Road Trip Guide to Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs + Alabama Hills | @brittsbellavita Travel Blogger and Photographer
Take the Ultimate Road Trip in the Eastern Sierra Nevadas- Soak in Soothing Hot Springs in Mammoth Lakes and Discover the Unique Geologic Beauty within the Alabama Hills. Find a Dispersed Camping Spot in the Alabama Hills, Soak in the Views of Mt. Whitney, and Hike to Gorgeous Arches Along the Way. This Guide will Provide You Amazing Recommendations for Hiking, Hot Springs, and Camping Locations for your Next Road Trip Adventure along HWY 395.
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As someone who is accustomed to traveling quite often, this quarantine has me itching at the seat to fly somewhere, but I know that is not our reality right now. I would happily take the middle seat and sit next to a crying baby, just to *feel the rush* of being in an airplane and going somewhere new. Let me know in the comments if you are on the same page as me!
The one good thing that permitted travel has given us, is the opportunity to explore our own state a little bit more. This past year we have been taking some remote camping trips in our home state which has been super refreshing and revitalizing. There is nothing better than fresh air, great scenery and being out in nature.
Brian and I have relatively explored most of the North State together, and wanted to go somewhere new to us, but not too far from Sacramento. I knew Mammoth had some hot springs, and the geology and wonder of Alabama Hills enticed us. Brian had done a Geology Field Trip in college along the 395 corridor and had been wanting to go back to explore more of the Alabama Hills area.
When we made our plans for camping, well we didn't really have a plan, but those really do make for the best adventures! We had an idea of the activities and sights we wanted to see and would doing things on the fly for this particular road trip. As we were researching the weather, we saw that Mammoth was going to be significantly colder at night than Lone Pine (Alabama Hills). We knew temperature would be a big factor in the comfortability of our camping trip, so we decided to explore the Mammoth Lakes area as a day trip, and spend our camping time in the Alabama Hills.
We departed from Sacramento, CA at 6:45am, and took the HWY 50 to HWY 89 to HWY 395 route.
Stop #1 - Mono Lake Vista Point - 51508 US-395, Lee Vining, CA 93541
If you don't know I am a Drone Photographer so any chance we can get to see something scenic AND we are in a safe fly zone, I can't help resist breaking out the drone! This viewpoint is a great stopping area to take in the views of Mono Lake! If you are holding on to some stickers that haven't made a home yet, it looks like the guard rail is decorated in stickers so you might bring one to add to the collection!
The below image from my Print Shop was taken of the mountains behind Mono Lake. The Print is called "Renewed Hope" as the snow and rainbow symbolize new beginnings and a fresh start. Something we could all use going into 2021...
Okay before I get into the Hot Springs we visited in Mammoth Lakes I do want to leave a disclaimer. We want to preserve the integrity of these beautiful locations so before visiting make sure you are aware of the principles of "Leave No Trace." You can read about them here. It is a privilege to access this land and we must respect it and leave it better than how we found it.
Stop #2 - Wild Willy's Hot Springs
Wild' Willy's Hot Springs is a popular spot amongst soakers in the Mammoth Lakes area, it is by far the largest Hot Springs in the area with multiple pools- including the famous Heart Shaped pool. We've been to hot springs before, some very populous and some a little bit more low key and private. After reading about the crowds at this location, we were expecting many more people, especially during a holiday weekend. To our surprise though, we must have arrived at the perfect time because we had the springs to ourselves for the most part, with the exception of one other family that joined just before we were close to leaving!
We were honestly SHOCKED to have it to ourselves, especially seeing all the cars in the parking lot, but a lot of people camp out in the lots to get a sunrise soak in. We got to the hot springs around 11:30am and I think it was a sweet spot around lunch time! We've heard from friends, and watched videos that Sunrise is actually a very busy time for the hot springs since people think no one will be up early but its actually a preferred time for soakers. If you want to go early try to go the hour after sunrise and it could be less busy, but of course everything it just luck and timing. We also went mid-week during the winter, so except more crowds on weekends and "non winter" season.
To get to the springs you will take a short walk down the wooded path, maybe about half a mile or shorter.
Picture below was taken after soaking in the hot springs LOL. You'd think I'd be freezing my buns off but it was actually a beautiful day and felt great running around in the snow in my suit!
There are four different pools to soak in and the surrounding views are just incredible! The Hot Spring pictured above is known as the "Heart" shaped spring, Do you see it? Depending on water level it may look different when you visit, but it is the first spring on the left when you arrive. The temperature of this spring felt about the same as a jacuzzi we'd guess 102-104 degrees! Depending on where you are located in the hot spring the temperature will vary slightly!
After spending about an hour at Wild Willy's, we wanted to try to squeeze in one more hot spring before making our trip to the Alabama Hills. In the area you can find a few different hot springs such as "Hilltop Tub", "Rock Tub" and "Crab Cooker." Simply just google "hot springs" in the Mammoth Lakes area and the internet will point you in the right direction.
