18 Natural California Hot Springs That Are Not Resorts
California’s landscape has more than 300 thermal springs, each offering a unique location coupled with geothermally heated water. These hot springs are tucked away in various corners of the state, from the rugged cliffs of the Sierra Nevada to the serene Imperial Valley at the border with Mexico.
Many visitors seek out hot springs for their potential healing properties. Since the water is often saturated with minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and silica, which are believed to have therapeutic effects on the body. But we all agree that sitting in a hot spring can be incredibly relaxing with the right setting.
Whatever is the reason for your visit, there is a variety of hot springs in California for everyone – from secluded pools surrounded by forests to expansive spa-like facilities with modern amenities. However, this post is all about hot springs in natural setting.
What is a hot spring?
California not only has the highest number of national parks, but out of 1,700 thermal springs in 23 out of 50 U.S. States, more than 300 of them are located in California. The list contains springs, pools, mud pots, mud volcanoes, geysers, fumaroles, and steam vents at temperatures of 200C (680F) or greater.
There are no universal definition for hot springs, just like there is not one for eco-lodges. But National Park Services define it as natural pools of water heated by the Earth’s interior heat. In volcanic areas, they can be extremely hot due, sometimes dangerously so. In non-volcanic areas, they are heated by the Earth’s normal temperature increase with depth.
The water in these springs often carries dissolved minerals, contributing to the mineral-rich content. In other cases, the springs are also carbonated.
Many hot springs are accessible to the public, often found in natural settings, national parks, or designated hot spring resorts. Others require a hike or drive through beautiful but rugged terrain, adding an adventure component to the experience. Each hot spring presents its unique blend of temperature, mineral composition, and setting, providing a different experience to visitors.
Map of natural hot springs in California
Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs
Located in Eastern Sierra, Mammoth Lakes is more than just a ski paradise; it’s a hot spring haven! This picturesque region, known for its rugged mountains and crystal-clear skies, is dotted with natural hot springs. You’ll find eight springs of varying sizes and temperatures which are accessible year-round. In winter, watch the steam rise into the crisp air as snow blankets the surrounding landscape. In summer, enjoy the warm waters under the endless blue sky.
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs, near Mammoth Lakes, is one of the more well-known and popular ones. It offers two natural pools with stunning views at Sierra Nevada. The area is rich in high desert wildlife and sagebrush. This spot is known for its beautiful, open landscape, allowing bathers to enjoy expansive views and starry nights, making it a popular destination.
How to get there? It is easily accessible, just off Benton Crossing Road, with a short walk from the parking area along a flat boardwalk. Here is a detailed description how to get to Wild Willy Hot Springs. The closest Californian eco-lodge is Rush Creek Lodge and Evergreen Lodge in Yosemite provided that Tioga Road (No. 120) is open, which is usually after May.
From the vantage point of Hilltop Hot Springs, bathers enjoy panoramic views of the Sierra Nevada. The springs offer a single, well-maintained tub known for its high temperature and clarity. It’s a popular spot for both its therapeutic waters and photo opportunities.
How to get there? It is situated off Benton Crossing Road and can be accessed via a short hike from the parking area. Here is a detailed guide how to get to Hilltop Hot Springs.
The Crab Cooker Hot Springs are so named for their notably high temperatures. The spring feeds a man-made tub where the temperature can be regulated by adjusting the flow of water with a valve. This spot offers a rustic, off-the-beaten-path experience with a view of the Sierra. Be sure to check the valve and the water temperature before entering.
How to get there? Located near Mammoth Lakes, it requires a drive on a dirt road followed by a brief walk. Here is a detailed guide to Crab Cooker Hot Springs.
The Rock Tub
Rock Tub Hot Springs is favored for its easily accessible, user-maintained natural stone tub alongside Hot Creek. Its warm waters provide relaxing soaks with a scenic backdrop of the Eastern Sierras. It is a small, intimate spot, perfect for peaceful contemplation.
How to get there? Found off Benton Crossing Road, it’s a short drive from Mammoth Lakes, with parking nearby. Here is a detailed guide to The Rock Tub Hot Springs.
