Home » 2017 Death Valley and Eastern Sierra 4WD

Long Valley Primitive Hot Springs, CA

Friday, April 28, 2017 - 1:15pm by Lolo
57 miles and 3 hours from our last stop


Long Valley Primitive Hot SpringsLong Valley Primitive Hot SpringsToday our plan was to find, and hopefully soak in, a few of the many unspoiled, primitive hot springs in the Long Valley area, just south of Mammoth Lakes. We had been on this stretch of road so many times without realizing that the opportunity for a scenic hot soak was just a short dirt-road drive away.

Most of the land in the Long Valley is owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and the BLM. As a result, it has fortunately not been commercially developed, as so many other hot springs in California. While the LADWP allows day use, the BLM land has no restrictions on overnight camping.

To guide us on our quest, we had the Falcon book entitled “Touring Hot Springs California and Nevada,” which gave a very detailed description of half a dozen of these hidden gems and how to find them.

Approach to Crowley's Hot SpringApproach to Crowley's Hot SpringWe began our adventure by turning right (east) off of 395 onto the paved Benton Crossing Road by the big green church. From there, we drove 3.1 miles, crossing two cattle guards, before turning right onto a small dirt road, which we followed for another 1.2 miles before coming to a parking area just past a large rock outcrop for Crowley Hot Spring, also known as Wild Willy’s. Although there is no camping allowed in the parking lot, there are several areas to camp nearby.

After parking the car, we strolled along a wooden boardwalk, built by the BLM to protect the vegetation, to the springs and the pools. There were two of them – one built of concrete with a wooden deck, about 9 by 12 feet and 3 feet deep, and the smaller, more primitive one with a mud bottom. As expected, they were both already occupied. It was really quite cold out (about 45 degrees), so I am sure the 95 degree water was quite inviting. However, rather than get wet so early in our exploration, we decided to continue on, hoping to find a pool that we could have to ourselves.

Testing the Waters in Alkali Lake Hot SpringTesting the Waters in Alkali Lake Hot SpringWe drove back out to Benton Crossing Road where we turned right to continue another 0.3 miles to the turnoff for the Hilltop Hot Spring, also known as Pulky’s Pool. From there, it was only a quarter mile drive along a decent dirt road to the parking lot where a few other cars were parked - looked like this one wouldn’t be empty either. We walked a short distance to the top of a hill to find a lovely concrete tub (for about 4 people) with fantastic views of the snow-covered Sierra Mountains. Although empty at the time, it did not remain so for long, so we continued on to the next one – the Alkali Lake Hot Spring.

Although we carefully kept track of the mileage to the turnoff (0.8 past Hilltop Hot Spring; 4.2 from start of Benton Crossing Road), we passed the turnoff, because we saw a gate and thought it was private. However, after finding no other option, we made a u-turn and returned to the place with the gate. This was it. We parked the car, opened the gate and walked across a marshy area to the spring, which was a small concrete-lined tub fed through a PVC pipe by a hot spring source a few yards away. There was no one in it – I had no more excuses to avoid getting down to bathing suit in this cold weather. Herb, with his body fat content of 11% said he would take pictures. I quickly undressed and put my foot in the pool, only to find that it was way too hot. I started to feel like one of the three bears – “this one is too crowded,” “this one is too hot.”

Herb in the Crab CookerHerb in the Crab CookerWe forged on in search of the “Crab Cooker” – not sure how something called a crab cooker was going to be any cooler than the Alkali Lake Hot Spring. Also, our Falcon Guide said that the tub had been dry in recent years, so our chances for soaking in it were slim. We decided to do an exploratory anyway, and I am certainly glad we did.

Our Falcon Guide had a fairly detailed map, so we improvised and took a turnoff from the Benton Crossing Road rather than go back to the Whitmore Tubs Road junction, from which the directions in the book were given. This road was much rougher and definitely not doable by 2WD. Eventually we bounced our way to a parking lot, which had one other car in it. From the parking lot, we could see a lovely little pool built out of rocks and cement that very definitely was not dry – probably the result of the near record breaking rains this winter. It had one inhabitant in it, but he was just getting out and drying himself off. The views of the snowy Sierras beyond it were incredible.

This one looked “just right.” Even Herb agreed and we quickly rushed down to it before anyone else arrived. We spent a wonderful half hour soaking in its perfectly temperatured water while gazing at the mountains. To get this experience in a commercial hot spring would have cost hundreds of dollars, and it still would be well worth it. However, it was much more satisfying getting it for free.

Hot Creek Geothermal AreaHot Creek Geothermal AreaAfterwards, we discovered that the road to the Crab Cooker did not go on to the Shepherd Hot Spring as the map in the guide book indicated, but dead ended. However, you could walk to it from the Crab Cooker parking lot, which we did just to see it. It was another nice pool, with two inhabitants in it.

We drove back over the rough road, but made a turnoff to the Whitmore Tubs Road rather than go all the way back to Benton Crossing Road because we wanted to stop at the Hot Creek Geothermal Area, which is now closed to bathing because of scalding temperatures, but still interesting and pretty to visit. From a fenced walkway, we looked down upon two beautiful aquamarine hot springs feeding into a winding cold-water creek. This must have been a fabulous place to soak before conditions changed making it dangerously hot. Hopefully, this will not happen to the other pools in Long Valley.

What a great discovery Long Valley had been. I am very definitely sure that we will be back!


Hot Creek Geothermal AreaHot Creek Geothermal AreaThe Long Valley Primitive Hot Springs area, just east of Highway 395 a few miles south of Mammoth Lakes, contains one of the best collections of primitive, unspoiled hot springs in California.

Most of the land in the valley is owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and the BLM. While the LADWP allows daytime use, the BLM areas also allow camping. LADWP land is marked with large white signs.

The valley is a hotbed of constant seismic and volcanic activity, created by an eruption about 760,000 years ago, in which the volcano collapsed, forming a massive caldera, which is now the valley. The area is still volcanically active, and recent renewed earthquake activity has caused concern that another eruption is in the making.

Benton Crossing Road, which is paved, is the main access road to the springs. From this road, dirt roads of varying quality (some graded and some quite rough) lead to the springs. Some of the more popular springs include:

  • Crowley Hot Spring (Wild Willy’s)
  • Hilltop Hot Spring (Pulky’s Pool)
  • Alkali Lake Hot Spring
  • The Crab Cooker
  • Shepherd Hot Spring

Long Valley Primitive Hot Springs location map in "high definition"

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