May also be known as Pulky’s Pool in hot springs books.
Hilltop is a new found favorite and one of the more scenic spots for a soaking tub in this region. Sitting out in the middle of a clearing, surrounded by marsh lands, this remote hot springs is a hike-in destination. No paved road, nor paved trail. The mountain and sky views from this tub are splendid, and if you time it perfect, you may have the place to yourself.
From US Highway 395 @ Benton Crossing Road – drive approximately 3 miles (passing dirt road Whitmore Tubs). Once you’ve crested a small hill, look for a gated dirt road on left, which leads a short ways, back through the sagebrush, to the parking area.
GPS coordinates: 37.6455, -118.8001
The dirt parking lot is adequate enough to handle a dozen vehicles, and this place is so well known, that it gets a fair amount of traffic at any time of year.
Rumor has it that Hilltop is one of the most visited hot springs near Mammoth Mountain; probably due to the proximity to the paved road. Cars and trucks, camper vans and RVs will be coming and going at all hours of the day and night. So consider yourself warned!
Gate and fence separate the parking from the trail, which leads a quarter mile (often over wooden plank boards) through alkali fields – out to the cement tub.
Only one, small makeshift bench next to the pool – and no tables, no seating, no facilities; Bring tarps, towels, ice chest and camp chairs (if you plan to stay a while).
Plastic PVC pipes and control valve adjust water flow and temperature. If the valve is left ON (wide open) overnight, the small tub will be too hot to soak in the following morning.
Camping options are pretty limited here. A small clearing for a tent, next to the parking lot; and one decent parking spot, large and private enough to call a camp site (at the dead end, past the parking).
The Eastern Sierra corridor of US Hwy 395 is far enough away that it cannot be heard from this spot.
BLM gate at the paved road entrance reads: road is closed seasonally – assuming you can walk in during snowy winter months.
Hilltop is one of several primitive hot springs in this immediate region. See Mammoth Hot Springs for more choices.
The Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains run the length of US Highway 395, through most of the eastern side of California. Mammoth mountain is a volcano, so naturally hot springs come with the package. These hot tub destinations listed here are mostly part of the Long Valley Caldera, an ancient volcanic table land. North of Bishop and near the snow ski destination towns of June Lake and Mammoth, California in Mono County, California.
(This region is not to be confused with Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park, nor the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota.)
Backroads Camping is allowed throughout Inyo National Forest, but there is private ranch lands mixed in w/ public lands. Respect property boundaries, and speed limits around gates and intersections.
Camp sites are not located next to the soaking tubs. A few may be within walking distance. Parking is often limited at these remote, public use hot pools. Total Escape TIP: Behind Lake Crowley: abundant, free camping – wide graded dirt roads (RV and passenger car suitable). Inyo National Forest Map is recommended.
Eastside of Highway 395
Casa Diablo Hot Springs near the Mammoth exit, is a location noted on most maps, but this seems to be the geothermal power plant for the region. If you are looking for hot springs tubs to soak in, you’ll need to get off the main drag for those beauties, way off the highway.
On to dirt roads
Inyo Forest Road #3S45
Hot Creek Hatchery Road
(near Mammoth Airport)
Minimal dirt road driving. A very popular spot where hot springs are located within the big creek, so you can feel cold and hot water flowing by you. Scalding can occur near vents underwater, so use caution when wading. Large parking lot overlooks the soaking area and creek canyon. Swimsuits required.
Benton Crossing Road
leads east, around Lake Crowley, to the small town and camping resort and inn of Benton Hot Springs
Inyo Forest Road #2S84
Benton Crossing Road
This rural intersection at US Hwy 395 is known for the little green church on the corner. Turn east off the highway on to this road > BENTON CROSSING.
Pull over, get out and stretch. Look at your maps, get the GPS out and then start your exploring. First timers might be able to find a soaking tub within half an hour, if you don’t get lost. Or get stuck in a muddy spot, which is easy to do at night.
Hill Top Hot Springs
also known as – “Hilltop, Pulky’s Pool”
Willy’s Hot Spring
also known as – “Wild Willie’s, Crowley Springs”
Inyo Forest Road #2S07
Whitmore Tubs Road
a major graded dirt road that leads north off of the paved road, becomes Owens River Road and connects back to US 395 many miles to the north.
Several primitive hot tubs can be found on dirt roads in this region, which lead off the main paved road. At night these remote pools can be hard to find – with no signage, no street lights and pitch black darkness. Plus the mud bogs and grassy fields all around make the landscape difficult to navigate. If you plan a nighttime arrival, then plan to drive in slowly around the pools, have your GPS handy and look for steam in the air. Cut your headlights if you see other cars or people, and proceed slowly.
Be considerate of others and friendly. Do not litter. Do not crank up music. Wait for others to finish soaking and do not rush anybody. Give others space and privacy to get dressed.
