Searching for hot springs has easily become one of my favorite hobbies, but sometimes I feel like I am searching for a lost treasure. Locals do their best to keep these springs hidden away from the eyes of tourists and travelers for a few reasons:
- privacy and exclusivity,
- to keep the springs clean and well cared for,
- to maintain a sense of calmness and leisure,
- and for bragging rights.
I mean, who wouldn’t want to relax in a turquoise natural hot pool, surrounded by lush vegetation, in mineral-enriched waters?
Below I’m sharing some of my favorite hot springs in Central and Southern California, but before I get to the good stuff, I wanted to share a quick Q&A from questions I’ve received from my community about hot springs and general best practices.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you soak in every hot spring?
The very first thing you should do is your research. There are some hot springs that you absolutely CAN NOT soak in. For example, the hot springs in Yellowstone are definitely not soakable. Entering a spring that is too hot is eThe very first thing you should do is your research. There are some hot springs that you absolutely CAN NOT soak in. For example, the hot springs in Yellowstone are definitely not soakable. Entering a spring that is too hot is extremely dangerous! If you are not sure, first check the water temperature. Don’t get into the springs if they appear to be boiling or steaming more than normal. If you are new to the hot springs community, although it may take some research, you should be able to find most of them online. If you can not find them online, that might be a sign that they are uncared for and you should use caution upon entering.
What’s with the smell?
That’s a fair question, and the answer is sulfur. Sulfur binds with oxygen to form the compound sulfate. Sulfur compounds naturally occur in hot springs and are the source of the characteristic eggy odor. The deeper the hot springs and the faster it sends water to the surface, the stronger the smell. What does that mean for you? The smell is completely normal and is actually a good thing!
Can hot springs cause diseases?
Although it is rare, diseases can occur. Naegleria infection is caused by an amoeba commonly found in warm, freshwater lakes, rivers, and hot springs. This infection can be very dangerous. To be on the side of caution, avoid dipping your head into the springs to avoid exposure to amoeba. With everything, there’s always a slight risk but if soaking in a hot spring is something on your bucket list, you should totally do it as long as there aren’t extreme warning signs.
Should you shower after hot springs?
Some people don’t recommend showering after soaking in a hot spring because it reduces the effects of the nutrients and minerals in the water. However, when you have sensitive skin or visit an acidic spring, you should take a shower to prevent possible irritations. I always take a shower after a soak, if it’s possible.
Is everyone nude?
Great question and no, not everyone is nude. However, nudity is legal and very common at hot springs. If it makes you uncomfortable, just keep to yourself and be respectful.
Can I take my kids with me?
You can, but I really wouldn’t suggest it. Hot springs are a place adults go to relax and have fun, and as mentioned before, people do like to soak in the nude.
What To Bring With You To A Hot Spring
Packing for a soak in the springs is key. Here are some items to remember to take with you so that you can sit back, relax and enjoy once you’re there!
Water – You might not feel it, but hot springs can be super dehydrating. Take some extra water with you when you go.
Sunscreen/Sun Protection – Even if the sun’s not out, you’re still being exposed. People tend to stay in hot springs longer too because they are so enjoyable, so stay protected.
Sandals/water-shoes – Some people may like to feel the earth between their toes, but not me. The floor of the hot spring can feel mushy and unpleasant. I suggest taking a pair of sandals with backs and avoiding wearing flip flops unless you want to lose a shoe.
Towels – A towel is great not only for when you get out but also to help claim your spot. Hot springs can get quite busy, so this might help you create some space.
Chair – This might sound weird, but we saw some people pull out beach chairs for the springs, and not going to lie, it looked like maxo comfort.
Trash bags – Although you are technically only responsible to clean up after yourself, there are just some people who are rude and do not care. Help out by carrying a trash bag with you and taking the garbage to a proper disposal area.
Headlight – You may think that you’re there for a quick soak when the next thing you know… it’s dark. Keep a headlight in your bag just in case.
Dry Bag – For your wet clothes
Cooler – Take it from someone who knows, there is nothing better than a cold drink or brew in a hot spring.
Okay, now for what you’re all here for… my favorite Central and Southern California hot springs and where to find them.
Tecopa Hot Springs
Located an hour south of Death Valley in a town called Tecopa, you’ll find the Tecopa Hot Springs (which kind of resembles an overgrown creek in the middle of the desert valley). Although there are numerous private hot springs options and campgrounds in the town ($$), you can actually access this free natural pool on the side of the road before entering the town of Tecopa. People have said that these springs are some of the most minerally concentrated hot springs in the U.S and are believed to have healing features. Although I haven’t found much evidence supporting those claims, I can attest that the Tecopa hot springs definitely leave your skin feeling super slick and smooth. People from all over the world come to soak in these springs. Don’t leave the party too soon, these springs vibe when the sun goes down. Stay long enough to catch the sun disappearing behind the desert and open with an endless night sky.