Shepherd Hot Springs supply a simple soak set against a mountain backdrop. The single tub is frequently enjoyed by those seeking solace and a momentary escape from the bustle of life. Juniper and sagebrush surround this tranquil spot.
How to get there? It’s situated just off Benton Crossing Road, close to Mammoth Lakes, with a short walk from the nearest parking area. Here is a detailed guide to Shepherd Hot Springs.
Little Hot Creek
Little Hot Creek offers multiple geothermal pools set in a stunning open landscape. The temperatures of the pools vary, allowing bathers to find their ideal warmth. The setting is striking, with open skies and distant mountain silhouettes.
How to get there? Accessed via Hot Creek Hatchery Road, the springs require a short hike from the parking lot. Here is how to get here.
Hot Creek Geological Site
Hot Creek Geological Site, a remarkable natural wonder near Mammoth Lakes, showcases bubbling hot springs and geysers set against a stunning backdrop of the Eastern Sierra. It is part of the Inyo National Forest, where visitors can enjoy the sight of boiling water mixing with the creek’s cool flow, creating steamy, colorful vistas. The site offers well-maintained trails and viewing platforms, but swimming is prohibited.
How to get there? The geothermal area is easily accessible, located just off the Hot Creek Hatchery Road, with a short drive from Mammoth Lakes.
Nestled on the banks of Buckeye Creek in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Buckeye Hot Springs merges picturesque nature with soothing geothermal waters. It features several pools with different temperatures amidst striking rock formations. Here are 10 tips how to enjoy Buckeye.
How to get there? Found off Buckeye Road, a drive down a steep, narrow road leads to a foot trail descending to the springs. It is about an hour-drive away from Mammoth Lakes and 20 minutes from Bridgeport.
Travertine Hot Springs are known for their stunning calcium carbonate formations and therapeutic, temperature-varying pools. These springs deliver a rustic soak with views of the Sierras and often feature colorful algae.
How to get there? It is about an hour-drive away from Mammoth Lakes, located just south of Bridgeport off Route 395. These springs are a short trek from the parking area, easily reachable by a well-trodden path. Here is a detailed guide on Travertine Hot Springs.
Death Valley National Park
Located in the picturesque Death Valley National Park, one of the nine California National Parks, Saline Hot Springs are a true desert retreat. Visitors find several rustic pools of varying temperatures, set against the stark background of the valley. The springs are renowned for their clear, mineral-rich waters and the incredible stargazing opportunities they afford.
How to get there? It is accessible by high-clearance vehicles on rough backcountry roads, primarily from the east via Batwater Road at Saline Valley Campground. There is no fee to enter.
Tecopa Mud Hot Springs stand out for their unique mineral-rich mud, said to have therapeutic qualities. Bathers can immerse themselves in the warm, muddy waters that are believed to detoxify the skin. The springs lie in the remote desert landscape of the Amargosa Basin.
How to get there? Located southeast of Death Valley National Park, the springs can be reached by following State Route 127 to Tecopa.
Los Padres National Forest
Montecito Hot Springs
Montecito Hot Springs, near Santa Barbara, offers a peaceful escape with its natural warm pools. It is one of the many interesting things to do near Santa Barbara since these springs are only short hike away through the Los Padres National Forest. The 5.6-mile loop trail to the springs is a gentle walk, making it accessible for most visitors. It is a perfect spot for those looking to unwind in a tranquil, natural setting.
How to get there? Hikers can access the forest trails via U.S. 101 in Montecito following the Olive Mill Road exit. There will be signs marked by the Montecito Trail Foundation leading to the hot springs.
Willett Hot Springs
Willett Hot Springs are nestled in the lush Los Padres National Forest. These springs are a serene oasis, featuring warm, crystal-clear waters surrounded by towering trees and abundant plant life. The spring offers a modestly sized pool, perfect for soaking and unwinding after a hike.
How to get there? Access is via a moderate 10-mile hike from the trailhead from Piedra Blanca Trailhead. The starting point is about 22 miles from Ojai, the closest city. There is no fee to enter.