#3 Crab Cooker Hot Springs
This is a very small hot springs, and ideally fits 4 comfortably and 6 if you have a very tight knit crew haha! When we pulled up to the hot spring it looked full with people, more than Wild Willy's! So we ate some lunch and debated whether we should go in or not, and as we sat in the car we noticed some groups leaving the site, leaving only two other people in the springs. We stayed for just a little while to enjoy a quick soak and had a nice chat with two other individuals before making our way up the road!
If you have this hot spring to your self it would be ideal! The one thing I liked about this tub compared to Wild Willy's is that the pool itself is not muddy. Temperature wise I would say this hot spring was about the same general temp as the Heart Spring at Wild Willy's, although the spring at Wild Willy's is much larger and if you are closer to where the warm water flows through it can get really hot!
#4 Dispersed Camping in Alabama Hills
If you are not familiar with dispersed camping, it means that you can camp on designated public land at no cost, and to find these areas I recommend checking out the Bureau of Land Management site to get more information. We headed out towards Movie Rd. and found some little roads to explore and picked out a spot for us to set up camp. Dispersed camping you won't get your usual camp site accommodations but in more popular areas you'll notice fire rings and flat grounds that have been used by others.
One of the incredible things about camping in the Alabama Hills is you have a front row view of the infamous Mt.Whitney, which is the tallest mountain the continuous United States! Not to mention, very famous films in history have been shot here, such as Iron Man, Godzilla, Django Unchained, The Lone Ranger, Gladiator and many many more!
The sunset that greeted us the first night as we set up camp!
We had a little fun with night photography while we were out there. It was full moon, but I've heard it's some of the best places for astrophotography on a clear and dark night!
So much to explore right at our "doorstep." The next morning we woke up to extreme winds (like 40mph!), so we actually collapsed our tent for the day and hopped in the truck to ride some dirt trails to explore.
Since it was so windy we ended up sleeping in our truck, and not going to lie I was comfortable AFFFFF! I bought us some new mummy sleeping bags for extreme cold weather and I think those helped us sleep extra cozy!
Check out our YouTube video to see the landscape in 4k from our Drone!
Drinking a new beer from Sierra Nevada in the heart of the Eastern Sierra Nevadas! "Wanderland" was the perfect way to describe this location.
#5 Check out the Arches in Alabama Hills
The most famous and prominent arch in the area is going to be Mobius Arch, and it is a very short loop of 0.6 miles. Definitely a more highly populated trail but it's worth checking out.This is a well known spot for photographers and astro photography!
We enjoyed exploring two more arches that were walking distance from where we camped! These two lesser known arches are "Boot Arch" and "Cyclops Arch." The best part is we had them all to ourselves!
As a photographer I tend to carry around a lot of gear! I am so happy I finally purchased a camera backpack to hold all our drone equipment, laptop and camera gear! I found this backpack on Amazon for $60! Check out my camera gear and backpack here.
The image below is at Boot Arch, can you see the boot shape?
The Cyclops Arch was a little harder to find but eventually we found it! This one was our favorite, and we even flew the drone through the arch, which is posted on our YouTube video! I don't recommend doing this unless your 110% confident you won't damage any part of the environment.
Can you spot our dog Monty below? Hehe his red sweater was perfect for making sure we could find him if he ventured off!
#6 Hot Creek Geological Site - Hot Creek Hatchery Rd, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
The Hot Creek Geological Site is definitely a stunning sight to see if you have some time on your road trip! The aqua blue pools are a result of volcanic activity underground. Although you can't go in them or get close to them because they are scalding hot and people have been hurt in the past, you can walk along the nice walking trail across the Hot Creek to enjoy from afar. Yes, Brian did stick his finger in the creek, and YES it was hot LOL!
The views are breathtaking, I love the way the creek meanders through the canyon and the hot geysers steam, with the gorgeous mountain range in the back. Definitely worth checking out if you have time!
DRUMROLL PLEASE.... I am saving one of the best for last...a hot spring that we have been to a few times now... and by sharing this with you...you must SCOUTS HONOR...promise to respect the environment, be courteous of others, and pick up after yourselves!
#7 Buckeye Hot Springs
Buckeye Hot Springs is near the town of Bridgeport, Ca and not too far from Travertine Hot Springs, another popular soaking spot! Both locations have multiple hot springs to soak in, and Travertine is easier to access off the road than Buckeye. If you plan on going to Buckeye Hot Springs we would recommend 4WD right now with the snow, and I can't recommend how safe it would be later on in the season of winter. .
Buckeye Hot Springs has one main large pool, that you will have to "hike" down the hill to from the parking lot. The hot spring is right next to a creek so in the summer months you can go from one to another to cool off! Be prepared to be soaking with other people because it can get crowded and like all other hot springs being in the nude is accepted.
So my one secret to this hot springs location is that there are two other springs at the top. I will not tell you exactly where, as that is all part of the adventure! ;) But the views are just spectacular looking down over the mountain and river. These pools are not as hot temperature wise and more of like a warm bath.
This is the smaller of the two pools at the top, which is more for two or three people, they are also very shallow as well.
I hope you enjoyed this blog about our Roadtrip discovering Hot Springs, Geologic Wonders, and Epic Camping locations! Which location would you like to visit on your future road trip?
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