Wild Willy’s Hot Springs are thermal soaking pools in the middle of a desert meadow, some 20 minutes drive from downtown Mammoth Lakes. These natural, undeveloped soaking tubs are surrounded on all sides by a postcard-worthy landscape called the Sierra Nevada, a picturesque mountain range in the Western United States.
In this post, I will share all you need to know about Wild Willy’s Hot Springs site, including the good and the not-so-good. The “Before you go” sections are essential so pay attention. I will also share other alternatives to Wild Will’s Hot Springs just in case you arrive when the site is too crowded for your liking.
- Location: 37° 39' 39.7296'' N 118° 46' 3.954'' W
- Type: Undeveloped
- Temperature: Between 96°F and 106°F
- Fee: No
- Hike-in access: (Yes, during winter).
- Vehicle access: Yes (any vehicle)
- Number of pools: 2
- Rule: Clothing optional
- Current status: Open
This place is incredibly beautiful, and the thermal pools are the highlight. If you can plan your visit so that you arrive during off-peak hours, you will have an experience that will stay with you for a long time.
Although you will almost certainly encounter other soakers here most of the time, especially on weekends and holidays, it is possible to have some privacy early in the morning. This is not to say that you won’t have fun if you meet other soakers in the pools. It’s just a different vibe.
Don’t forget to bring your cameras because this is an excellent photo location. Try taking a wide-angle and distant shot of yourself standing in the meadow with the Sierra mountains as a backdrop at sunset or sunrise. Don’t leave this photo on your camera or phone! Try printing the photo in large format and you’ve got yourself a stunning nature wallpaper with you in the midst!
Hot Springs Pools at Wild Willy's
When you arrive, you will find two soaking pools on the site. Wild Willy’s Hot Springs pools do not have any hot water pipes. The thermal water comes directly from the ground, bubbling up into the pools. They are about 3 feet deep, have a gravel bottom, and a faint sulfur smell. You will find that the surrounding soil around the soaking pools is slippery, so pay attention and if possible, wear water shoes.
As you approach, you will find to the left, a small heart-shaped pool that can accommodate 4 to 5 people. With a temperature of around 105°F, this pool is hotter than the larger one. The larger pool at the end of the boardwalk has a lower temperature of about 96°F and it can accommodate about 15 people at a time.
Volunteers and visitors maintain the tubs, which are free to use. Please do not leave any trace of your visit. Leave the area better than you found it because this is the only way to preserve this treasure and keep it available for future use.
Before you go
It is important to note that:
- This is a communal pool site with a clothing-optional (unwritten) rule, and there may be nudity.
- The site is popular due to its beautiful setting and ease of access. Crowds are to be expected especially on weekends and holidays.
- During high use periods, the water may become polluted by human or organic matter.
- Do not splash in the pools. Keep your head out of the water to avoid infection.
- This is a desert location with no on-site amenities so bring towels and drinking water to rehydrate after soaking. Bring enough water if possible to clean up after soaking.
- Bring warm clothes and shoes in the winter because you will have to walk a distance to and from the hot springs to your car.
- No changing areas at the site. Change in the car before walking down.
- In the summer, be prepared for bugs.
- If visiting with kids, make sure to check the water before they go in.
- There may be algae in the water. Take note of the size of algal growth. A soaking pool with a lot of algae provides a favorable environment for bacterial growth.
When you get there
- Use the boardwalk from the entrance to the hot springs. The boardwalk was put there for a reason which is to protect the sensitive meadow habitat from high foot traffic.
- You may find cows freely grazing in the area or near the pools.
- You may meet a crowd or have the pools all to yourself.
How do you get to Wild Willy’s Hot Springs?
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs is located about 20-minute away from Mammoth Lakes, off US Highway 395. Depending on where you are coming from, there are several ways to get to this highway.
If coming from Mammoth Lakes take the U.S. HWY 395 South, or from Bishop, follow U.S. HWY 395 North until you reach Benton Crossing Road. You will know this when you see the green church. Take a right turn to follow the road and travel for about 3 miles until you reach a yellow crossing sign (or second guard) for cattle. After passing through this guard, turn sharp right and continue on the dirt road till you reach a fork in the road. Keep left and drive to a spacious parking lot which serves as the trailhead to the hot springs.