Sespe Hot Springs
Sespe Hot Springs boast some of the hottest waters among California’s natural springs, with temperatures that can reach up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. They are set in a remote region of the Sespe Wilderness, offering a quiet escape amid dry, rocky landscapes dotted with native flora. The pools range from small rock-lined pockets to larger sandy-bottomed areas.
How to get there? There are three trails to reach the hot springs: Sespe River Trail (17 miles one way), Alder Creek Trail (7.5 miles one way), and Johnson Ridge Trail (9.5 miles). The closest city is Ojai. There is no fee to enter.
Ecotopia Hot Springs / Ojai Hot Springs
The Ecotopia Hot Springs, also known as Ojai Hot Springs, are a series of idyllic springs located on private property in the Ojai Valley. This sanctuary boasts clear, sulfur-rich waters surrounded by lush vegetation, offering a serene retreat. Visitors are welcomed to soak in the springs that are thought to contain healing properties.
How to get there? Access is permitted only by reservation to ensure privacy and conservation. It is closed, please check this website for announcements.
Sykes Hot Springs
Sykes Hot Springs is a popular destination in the Ventana Wilderness of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The springs consist of several pooled areas in a creek bed, enveloped by a canopy of trees. This natural setting provides a tranquil spot for bathers to soak while listening to the sounds of the forest.
How to get there? Visitors embark on a roughly 10-mile trek along the Pine Ridge Trail from Big Sur Station. The closest eco-lodge is Post Inn Ranch approx. an hour away.
San Bernardino National Forest
Deep Creek Hot Springs
Deep Creek Hot Springs, nestled in the San Bernardino National Forest. With a series of geothermal pools along the creek, visitors can enjoy a soothing soak surrounded by a rugged canyon. The pools vary in temperature, allowing for different experiences, from warm wading to hotter soaks. Clothing is optional.
How to get there? The hot springs can be accessed through a 2.5-mile trail originating from Bowen Ranch Road (paid access to private lands). Other alternative is the Pacific Crest Trail east from Arrowhead Lake Road, which is a 6-mile hike.
Southern California – By the Border
Holtville Hot Springs
Holtville Hot Springs, located near the Mexico border in the Imperial Valley, consists of 2 minimalistic pools and a metal tub that offer warmth and simplicity. The hot springs lack the grandeur of forested counterparts, but they are easily accessible. It is right off the road.
How to get there? It is a simple drive to Holtville, where the springs are found just off Evan Hewes Highway.
Health and wellness benefits
Natural hot springs in California offer a variety of warm, mineral-rich waters. The water is often saturated with minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and silica, which are believed to have therapeutic effects on the body. Many visitors seek out hot springs for their potential healing properties to reduce stress, to improve skin conditions, or boosting circulation.
Activities in and around the hot springs
Natural hot springs in California offer a range of recreational activities suitable for all types of adventurers. Visitors can immerse themselves in nature by enjoying hiking trails that often lead to these thermal wonders.
For those seeking a more liberating experience, several hot springs are clothing-optional, providing a space where visitors can connect with nature without the constraints of swimwear. Always remember to check the local regulations and etiquette for clothing-optional areas.
Stargazing is a particularly magical activity at these remote locations, far from the light pollution of the cities. The clear skies of the California wilderness make for an unforgettable night-time spectacle.
While partaking in these activities, it is crucial to respect the natural environment and adhere to Leave No Trace principles, ensuring these beautiful sites remain intact for future generations.
Where to stay
Nearby accommodations range from rustic cabins to comfortable resorts, catering to different preferences for comfort and convenience. Additionally, many hot spring locations there are camping or glamping facilities, allowing for an extended stay under the stars.
Quiet Mountain Retreat
Emese Maczko is a travel blogger behind Eco Lodges Anywhere. Having explored several destinations around Europe, the US, Indonesia, and Australia, and resided in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Luxembourg, Emese possesses a keen understanding of diverse cultures and an appreciation for the beauty of each destination she visits. She advocates for sustainable travel and ecotourism.