Whitmore Hot Springs
904 Benton Crossing Road Mono County Park w/ public swimming pool & day use fee
also known as – “Whitmore Tubs, Whitmore Springs”
Inyo Forest Road #3S11
Minaret Summit Rd
This wilderness region is located the on the west side of Mammoth Mountain, accessible by the paved Minaret Summit Road, which closes due to deep snow and is generally only open during summer months.
Red’s Meadow Hot Springs
developed campground w/ wooden sheds for baths: showers & tubs.
near Devil’s Postpile National Monument
also known as – “Red’s Meadow Hot Showers”
Iva Bell Hot Springs
remote, wilderness; hike-in hot springs.
south of Mammoth & Rainbow Falls, via trail #2622
also known as – “Fish Creek Hot Springs”
Little Hot Springs Valley (within the National Park boundary) is also not fit for public use either. Although it may be appealing as a sightseeing destination, (accessible by dirt road) it is far from soaking quality.
Hot Springs Creek flows south into Mill Creek
DixieFire 2021 ravaged California’s Volcanic National Park. Morgan Mountain lightning strike fire merged with the monster fire to the east. NPS fire crews and CalFire lit a back fire near the Visitors Center on Hwy 89 – to burn and meet the bigger oncoming fire. Winds from the north forced the giant wildfire from the peaks and down hill to Mill Creek and Child Meadows, where firefighters were able to control the leading edge of the fire.
the only real hot springs worth visiting around Lassen National Park
rumors have it that the resort may still be standing – after the fire!
Built in 1900, this historic, rustic mountain meadow resort is accessible by dirt road through Warner Valley – north of Chester, CA. They have a swimming pool, naturally heated by the local hot springs. Plus rental horses, hiking trailheads and a developed campground nearby.
JULY 2021 – Drakesbad is CLOSED due to wildfire Dixie Fire
JULY 2021 State Park CLOSED due to the wildfire, Tamarack Fire.
California State Park Sierra Hot Spring Camping Resort open all year
South of Lake Tahoe, hidden in a forest meadow near the small town of Markleeville, sits this super scenic, year-round camping resort in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Popular place for senior travelers, RV campers, families, snow skiers, and tourists.
No lodging available, no cabins. Only Campground Camping – Reservations are recommended. This is a popular destination for the Eastern Sierra Tahoe region. May thru September are peak season. During mid-winter a portion of the campsites are closed and the remainder may be on a first come, first serve basis. State Park is located 4 miles west of Markleeville, at the end of Hot Springs Road.
cross country skiing
Piped water, flush toilets, showers, this is luxury camping by State Park standards. Hiking, fishing, stargazing. Quite an ideal spot, especially if you visit during a slow time. Surrounded by mountains that top 10,000′ elevation, expect to see some snow in the winter months.
The hot pool resort is open to the public for day soaking w/ a fee. Wheelchair accessible areas. The pool hours tend to fluctuate with the seasons, so be prepared for anything. Even a snow storm!
Grover Hot Spring Campground
• Elevation: 5800′
• Number of Sites: 75
• Vehicle Access: RV 27′ max
• Campsites Reservation: Yes
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Length of Stay: 10 Days
• Season: Open all year
• Trailheads: Carson River
Sespe Hot Springs is one of the hottest thermal springs in the California coastal region. The unique springs, leaking from a cliff high above, leaves a red mark down the white rock wall and it is too hot to touch near the source. Scalding is possible in Sespe Gorge!
Several clearings and tent spots are located in the sandy canyon, between the cottonwood grove and the springs source. Stack river rocks and boulders to create your own soaking tub and relax. Do bring your backpack and plan on spending the night, cuz if not it’s an 18 mile RT hike (done as a day hike – it can be very long and rough). Weekdays are best for seclusion and having the whole place to yourself. Weekends are the prime time for SoCal trekkers to arrive.
Grade Valley Road – The access to Sespe Hot Springs trailhead is via Lockwood Valley Road; west of Frazier Park about 12 miles. Take the backroad #7N03 (Grade Valley / Mutau Road) southbound into the forest and traverses 13 miles of rough dirt road to reach the small dirt parking lot. Deep inside this route, you are now totally surrounded by Sespe Wilderness. Both Thorn Meadows Campground and Half Moon Campground are located back here on the main dirt road. A dead end dirt road is the trailhead for Sespe Hot Springs.
Via Johnston Ridge – The access trail is LONG, with a lot of up and downs, changing in elevation, thru pinyon pine forest and oaks, along dry dusty ridges, very exposed. Cottonwood trees line the large canyon at the Hot Springs.
The coastal mountain range wilderness located approximately 12 miles north of Ojai, CA. Drive 5 miles N on Highway 33; left at the Matilija Canyon Road turn off.
Chaparral is the prevalent vegetation with poppies plentiful in springtime. Cottonwood, alder and maple trees dominate the canyon. One trail has trail campsites along it and follows 9 miles of the North Fork, gaining about 3,400′ feet in elevation as it makes a north-south journey, and leaving the Wilderness at a parking area on Cherry Creek Road. This road is open seasonally from Aug. 1 to Dec. 15
This whole area burnt in a recent wildfire and much of it may be closed off to the public.