When you get to the parking lot which is free, you will find a wooden path or boardwalk laid out for about ¾ of a mile to the soaking pools. The terrain is flat and the trek which will only take about 7 minutes is easy. This little trek from the parking lot gives you the opportunity to take in the beauty of the landscape as you approach the soaking pools.
Any vehicle can make this trip but nothing beats a 4WD when you are travelling on a dirt or gravel road. So if you have the option to choose, go with a 4WD. If you decide to go on the trip with a smaller vehicle, you must drive slowly when you get to the graded portion of the road.
How do you get to Wild Willy’s Hot Springs in winter?
The drive during winter is basically the same except for the last stretch of the road. Pay attention while driving in winter because it is easy to miss the turn after the second cattle guard as everywhere is covered in snow. Once you take that turn, look ahead, and you will see steam rising from the hot tubs in the distance.
The cattle gate that leads to the dirt road and the parking lot is usually closed in winter when there is too much snow. You must park your car by the road and hike through the snow to the hot springs. This trek will take you about 30 minutes so you must be prepared especially for the trek back to the car.
There is no cold plunge by the hot spring pools. This means that when you emerge from the hot soaking tubs, you will be immediately exposed to very low temperatures. The sudden change can be shocking especially when you have to hike back to the car. This is why picking the appropriate clothes and shoes is essential.
Is there camping at Wild Willy’s Hot Springs?
Free camping is permitted at Wild Willy’s Hot Springs because it is situated on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. However, it is important to know that camping is not allowed in the immediate vicinity of the hot springs. You can camp in the parking lot or the surrounding meadow. Also, note that campfires are not permited because the area is classified as sensitive habitat,
Remember that this hot springs site is primitive with no on-site facilities. Ensure to come with all you need and endeavour to pack out any trash before you leave.
Wild Willy's Hot Springs Map
Are there other hot springs close to Wild Willy’s Hot Springs?
There are several hot springs close to Wild Willy’s in the Mammoth Lakes area, fed by the same geothermal system. This collection of hot springs is also called Whitmore Hot Springs. Most of them are located off U.S. Highway 395. The beauty of this cluster of hot springs in the same area is that if one of the sites is congested, you can easily turn around and drive to another.
They are all primitive or undeveloped, small and made of a single soaking tub with the exception of Wild Willy’s which has two.
Other soak-worthy hot springs close to Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
1. Rock Tub Hot Springs, Mammoth Lakes
Rock Tub Hot Springs is also located in a desert meadow and surrounded by the beautiful Eastern Sierra Mountains, about 12 miles East of Mammoth Lakes.
This hot spring consists of just a single man-made rock and cement tub and is the busiest of all the Mammoth Lakes hot springs. This comes as no surprise due to its proximity to the highway and easy access. Sometimes you have to wait to get your turn to use the soaking tub here.
The thermal water is supplied to the man-made rock and cement tub through a hot water pipe connected to the geothermal source about 400 feet away. The temperature of the soaking tub which is just 3 feet deep and can fit 4 to 5 people, is about 100°F.
Before you go
- Rock Tub Hot Springs uses pipes to supply the soaking tub. This means that you may meet an empty or partially filled tub if the pipe is broken or frozen in winter.
- The site is clothing-optional and there may be nudity.
- The tub is a low-flow pool which means it may become contaminated during high use.
- The water is not as hot as in other hot springs. (Wild Willy’s Hot springs has a higher temperature for example). In fact, Rock Tub Hot Springs can be better described as a warm spring.
How do you get to Rock Tub Hot Springs?
To access Rock Tub Hot Springs follow the U.S. HWY 395 South from Mammoth and continue until you get to the green church. Turn left onto Benton Road Crossing and drive for about 1.1 miles. Then turn left onto Whitmore Tubs Road. This gravel road turns into a dirt road on the right after about 1 mile in. Continue on this dirt road until you get to a small parking lot. The hot springs tub is off the parking lot.
Rock Tub Hot Springs is on BLM land hence free camping is available close to the hot spring site.
