Just south of Yosemite National Park lies a small, rustic “resort” with multiple hot springs, both natural and manmade.
OK, I love hot springs. I love the outdoors. I love people. But I also love seclusion, especially at hot springs. Mono Hot Springs is perfect for you and your two 7-year-old kids, their friends, a family reunion or maybe a first hot spring experience, but this is not what I would call a private getaway. Perhaps I’m spoiled in my hot springing escapades.
The drive to Mono Hot Springs is spectacular; passing Shaver Lake and winding through the tight turns of the Sierra National Forest can be so relaxing. Eventually you hit a one-way paved road with sizeable potholes scattered about—Kaiser Pass. This pass has been dubbed one of America’s most dangerous roads, but don’t let that deter you; it should be renamed one of America’s most beautiful roads.
Before the 1920s, the only access to the springs was a five-day trip on pack mules over the immense mountain ridges (sounds pretty great to me!). By 1927, vehicle access became available due to a hydroelectric project of comparable size to the Panama Canal and popularity grew.
If you’re planning to visit the hot springs this year, now is the time to go. Kaiser Pass is currently still open but as the weather gets cooler and the snow days increase, it will soon be closed and impassable. (If you partake in some epic adventure in getting to the hot springs in the snow during the pass closure, let me know. I’m in.)
Once I arrived at the resort, which, yes, is “secluded” from cities, but not so secluded from people, I was surprised by the number of cars driving in on that one-way road. Stumbling out of the cars appeared young, small humans running about, yelling and disturbing my Mother Nature vibe. I love hanging out with kids—I work with them every day and eventually I would love to have some of my own—but I try to gear my “relaxing getaways” toward children-free zones. (All of my friends with kids: I love your child very much. Don’t take this the wrong way. I know you would feel the same if you were in my position.)
And so I return to my initial point: if you have a family, this place would be great.
The hot springs are scattered throughout the resort’s land, but I will tell you there are some hidden ones that are not included on the map they hand out. Go for a hike and you’re bound to find another. If you sweet-talk the guy working the small grocery shack, he just might lend you some insider advice. If you have four-wheel drive there is a fishing/swimming/cliff jumping lake you can drive out to. If you traveled in your Prius, maybe you should hike.
I would not consider this a one-day trip. To get in and out of the resort via Kaiser Pass takes at least three hours. I had hoped to travel to Mammoth from the springs as it was only 30 miles directly across the Sierra Nevada mountain range, but because there are no direct roads, the travel distance in a car is no less than 225 miles.
Go for a week to explore the Sierra Nevadas; go for the weekend with your family and stay at the resort; or go for a couple days looking for peace and quiet and head back toward Shaver Lake for the night. The drive on Kaiser Pass is truly worth it.
This is one part of California I had never explored before, which is surprising as it is pack-filled with adventure. Along Highway 168, you will find many stops that provide historical information for the area—another great reason to make this a family trip, as it can be a true learning experience for the younger ones and yourself. Pack some shorts, flip flops, boots and a warm jacket, because who knows what the weather will be out there!
I know you may be exhausted from your 9-to-5. I am too. I also understand if all you want to do for your weekend is Netflix and chill, but I’m always an advocate of the outdoors. It heals your body faster than anything else ever could. Adventure on.