If you’ve had it with the traditions, the big meal prep, or just sick of the family. Maybe you are a solo traveler, or a new transplant to California and need to explore more. Take a holiday away – for once this time.
Camping for turkey day? What a concept.
California is the perfect place for camping, all year long!
Stick to the lower elevations, look for canyons, and seek seclusion
California mountains often have snow during November. Avoid camping in snow @ 4000-5000′ elevation and above; Freezing temps above 3000-4000′ elevation.
Deserts, coastal regions and foothills are top choices for late Autumn car camping. Always check the weather ahead of departure, and have a plan B as an alternative. NorCal will be much wetter than the rest of the state.
MEALS: Prepare dinner meals ahead of trip departure. Bake turkey days before your trip and create meals based around that. Make mash potatoes at home and don’t forget to bring the butter. Pack pre-baked turkey for sandwiches, plus other quick snacks & meals for on-the-go travel.
Desert Camping is premium at this time of year. Luckily the eastern half of Southern Cal is desert. The lower the elevation, the better the temps will be overnight. Be prepared for wind when the ‘storm fronts’ approach, the winds do get a cranking! Dirt roads can become flowing washes during a good rainstorm, so know the weather forecast.
Coastal campgrounds may need advanced reservations. Be prepared for wet weather, especially up north. The redwoods groves are gorgeous anytime of year.
Gold County Reservoirs are prime areas for relaxing in nature, while everyone else is out shopping. Oak hills, rivers and canyons. RV campers love these large lakes; boating, fishing, mountain biking trails, kayak rentals, hiking near historic Gold Rush towns.
River Canyons of California are always beautiful destinations in the autumn months with fall leaves changing color. Many campgrounds can be found at lower elevation, river access areas.
California’s abundant Hot Springs are also top picks for holiday weekends.
Anza Borrego Desert State Park is always a nice, easy and relatively close get-away for any holiday. Open camping on the backroads (for free) makes it one of the most attractive camping options in all of SoCal. Many dirt roads are accessible for passenger cars, if extreme caution is used. Don’t plan on driving more than a few miles on dirt.
Masses of off roaders love to camp out, especially on Thanksgiving weekend. Wheel all day, eat, drink, bon fires every night and rumor has it ‘they roast their big bird outdoors – deep in a dirt pit’. Really?
El Centro, Glamis, Imperial Dunes, Ocotillo Wells, Truckhaven Hills, Johnson Valley. All popular off roading areas in Southern California, so consider yourself warned.
Mojave Desert, near US Hwy 395 Jawbone Canyon expect to see RVs, toy-boxes and families outside enjoying the weekend. OHV style. Often the group tries to create a round corral with their huge convoy of vehicles, to keep thru traffic to a minimum around “their camp”. Just stay well away from those gear-heads. In general, it is a very busy area around Mojave up to Hwy 178 during the holidays. Try high desert Horse Canyon instead.
State Parks, State Forests, State Recreation Area, National Parks, National Monuments, National Forests – What is the Difference?
Forest, Park, Reserve, Monument, Recreation Area, BLM, Nature Preserve… arghh!
Don’t let all the park and forest names confuse you. It is all California and it is your public land! No bikes on trails, No gathering wood, No dogs here, No camping there; Now what?
Below is our overview graph for all California parks and forests – the basic concepts & the rules broken down for anyone to understand. Permits may be needed in certain areas. Only the government officials understand the true nature of all the ridiculous red tape.
Back country lands very protected from roads and human impact. Off limits to vehicles & mountain bikes. Only accessible by backpacking, hiking or horseback. Endangered species; Hard to reach terrains in the High Sierra. Overnight visits may require a wilderness permit.
Federal lands are national parks, preserves & monuments; highly regarded as some of the most scenic in world & protected. Very popular places and crowds often in summer. Limited use areas for camping & recreation. No mountain biking on trails. No dogs on trails. Try off-season. Drive thru entrance fees.
Located within the National Park System & more specific to a region. Historic buildings, geological features and deserts ruins qualify. Some National Monuments become National Parks. Many locations have entrance fees.
NRA: National Recreation Area
Located within the National Park System & somewhat specific to a waterways, coastlines, lakes and reservoirs. Some locations have entrance fees.
National Scenic Area National Seashore
Located within the National Park System & is basically scenic area worth preserving. Usually no entrance fees.
Areas of forest lands throughout state; some surround the National Parks. 18 national forests make up 20 million acres of federal land. Multiple use areas: snow skiing, mining, grazing, off-roading. OHV & SVRA Tons of small campgrounds, recreation & primitive spots for real seclusion. Best bet for finding a spot away from the crowds. Get a free fire permit & camp on back roads. No entrance fees, some parking or day use fees; SoCal requires an Adventure Pass.