Rock tub Hot Springs Map
Recommended Reading: Natural Hot Springs in Arizona
2. Hilltop Hot Springs, Mammoth Lakes
Hilltop Hot Springs (aka Pulkey’s Pool) is an undeveloped natural hot springs site located about 16 minutes from Mammoth Lakes off U.S. HWY 395.
The soaking area on this site is located in the middle of a desert meadow and is surrounded on all sides by the Sierra Mountains. This hot spring site in the middle of nature offers you the opportunity to relax in the mineral-rich water and take in the stunning views at any season of the year.
This hot spring features a single man-made stone tub that is about 3 feet deep. The tub is small and can only seat about 5 persons at a time. The mineral-rich water is supplied to the soaking pool via a system of hot water pipes. The temperature of water in this pool varies depending on the season and time of day. Expect an average temperature of 109°F.
One feature that makes this soaking pool different from the other Mammoth Lakes hot springs pools is the availability of control valves that can be used to adjust the water temperature.
Before you go
You should note that:
- The site can be crowded unless you arrive very early or stay late into the night.
- It is a communal pool with little or no privacy and you may meet locals and visitors soaking in the nude.
- The water flow in the soaking pool is low which means that during high use, the water may become polluted by human or organic matter. In such free and communal pools, you can never tell what soakers take with them into the pools.
- It is wise to keep your head out of the water as a precaution against infection.
- You may encounter trash left behind by other soakers.
- If going in winter, the dirt road leading to the hot springs might be closed. In this case, you have to park your car by the road and hike through the snow to the hot springs.
How do you get to Hilltop Hot Springs?
To access Hilltop Hot Springs, follow the U.S. HWY 395 South from Mammoth or US Highway 395 North from Bishop. Keep driving until you get to the green church. Turn left if coming from Mammoth Lakes (or right if coming from Bishop) to follow Benton Crossing Road. Drive for about 3.5 miles and make a left onto a dirt road. Continue on this road until you reach a small parking lot which serves as the entrance to the hot springs. From the parking area, you will find a wooden path. Follow the path and you will arrive at the soaking tub. The walk is easy and short. It will only take you about 5 minutes.
Hilltop Hot Springs Map
3. Shepherd Hot Springs, Mammoth Lakes
In the center of a beautiful valley, with the Sierra Nevada mountain range serving as a backdrop, is a man-made, concrete soaking pool known as Shepherd Hot Springs.
The source of this mineral-rich water in the concrete soaking pool is a volcanic hot spring bubbling from the ground about 150 feet away. The thermal water is then piped to the soaking pool. At the source, the water temperature is about 136°F but it cools down to about 108°F as it flows through the pipe into the soaking pool. The temperature of the pool can be further adjusted using the valve on the pipe supplying the tub. This valve controls the amount of hot water flowing into the pool.
There is just one small soaking tub on the site which is about 2.5 feet deep and can only fit 4 people at a time.
Before you go
You should note that:
- This site is clothing optional which means you may encounter people soaking in their birthday suits. There is no privacy here unless you are lucky enough to have the tub all to yourself when you arrive.
- It is a low-flow soaking pool. This simply means that during high use, or when mother nature decides to reduce the amount of water seeping out from the geothermal source per minute, the pool may become dirty and possibly contaminated. In this case, use caution.
- Hot pools like this have been known to harbour fatal microorganisms. Keep your head out of the water as a precaution.
- If you take this trip during winter, the road leading to the hot springs parking lot might be closed. In this case, you must park your car by the roadside and trek through the snow to the hot springs. Be prepared for this and dress in layers.
- Shephard Hot Springs is a busy site. Expect to see people coming and going throughout the day.
How do you get to Shepherd Hot Springs?
To get to Shepherd Hot Springs, follow US Highway 395, When you get to the junction where the green church is located, turn left if coming from Mammoth (or right if coming from Bishop) onto Benton Crossing Road. Continue on this road until you pass the second cattle guard. Then take the first left onto a dirt road. Continue on this road for about 2 miles and you will get to a parking area. The soaking tub is by the side of the parking lot.