Parking is located on the shoulder of the road, only a short walk from the springs. The further back you go towards the largest pool, the warmer the water gets. Be careful, there are very hot pockets that gush out of the ground, so practice smart footing.
Deep Creek Hot Springs
Deep Creek Hot Springs might be my favorite hot springs in California. Located in Blue Jay, the springs are about a 20-minute drive outside the town of Lake Arrowhead. There are 7 natural pools to soak in, and springs sit right against a cold creek with amazing views and even a rope swing for your entertainment.
Though each spring has its own charm, the warmest of the springs is the one located directly next to the cold water creek. This spring does get crowded, luckily the pools are pretty large and can fit multiple people.
There are two access points to the springs. The first is from Bowen Ranch Road. The cost to enter the springs via the parking area is $10/person. The access road is very rocky, a 4×4 vehicle is recommended. The hike from Bowen Ranch Road down to the Deep Creek Hot Springs is only about 3.6miles roundtrip, making it super enjoyable for anyone visiting the area.
The second option for people who want a little more of a workout is via the Bradford Ridge Path. This is a 5-miles round trip adventure with a very steep decline to access the springs. Outside of the physical benefit, the other benefit about going from the Bradford Ridge Path is that it’s free of charge.
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
Wild Willy’s Hot Spring in Mammoth, also known as Crowley Hot Springs, will have you wishing you never had to leave. It’s the perfect place to relax after a long day of mountain sports or to just catch those fantastic views of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
This hot spring is a quick 30-minute drive from Mammoth, so you won’t want to miss it. Once you arrive, a long boardwalk will lead you to several pools – each varying in size holding anywhere from two people to a dozen. My favorite, like many others, is the stone-enclosed pool. Not only is it the perfect temperature, if you look at the stones from the right angle, you’ll also see that it forms the shape of a heart. Yes, please!
Mammoth is well-known for exploding with natural hot pools. If Wild Willy’s is too crowded, make your way over to one of the dozen others spread around the area. Since most of the springs are located on public land, you will also see people camping in the surrounding area. Camping near the hot springs is the best way to have a chance at getting the springs all to yourself! Just don’t be inconsiderate and set up camp at the springs themselves. You will not make many friends that way.
Montecito Hot Springs
These magical milky springs are putting out some major vibes and have been lighting up Instagram over the past year. The correct trail to search for is the Hot Springs Canyon Trail. This is a 3.7 mile heavily trafficked loop trail located near Santa Barbara.
Be prepared for these springs to be crowded and rocky. Get there early as the pools fill up fast.
Iva Bell Hot Springs
Hidden back in the Eastern Sierra mountain range, you’ll find over 6 natural hot springs with stunning views looking out across the Sierra Nevadas. While both the views and tubs are well worth the travel, getting to these hot springs is not for the faint of heart and comes with some preparation.
There are a few ways to hike into the Iva Bell Hot Springs. The first, and the “easiest” way is to enter from the Fish Creek trailhead in the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area, near Mammoth California. To soak in these hot springs requires a +25 mile roundtrip hike, about 12.5 miles in and out, and a vigorous 4,000ft elevation gain. Yes, you did the math correctly, that’s a little too long for a one-day trip. You will need to backpack into the hot springs where you can easily find camping around the pools. Even for an experienced hiker – this is quite the trek. I would recommend doing this over a two or three-day period.
Travertine Hot Springs
Located in the Sierra Mountain Range, the sparsely populated region of California is notable for its dry terrain, aesthetic mountains, and big skies. You can visit about 20 hot springs along 395 but the Travertine Hot Springs are definitely ones to put on your list. Travertine Hot Springs has a small cement tub at the top, with three rock tubs at the bottom and a small land spring further back. The tubs run around 98 degrees (F) – 120 degrees (F) in the summer months. While they seem remote, they are very easy to get to. They are located just fifteen minutes outside of Bridgeport and the dirt road to the hot springs can be navigated by a car or even a small RV. Along with the soothing, relaxing waters, you will also be treated to stunning Sierra Mountain views. Soaking at the Travertine hot springs is free and is located on state land.
While these are definitely not the only hot springs in California, they are some of my favorites and ones that you should add to your to-do list if you are driving through California!
If you are interested in finding more natural hot springs in California, visit my Google Map of California.
This should go without saying, but remember to be respectful of the springs. Too many people are leaving behind trash, empty beer bottles, clothes, shoes, and whatever else. While there are not typically trash cans, you are in charge of your belongings. Please carry out all of your trash and try to leave it better than you found it.