California Department of Parks & Recreation manages more than 260 parks. These smaller parks are located near cities with historical parks, as well as remote wild state land & coastal beaches. Entrance fees, day use, picnic and some have campgrounds. State Parks charge fees for day use, parking and overnight camping.
California SF: California State Forest
California Demonstration Forests, areas to be protected. Redwoods & Sequoia Groves; fragile eco-systems. Handle with care. May charge entrance fee or day use fee.
State Recreation Areas
California Department of Parks and Recreation. Lakes, Reservoirs, Rivers. Many have boat rentals and active marina. Recreation lakes charge entrance, day use, parking or boat launch fees.
Off Roading folks and dirt bikes can have their fun wheelin. Lands set aside for OHV use; dune buggies, quads & 4×4 enthusiasts. Most in desert regions; forest lands. Developed campgrounds large enough to accommodate RVs and trailers. Fees may apply in these off-road areas for day use or camping.
California County Parks
Desert hot springs, oak foothills and campgrounds, local hills w/ hikes, parks close to urban regions. Back roads & rural land protected from freeways & development. May require parking or entrance fees. Find these listed on the California A-Z town pages
All public lands that do not fall into the above categories. Little to no fees for day use, recreation or overnight camping. Plenty of desert & off roading areas. Some forest lands, certain lakes. Small campgrounds or open camping allowed. Fees may apply in developed campgrounds. Camp overnight almost anywhere out here for free, with a ranger issuedcamp fire permit.
Sequoia – which one?
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Forest
Giant Sequoia National Monument
Imagine that the Southern Sierra mountains is home to 3 different public parks named Sequoia. Yep, it’s true. Sequoia National Park, Sequoia National Forest, and Giant Sequoia National Monument. Other parks that have Sequoia groves are – Mountain Home State Forest, Calaveras Big Trees State Park, as well as Yosemite National Park.
As far as the Coastal Redwoods, most are included under State Parks. Find these parks on the Central Coast Big Sur and Santa Cruz mountains, plus Marin County, and all along the north coast US Hwy 101 from Mendocino to the Oregon border. Numerous redwoods parks are located along rivers.
The super scenic Big Sur coastline is home to Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park and to the similarly named Pfieffer Big Sur State Park. Leave it to park personnel, state officials or the non-locals to create such a confusing naming system within our most-visited state.
This place was the alternate choice to Miracle Hot Springs, but since that one is now closed – this is the main attraction out here, along the lower stretch of the Kern River.
USFS Forest Hobo Campground is about a mile away and it may be closed due to landslide repairs. There is also plenty primitive style camping options if you so choose.
Remington is by far, one of the nicest primitive hot tubs in the whole region and easy to access. If you can find it, the rewards are great!! Can be crowded on weekends. If the dirt parking lot is totally full, come back later or wait it out. You can find travelers, mountain bikers, dirt bikers, hikers, backpackers, campers, off-roaders, RVers, burners, desert rats, military boys, local kids, LA couples, techno DJs from Russia – a wide variety of people soaking at this not-so-secret spot.
These unique hand-crafted stone tubs are located on the Lower Kern, overlooking the big river and the fish. 3 volunteer built cement & river rock hot spring pools sit adjacent to the Kern River. There is also another small cooler tub on the trail perched above the thick brush.
This prime recreation spot is located a few miles west of Hobo Campground (old Miracle Hot Springs) is sometimes busy: dirt parking lot, minimal sign & the tubs are not viewable from the road. From parking area you must hike down a steep grassy trail for about a mile.
Bring towels, beverages & everything you will need from the vehicle, as turning around to go back & get everything half way down will prove to be a challenging trail up. Boulders & oaks on steep hillsides. A few campsites down along main trail. Wildflowers here are wonderful in Spring (April-May). Please pick up litter & keep this place beautiful.
West of Kernville & Lake Isabella, CA
along Kern River in the Lower Kern Canyon Gorge, Southern Sierra Nevada mountains
Remington primitive hot springs are located inside the lower Kern Canyon, southwestern part of Sequoia National Forest. Take Highway 178 east to the 4 lane portion, look for Borel Road right turn which climbs a steep hill up to Old Kern Canyon Road. At this stop sign you will see a sign for Remington Trail (3.5 miles) pointing to the right.
Remington Trailhead (signed) & dirt parking lot across from trail, is located on Old Kern Canyon Rd, which runs parallel to the 4-laner Hwy. 178 on the opposite side of the Kern River. The well known Kern Canyon Road is also labeled as “Cort 214” on GoogleMaps.
Remington Ridge Trail #32E51 – Mountain bike, hike and horseback trail
Breckenridge Road #28S06, access via Havilah, CA. Breckenridge has pine forest at higher elevation, and is the tallest mountain to the south of Kern River.
