All photos by Ellen Baker | Above: Hanging out in Carson River Hot Springs after a long days hike

The snow is melting, roads that were seasonally closed are beginning to open and spring is in the air. A list of my favorite hot springs in California is past due, so here I write about my experiences regarding some of the best in the state. Hot spring season is upon us and within a five-hour radius, a wealth of natural springs surround us.

Wild Willy’s Hot Spring
Perhaps the most sought-after spring in California, Wild Willy’s is nestled in the sagebrush fields of the eastern Sierras. Located in the Long Valley Caldera just south of Mammoth Lakes, a geothermal haven provides access to a handful of perfectly placed natural hot springs. Wild Willy’s holds its claim-to-fame as the largest, perhaps most visited of the local springs, along with an easy access wooden-planked trail. To get there, drive approximately 5.5 miles south of Mammoth Lakes on Highway 395 and take a left on Benton Crossing Road. Directly after the second cattle grate, take a right onto the dirt road. Truth be told, I think many of these hot springs are on Google Maps these days and shouldn’t be too hard to find.
A stroll along the 200-yard wooden plank brings you to two springs: a large tub and a smaller one. Sunrise or sunset make for a perfectly timed soak, as this spring has seen recent developments of people partying late at night and trashing the place. As always, please do what you can to clean up the area.

The wooden planked walk to Wild Willy’s

Travertine Hot Springs
If you’re on your way to Wild Willy’s, Travertine is a perfect midway stop for a pre-soak. Overlooking the town of Bridgeport off Highway 395, the main pool is steps away from the dirt parking lot with a trickling waterfall feeding the natural spring. Mineral deposits from the geothermal waters continue to build the incredible structure of this tub, making it one of the most interesting natural springs I have witnessed. During the winter, the road can be impassable, but springtime lends for clear roads and perfect temperatures. Watch out for potholes from water runoff!

Sierra Hot Springs
The only hot spring resort that I have immediately fallen in love with. Located in Sierraville, just 35 minutes north of Truckee, Sierra Hot Springs Resort and Retreat Center provides lodging, camping, massage and spa sessions along with the hot tub, a warm pool and cold plunge tub, all receiving water from deep beneath the earth. You’ve got to put on your hippy pants for this place or be prepared for an extremely “open” community. $15 gets you three hours at the tubs, and I suggest a night when the stars are in full effect.

Feather River Hot Spring
This natural spring is nestled below highway 70 on the shores of—you guessed it—the Feather River. An hour-and-a-half northeast of Chico, the closest town to the spring is a small mountain town named Twain, which sits at 2,800 feet in elevation. Two tubs sit side-by-side with room for approximately eight people. Plan to call ahead if you’re headed that way, but don’t worry too much as it is a pretty relaxed atmosphere. Cabin and tent camping is also available if you decide to stay the night.

Carson River Hot Springs

East Fork of Carson River Hot Springs
In 2016, I wrote a piece on this hot spring. Traditionally, the spring is approachable via river on a kayak or raft. At the time of writing the previous article, I couldn’t find any information regarding an approach on foot, so myself and two of my close friends took it upon ourselves to find one. Turns out there is a 4×4 dirt road that becomes increasingly narrow until it nearly fades away; follow this on foot for about 4.8 miles until you reach the natural spring. Alternatively, grab your floating device and hop into the river for a float downstream. Lastly, I don’t suggest this, but it is possible to approach the spring with a giant 4×4 vehicle, along with a stream crossing. We camped at the springs and had them all to ourselves. Happy hunting!

    Ellen Baker

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    Rock scrambling, exploring and taking photos along the way.