Shepherd Hot Springs Map
In this article, we’ve examined Wild Willy’s Hot Springs as well as some of the Mammoth Lakes region’s other hot springs sites. These locations offer you the chance to travel the picturesque Highway 395 and take a relaxing soak amidst the Eastern Sierra mountains. Is Wild Willy’s Hot Springs worth a visit? The answer is a resounding yes. Wild Willy’s is my favorite of these hot springs. You should experience this place.
If you found this post useful or have any tips for fellow adventurers, feel free to leave a comment below.
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs- FAQs
Are dogs allowed at Wild Willy’s Hot Springs?!
Yes. Dogs are allowed but endeavor to keep them out of the soaking pool and on a leash.
Is Wild Willy’s Hot Springs the same as Whitmore Hot Springs?
No. Whitmore Hot Springs is a collective name for the group of Hot springs found in the Mammoth Lakes Area. They all share the same geothermal system.
Can you list out the hot springs that are close to Mammoth Lakes?
- Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
- Hilltop Hot Springs
- Shephard Hot springs
- Rock Tub Hot Springs
- Little Hot Creek Hot Springs
- Crab Cooker Hot Springs
Must I use a 4WD vehicle to access these hot springs?
No. Any vehicle would do. Most of the drive is on US HWY 395 which is completely paved. The dirt or gravel roads are flat with little bumps in places but can be accessed with smaller vehicles. The same applies to other hot springs off US HWY 395.
Is Wild Willy’s Hot Springs open?
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs is open year-round. However, the dirt road leading to the trailhead may be closed in winter in which case you must hike through the snow to get to the hot springs.
Does Wild Willy’s Hot Springs Smell?
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs has a faint smell of sulfur. Sulfur is a natural component of all volcanic geothermal springs. The longer the water stays in the pool before draining, the stronger the smell. Sulfur is known to have beneficial effects on the skin and hair.
Is there a place to rinse off after soaking in these hot springs?
There is no shower or stream nearby where you can rinse off after soaking. The same goes for all the Mammoth Lakes hot springs. It is a good idea to come with your own clean water. A few gallons in the boot of your car will be enough until you get a proper shower.
Can you go to the hot springs near Mammoth lakes in winter?
Yes. The hot springs sites are open in winter. In fact, this is the best time to soak in these pools. Remember to come in warm clothes.
Is the water at Wild Willy’s Hot Springs Deep?
The water here is just deep enough for half body soak.
What is the rating of Wild Willy’s Hot Springs?
This hot springs has a VERY GOOD rating. On a scale of 1 to 5, it is rated 4.5 (from sources around the web).
Do you pay for parking at Wild Willy’s Hot Springs?
The parking at the site of this spring is free to use.
Do I have to pay at the gate to get to Mammoth Lakes hot springs?
There is no fee attached to the entry or use of the hot springs. As long as the cattle gate is open, you are free to pass through and access the springs.
What is the best time to visit Wild Willy’s Hot Springs?
The early morning hours are the best time to visit. This timing will give you a better chance of privacy and the chance to see the sunrise behind the Sierra mountains.
Is Wild Willy’s Hot Springs kids friendly?
This hot springs site is kids-friendly because the drive from town is just about 20 minutes and the 7 minutes walk to the soaking pools is very easy. The tubs are shallow, just about 3 feet deep and if you arrive early before the crowd, your kids will enjoy it. However, bear in mind that there may be nudity at the site. If you are traveling with teenagers, this is a factor to consider before you go.
Does Wild Willy’s Hot Springs have a closing time?
There is no closing time or reservation at this hot springs site. The site is open all year round and all day. If you prefer to use the soaking pools at night, free camping is available at the parking lot.
Is there a cell phone reception near Wild Willy’s Hot Springs?
In the vicinity of the hot springs, cell phone reception is available, though signal quality varies as you move away from the parking lot.
Are RVs allowed on the campsites?
Yes. RVs are allowed on the free campsites near the parking lot. Note that open fires are not allowed. You will need to get a permit for that.
Are there hotels around Wild Willy’s Hot Springs?
There are hotels in Mammoth lakes which is just a few minutes away. If you prefer the four walls of a room and cozy beds instead of camping outdoors, then there are lots of options to choose from.
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