Minimal camping spots with very little privacy at the main dirt parking lot at Remington Hot Springs. The best tent camping is located down on the trails, so you may choose to hike-in to the secluded oaks to the sandy beach camps below. No facilities at Remington, no tables, no toilets, no electricity, so come very prepared to “rough it”.
USFS Sandy Flat Campground and Hobo Campground are a few miles away (to the east), on the same Kern Cyn Road; Breckenridge Campground is on a tall pine forested ridge just to the south, but requires a long drive around the mountain, or a super rugged 4WD vehicle for a steep dirt road.
Folks seeking more seclusion can choose to primitive camp along the narrow paved road leading to the west. Motorhome campers like the option of road side boondocking with great views; several level pullouts can accommodate most any camper. 4×4 camping is closer to Lake Isabella @ Keyesville or BLM River Camping. Primitive camp spots on numerous dirt roads are located in this Lower Kern River area, but you will need to check with Sequoia National Forest ranger for gate closures, fire permit & fire current restrictions.
Best of both worlds, way back in the boonies – two primitive tubs soaking perched on a soggy hill next to a big river, developed campground below, and a small resort w/ cabins, camping, restaurant and private soaking areas on the other side of the river.
15 mi. NE of Huntington Lake off Kaiser Pass Rd. Huntington Lake & Hwy. 168
Two squared cement tubs overlooking the San Joaquin River, deep in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The coolest thing about this primitive hot springs is that it is a great destination for a one day snowmobile adventure. Rentals are in the nearby community of Lakeshore & the plowed paths are fairly easy to follow. If you plan on visiting the springs, you must not play around in the meadow much, there is plenty great Sierra scenery to be had. The snomo trip is a good 5 hours round trip with a lunch break & dip at mineral spring tubs.
cross country skiing
Winter: road is closed half the year due to heavy snow. Summer: snow is gone and the road is open.
KAISER PASS ROAD Large motorhomes, RVs are not allowed on this long, steep, narrow paved route.
Max vehicle length: 25 feet
Take Hwy.168, turn right on Kaiser Pass Rd, just past the big ski resort. Pass the large meadow & follow signs to Mono Springs & Lake Edison. Make sure not to miss the left turn or you may end up at Florence Lake.
Parking near the green bridge over the San Joaquin River & hike over to the tubs on the hillsides. If there are other vehicles parked here, expect to see naked people nearby; Soaking should never be rushed. Clothing is optional – in California.
Mono Hot Springs Campground NFS
• Elevation: 6700′
• Number of Sites: 30
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 25′
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Campsite Reservation: Yes
• Toilet: Vault
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: June – September
• Trailheads: Ansel Adams & John Muir Wilderness
NOTE: This USFS Campground, should not to be confused with the neighboring business, a privately run camp called –
Take the road next to the Ranger Station (South of Bridgeport, along Hwy 395); Drive up the hill and past the rock quarry. Bear right & look for dirt parking lot. Two pools, short walk, no shade, wonderful views of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Popular with local commuters and travelers, with easy access off the highway. Great spot for views westward w/ sunset picnic and soak.
No overnight camping allowed at Travertine hot springs (posted signs)
Plenty of great, free, camping nearby:
Primitive or developed Campgrounds.
Saline Valley Hot Springs
Saline Valley Warm Springs
NORTH Death Valley National Park, in a super remote desert valley located in the vast mountains in between Big Pine CA Route 168 & Death Valley (west) Highway 190.
Inyo National Forest: Inyo mountains are a towering range of high elevation desert peaks running in between Owens Valley and Saline Valley.
desert wilderness access: 4 dirt road routes lead into Saline Valley – 2 backcountry 4×4 trails from the upper reaches of the park and 2 main dirt roads. All routes require a high elevation pass, so snow is likely in winter months (Nov-May).
Wilderness routes road conditions can change often, seasonally with winter snows, mud and summer thunderstorms. The most popular access are the main routes (both long dirt roads, subject to snow and closure at any time) – the North Pass (Big Pine) and the South Pass (Panamint). Detailed directions on those further below. Both backcountry roads Steele Pass and Lippincott Road, originate from the northern, desolate areas of the National Park and both require 4 wheel drive, with a recommended locking differential. No developed campground facilities. Clothing optional my ass — nudity is the norm here.
Since the challenging drive in to this remote desert valley is so grueling and time consuming, plan to spend a minimum of 4 nights. Anything less is way too rushed to totally enjoy the experience. Best way to enjoy this place is a full week off of work, and as much firewood, food and ice as you can haul. Some folks spend weeks camping here. The NPS limits your camping stay to 30 days! If you plan on driving out to Lone Pine for camping supplies and returning the same day, you best leave at dawn – cuz the entire round trip ‘beer run’ will take 6 hours or more.
High clearance vehicle a must & 4 wheel drive is highly recommended in all this region. All wheel drive wagons and passenger cars have been known to bottom out, break down and pop tires out here in the harsh conditions, so a first challenge may be to obtain a dependable and capable off-road vehicle.
