the rest of the Glass Mountain Ridge, which form the northeast edge of the Long Valley Caldera.
To get to Shepherd Hot Springs from Benton Crossing Road, veer left onto Whitmore Tubs Road to start your unpaved journey. Drive about two miles and take the third right (the first two will be close together). Follow the unmarked dirt road ½ a mile until it ends in a small parking area.
Cross the parking lot to reach Shepherd Hot Springs, which has built in stone seats and a pipe that pumps in geothermal water from the nearby springs. You can adjust the flow of the hot water, allowing you to adjust the temperature of the tub.
Thanks to easy-to-follow sandy social trails, you can easily access the Crab Cooker Hot Springs from here without having to tackle another bumpy unpaved road – your sedan will thank you.
2. Crab Cooker Hot Springs
Best known for: Hottest water temps.
- Camping: no
- Fits: 6 adults comfortably
Crab Cooker Hot Springs lives up to its name, thanks to the extremely hot water pumped from a geothermal spring 30 feet from the tub.
You can access Crab Cooker two ways – on foot or car. The unpaved roads that lead to Crab Cooker are notoriously the most difficult of all the Mammoth Lakes area hot springs. You may want to park at Shepherd Hot Springs and walk the ⅓ mile social trails to reach Crab Cooker if you have a low clearance vehicle.
If you have good clearance, or love a bumpy ride, take the first left off Benton Crossing Road (past Whitmore Tubs Road) onto an unpaved road. Then take your first right. Follow this unmarked road to the parking area for Crab Cooker. Find the small trail out the southside of the parking area and walk a gradual downhill to the tub.
Like many of the area tubs, Crab Cooker is made of stone and cement. It offers impeccable views of the Sierras and a front row seat for the Glass Mountain Ridge that forms the northeast border of the Long Valley Caldera.
Pro tip: The land is owned by the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water – it’s not BLM land, so there’s no camping permitted at Crab Cooker. When looking for a place to set up in the area be sure to check to make sure you are off private land and on Forest Service or BLM land.
Related read: 9 Soak-Worthy Hot Springs in California
3. Rock Tub Hot Springs
Best known for: Chilliest water temps, shortest walk to the springs.
- Camping: dispersed
- Fits: 3-4 adults comfortably
When you visit the Rock Tub Hot Springs, you park right next to the tub, no hike required. This hot spring stands out from the others in the Mammoth Lakes area as it is built into an existing rocky outcrop, instead of a tub constructed in the middle of a vast open space.
The shallow pool has hot water pumped in from a bog 400 feet away, but has no knobs to allow temperature control. As a result, this tub runs chillier than the others in the Long Valley Caldera. It makes up for it with its gorgeous views of the Sierras south of Mammoth Lakes.
To reach the Rock Tub Hot Springs, veer left onto the unpaved Whitmore Tubs Road from Benton Crossing Road. A little over a mile later, turn right onto an unmarked dirt road. The parking area is less than ¼ mile, and fine for low clearance vehicles in dry conditions.
Pro Tip: Even though it’s relatively easy to access, the Rock Tub Hot Springs can be the hardest to locate. You may hear it called the “Whitmore Hot Springs.” That’s actually the name for the entire geothermal area near Mammoth Lakes.
When getting directions, make sure to type in “Rock Tub Hot Springs”. If you type “Whitmore Hot Springs”, it will lead you to the Whitmore Pool – a public pool closer to the highway with great views, but not quite what you had in mind.
4. Hilltop Hot Springs
Best known for: easiest access, best temperature control.
- Camping: dispersed
- Fits: 6 adults comfortably
The Hilltop Hot Springs is located just off Benton Crossing Road making it the easiest hot springs to reach in the Mammoth Lakes area. Take a left on the second unmarked road past Whitmore Tubs Road. This leads you to the parking area.
On your right, just before parking, you will see an opening in the fence with a well worn sandy path leading away from you. Mind the sign that says “Welcome to Long Valley”, reminding you to pack out your trash and to stay on the boardwalk. Follow the sandy foot path and boardwalks through a marshy field for five minutes of gradual uphill and gorgeous views on your way to the hot tub.
Once at the tub, you will find yourself slightly elevated at the center of a massive, wide open space with far off mountains surrounding you, and it’s truly magical.
Two pipes empty into the Hilltop Hot Springs, one bringing water from a cold stream, and the other from a geothermally heated creek. Both pipes have valves to control the flow, allowing you maximum temperature control.
Pro tip: From the parking area, do not hike up the large, adjacent hill thinking you will find the tub on top. Speaking from experience, you will find impressive 360˚ views, but you will also scratch up your ankles, come across remnants of a sun-bleached deer carcass, risk damaging the sensitive habitat underfoot, and find no water.
Related read: The Most Scenic Los Angeles to Yosemite Road Trip Itinerary
5. Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
Best known for: largest, party atmosphere.
- Camping: dispersed
- Fits: 30 adults comfortably
And now for something completely different …
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs is the most popular hot spring in the Mammoth Lakes area for good reason. It’s the most developed, the largest, and you soak right in the hot spring.
While it’s still relatively secluded and surrounded by jaw dropping views in all directions, these hot springs get crowded at night and on the weekends, especially in the summer. If that’s not your scene, visit earlier in the day, or stick to the smaller hot springs in the area.
To reach Wild Willy’s, pass Whitmore Tubs Road and take the first unmarked, unpaved road on the right. The 1.5 mile stretch has lots of bumps and ruts, but in dry conditions you shouldn’t need a high clearance vehicle.
From the parking area, follow the wooden walkway ¼ mile to stairs that lead down to the babbling creek. Wild Willy’s has three tiers of increasingly larger pools for you to soak in. The bottom pool can hold at least 15-20 people, while the upper two fit two people each.
A separate pool next to a rocky outcrop, located fifty feet from the tiered creek, is the best place to enjoy the sunset, especially if you can get it all to yourself. This tub fits five adults comfortably. The water in this tub is very hot – hotter than a typical hot tub, so be prepared.
Everything about Wild Willy’s is beautiful. From the wooden path surrounded by sagebrush-covered meadows that leads you to the hot springs, to the views of Glass Mountain Ridge as you soak in the pools, to the views of the Sierras on the drive back to Benton Crossing Road, you will not regret making the trip to Wild Willy’s.
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Seen in: California, Hot Springs, West