Topographic GPS & decent back road maps are highly advised. One way drive is easily 4 hours, from any paved highway. Pack like you’re gonna live out here, if need be. Warning: this is a very long off-road journey for any average camping trip. This isn’t a weekend kinda place. First timers beware – it’s a full day journey to travel here!
Air Strip? The fly in option is a dirt landing strip called ‘Chicken Strip’, but National Park Service has yet to closed it.
NORTH PASS to Saline Valley Road:
from Big Pine, take Hwy 168 N from Hwy 395, turn right onto Death Valley Road (some maps may have this one listed as Waucoba Springs Road or just Waucoba Road). Proceed on the main route to the hard to read entrance sign marking the Saline Valley Road, past a few old structures and down to the main valley. Winter snow can be deep, so carry chains. 4×4 is best to access this remote valley, AWD high clearance might make it and normal passenger cars, 2WD SUVs should be warned about weather and access to the real world. Many times all mountain passes are snowed in – people do get trapped at Saline and cannot get out for weeks. So take that into account when requesting days off of work for this epic journey.
SOUTH PASS to Saline Valley Road:
from Olancha, take Highway 190 E, turn N off Hwy. 190 to Saline Valley Rd. Rugged 50+ mi. of hard core dirt roads. 4×4 and high clearance a must. Winter months expect snow, springtime rock slides and summers torrential downpours cause overflowing creeks w/ impassable washouts. Grapevine Canyon can be a challenging drive, but with patience and skill you can be down on the main valley floor in about an hour and a half (if you’re lucky). Did I mention the dozen or more miles of heavy washboard road conditions, at the base of the alluvial fan of mountain rock? Newbies and first timers should attempt the North Pass.
Near the marsh, when you finally reach the sand dunes area, you know the turn off is close-by, so slow down and stop to read the landscape. Know that the hot springs are located above the sand dunes to the east slope of the red volcanic mountains. When you see the metal bat sign and the mass of palm trees in the lower grove, you know you’ve arrived.
You’ve only truly arrived, when your whole body is immersed in hot water looking up at the stars and you learn to relax again. Breathe the deepest you have all year.
CAUTION: Stopping for those vehicles distressed on the side of the road is also a common practice. Many people break down on this route, Jeeps slide off cliffs. Harsh landscapes, plus weather are unforgiving and people die, so realize that this camping trip is no walk in the park.
Saline Valley Road Conditions & discussions can be found on Saline Valley Talk, the Saline Valley Message Board forum.salinepreservation.org
Kern River Valley is one of the all time favorite Sierra Nevada destinations for SoCal escapees. First, it is the southern most ‘big river’ action for the Sierra range. The drive up from Los Angeles is easy access; only a coupe of hours. California Highway 178 leads from Bakersfield up the mountain to Lake Isabella (exit at 155 for Kernville destinations). The 178 continues east past the rural communities of Onyx, Canebrake, Weldon, and then on to the Northern Mojave desert & US Highway 395
Second, Kern has an abundance of outdoor recreation, from fishing to boating, river rafting to kayaking, backpacking, mountain biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, hiking, camping, & soaking. Kernville is the “recreation headquarters” for the region, where you can find rafting outfitters, camping supplies and rental equipment.
Third, the mountain scenery is very diverse – with the dry shores of Lake Isabella, the granite lined Kern River, or the ridges with towering cedar forests, plenty sugar pines, plus a few Sequoia groves; Tons of dirt back roads to explore, granite & gorges for the rock climbers, prime wilderness access & several primitive hot springs.
The whole area is encompassed by the Sequoia National Forestwith wilderness areas to the North & East. Giant Sequoia National Monument is located along the Western Divide Hwy in the northern portion of the National Forest.
Whether you’re an RVer wanting a developed campground near town, a fisherman needing a primitive site right on the river, or a backpacker seeking the high country, the Kern has a little bit of everything. High elevations beyond 8000′ ridge lines, or the lush Lower Kern under 2000′ with granite boulders lining, Kern has it. 4 wheelers will love the extensive network of dirt back roads, or maybe the OHV areas of Keysville. Lake Isabella has numerous oak lined campgrounds & boat rentals available too. Summer is not the best time to visit as the temperatures soar to 100 degrees & the city crowds come in full force to the Kern Valley. Springtime, the best season to visit runs from March to May, or Autumn cools for September to December.
Saline Valley Hot Springs primitive springs. Very remote desert wilderness area, 60 mile rugged dirt road – high clearance vehicle required; 4×4 access year round. Clothing optional. Nudity out in nature is the norm!
South Death Valley –
Shoshonesmall hot springs resort camps. Swimsuits required.
Tecopa Hot Springscounty park hot springs w/ bath house, rustic resorts & RV parks. Swimsuits required.
Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells and Panamint Springs are not hot springs destinations, although the names seems to imply they might be. The historic Inn at Furnace Creek in the center of the Death Valley National Park has palm trees and pure luxury – deluxe guest rooms, massage & spa services, pools and tennis, restaurants, but no mineral hot springs source. Death Valley Junction, home of the infamous Amargosa Opera House, does not have hot tubs, nor a pool, nor even a restaurant. South end of the park speaks more to the RV campers.
Small town of Shoshone is a little more appealing (visually) than Tecopa Springs, so keep that in mind when wondering what to expect. Cabin rentals at Delights Hot Springs Resort are old, rustic and the whole place is a little “rough around the edges”.
California has many natural hot springs, most requiring a drive into the mountains. Some are rustic resorts, some are developed campgrounds, most are located on paved roads. The very remote tubs are the ones hidden in the secluded wilderness – only accessible by foot.
Plan to camp overnight? Fire Permits are required if you plan to build a campfire or use a camp stove.
HIKE-IN ONLY HOT SPRINGS
Buckeye Hot Springs requires a steep half mile trail down to the creek edge. N of Bridgeport. Eastern Sierra @ Buckeye Creek Road #017.
Deep Creek Hot Springs is a SoCal favorite, but with that convenience comes the crowds. Located on the desert side of the mountains from Lake Arrowhead.
Gaviota Hot Springs is a short hike along a lush canyon. Close to US Hwy 101 and located in between Goleta and Solvang.
Kern River Gorge, Sequoia NF – Both Jordan Hot Springs & Kern Hot Springs accessible only by backpacking many miles, from Jerky Trailhead. Backpack and horseback access only. Golden Trout Wilderness.
Remington Hot Springsrequires a steep but short half mile trail down to the river edge. Lower Kern River. Old Kern Canyon Road @ Remington Trailhead# 32E51 – Remington Ridge Trail is a multi-use trail. Bike, hike, horseback on oaks hills. Wildflowers in Spring.
Sespe Hot Springs requires an 18 mile round trip hike. Usually enjoyed as an overnight backpacking trip. A very challenging and long trek as a day hike. Los Padres National Forest.
Sykes Hot Springs requires a strenuous 10-mile hike from Big Sur Station. Hike inside of Los Padres NF. Usually enjoyed as an overnight backpacking trip, or a very long day hike for the fittest of folks.
This soaking spot is a convenient stop for those traveling the 101 on the California Central Coast. The hot pools are located in an overgrown canyon, about half mile up the hill from the parking area. The natural earthen pools tend to be warm, mushy, and smelly (like sulfur) but never super hot.
These are old, historic, volunteer built pools that are not maintained regularly, so keep that in mind when comparing this location to other well-manicured springs. Many of the locals that care for these sacred spaces only get paid back by reckless visitors with litter, graffiti and vandalism. If you want places like this to stay open, we must do our part to ensure that we leave it better tan we found it.
Parking fee, lot managed by California State Park. Gate closes at dark.
1 mile hike round trip
Poison oak, snake and ticks can be a problem at this location, so do be on the lookout.
hiking trails from here –
Gaviota Peak (fire road) and Campbell Trail (unmaintained)
Keough California is comprised of two soaking spots – a small resort and the primitive tubs below. An Eastern Sierra rustic Hot Springs Resort w/ campground, tent cabins rentals and nice landscaping. Big, clean hot pools at the top of the road. Entrance fees, trees and vegetation, next to the mountains. Seniors and families frequent this place. Swimsuits are required.
Below the resort and above the highway, are some primitive, free hot pools that require dirt road driving. Public nudity is common. Open 24/7 w/ several brush lined pools on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains overlooking the high desert of the Owens Valley. Quite impressive for being just off the highway. Buzzing, huge powerlines overhead are one of the only drawbacks of this soak spot. This place can get crowded at certain times.
Posted: No overnight camping allowed at these lower hot springs.
US Highway 395:
Look for the turn off in between Bishop and Big Pine, California. Take the Keough Hot Springs Road up hill until the second dirt road, turn right and the primitive hot springs will be on the left, just beyond the cold stream crossing. Sometimes a high clearance might be needed. Cars should park and walk the if unsure of the terrain. Do not park right next to the soaking tub, as the ground is too weak and vehicles have been known to slide in, unexpectedly. No kidding!
Plenty great camping all around the Eastern Sierra region. For campsites with cooler temps, higher elevation, pine trees & creeks: Head for the Glacier Lodge Rd – Inyo Road #9S21, West outta Big Pine.
Adventurous 4x4s can try super remote Coyote Flat, a super high elevation pinyon plateau that overlooks Bishop. Also Highway 168 W outta Bishop will lead to primitive camping areas like The Buttermilks, a rock climbing area. Further up the hill is alpine lake and creek camping in aspen groves.
Agua Caliente Hot Springs County Park is a remote 910-acre San Diego County Park next to the Anza Borrego Desert. A developed hot springs, picnic area & a large campground. This desert destination is perfect for California winter recreation, offering a small air strip for small plane pilots.
Located North of Interstate 8 on San Diego Road S-2 on the south end of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Local mountain’s seismic forces created the fault that runs beneath this region & forces water up to the desert surface. A decent water supply also supports plant life & wildlife.
For minimal crowds AVOID THIS PLACE on holiday weekends or peak winter months. Spring & Autumn are excellent times to visit here, but watch the weather forecast for any heat waves. Who wants to soak when it’s 100 degrees outside?
2 natural hot mineral pools:
large outdoor pool is kept at natural 96 degrees
glass walled indoor pool is heated & has bubbling jets
spring-fed, warm showers are available
hiking trails, horseshoe & shuffleboard
Agua Caliente Campground
140 campsites – tent sites & RV hookups w/ dump station. Shady trees only at some camp sites. Indoor pool, outdoor pools, maybe a hike-in primitive tub too. Individual campsites may be reserved up to 12 weeks in advance 858-565-3600
From Lake Isabella down to Bako, along Hwy 178, numerous natural hot springs can be found in this lower Kern river canyon. Old Kern Canyon Road has plenty of primitive spots to camp along the road, way above the Kern River. This Southern Sierra Nevada scenic route, a 20 mi winding narrow paved road, is the old highway that leads up to Bodfish CA.
At least a dozen dispersed camp sites can be found along the Old Kern Cyn Rd, some spots with views over canyon, some hidden & shady, many spots are level & large – suitable for RVs. No facilities, no fees, just a flat, dispersed site. Campfire permits are required for fires outside of developed Campgrounds & fire restrictions are often high, so no fires are allowed much of the year. Most of the gates on the Lower Kern are now locked & only accessible by Forest Service personnel, ranchers or local rafting companies with permits.
2 developed Lower Kern Campgrounds are located on the Old Kern Canyon Road, which parallels the 4 lane portion of the highway: Hobo Campground & Sandy Flat Campgrounds, if you really need a picnic table & bathroom. You can reserve camps by clicking the links.
Miracle Hot Springs – next to Hobo Campground. This hot tub park is closed for good. A few portable bathrooms, picnic tables & trash bins, the hiking trails clear; 2 shallow pools partially filled. Maybe enough room to soak your butt, but not fully submerse yourself. Someone really needs to renovate this place! Update 2012 – the signs for Miracle are now completely gone.
This one is by far the most popular now that Miracle is gone. The hike-in only access doesn’t deter people much and many choose to set camp overnight close by. The local authorities are always making the rounds to double check on the area – which is good for security and bad for the 2 AM party animals.
Democrat Hot Springs
private resort now open? Heck, I dunno. (2017, democrathotsprings.com is down. They might be trying to promote a River Festival held in May.)
The hotel and cottages were constructed to accommodate guests that came in stage coaches to dine and relax during the early 1900’s. Five springs on the property flow at 115 degrees into large soaking tubs and a swimming pool. Closed to the public for more than thirty years, the resort is once again ready to be brought to life for groups and private events only.
The hot springs listed below are Private Property, so don’t get caught – and don’t get shot:
Delonegha Hot Springs
Concrete tubs were built by homesteaders, later a hotel and boarding house were constructed. Stage coaches from the San Joaquin Valley took 2 days to get visitors to this area. The hotel closed in 1912, when more accessible areas of Democrat and Hobo were built. Remaining cement tubs run along a rock peninsula overlooking the Kern River; water temperatures average 112 degrees. This private property is fenced.
Scovern Hot Springs
Also known as the Hot Springs House. 1902 mud baths were being offered and the wooden tubs were replaced by galvanized tubs. A swimming pool and bath houses were added when the Scoverns bought the property in 1929. Bath house burned to the ground in 1971 and only a vacant lot remains. Steam can still be seen in the fields across from the springs, where water runs at 140 gallons a minute @ 115 degrees.
MIRACLE HOT SPRINGS on Lower Kern River is now closed!
Hidden well by the dense vegetation, this multi-tub location provides a peaceful setting along the Kern River. Located on the Old Kern Canyon Road, (aka Old Kern Road) that parallels the main 4-laner Highway 178. The broken and dismantled tubs are inside a grouping of granite boulders, overlooking the Lower Kern River. NFS Campground is walking distance away. Week days you can have the place to yourself for picnics, river fishing and hiking. Mountain biking and hiking trails at Remington trailhead.
DanaMite’s Tip: This place has no operating hot pools unless you plan to physically dam up a tub with a few found rocks. Rangers do not like this practice. If you wanna camp at Hobo Campground you can walk over & hike around to check it out. Worth a look.
Camping available next door at Hobo Campground. A few primitive spots are located on the Old Kern Canyon Rd. Free car camping, and some sites big enough for level RV camping. See the rangers at the lake for Sequoia National Forest ranger and fire permit and check fire current restrictions.
Remington Hot Springs is only 2 miles down river, but it does require a short hike and it gets very busy on weekends!