Deep in The Sierras are a cluster of natural hot springs that you can take a soak in. I stumbled across Wild Willy’s Hot Springs in Mammoth Lakes on Instagram and finally after months of putting off a visit, grabbed the girls and headed into the mountains for a camping trip to see the hot springs in person!
We chose to camp at a designated camping site near the hot springs, though you can also camp for free on BLM land. I wouldn’t recommend camping unless it’s the end of the summer because the mountain temps drop below freezing in the spring. Below I’ve detailed out everything there is to know about Wild Willy’s Hot Springs, how to camp on BLM land and tips for making the most out of your visit! If you want information on the other two hot springs near Wild Willy’s, read this post!
WILD WILLY’S HOT SPRINGS
There are 3 hot springs all located along the same road, but Wild Willy’s is the best as it’s the only natural hot spring (the others are man-made rock tubs with the hot springs water piped in – you can read about those hot springs in this post.)
Where to Find Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
- Head East out of town on the 395. Look for Benton Crossing Road which is marked with a faded green church. Turn left onto the road.
- About 3 miles down (or 3 cattle gates down) you’ll come to the top of a slight hill. On the left will be a yellow crossing sign for cattle. On the right will be a cattle gate and a dirt road. This is the entrance to the hot springs! The gates to the springs are usually only open during the late spring-early fall, but I gander that you can park on the main road and walk down if it is closed during the winter.
- The road is gravel and not easy to drive on. We managed with a small car but had to take it very slow. If you have a four-wheel drive, I highly recommend taking that car instead.
- The road is about 1.5 miles from the gate to the small parking lot.
- Follow the boardwalk down the the hot springs. You found them! BOOM!
On the left is the pool that is shaped like a heart! There is plenty of room in these hot springs and while people will filter in and out all day, the evening is the most popular time to visit. People will bring beer and wine down to the water and watch the sunset over the mountains while soaking in the hot springs. It’s a great time to meet other people and it turns into a party!
Make sure to bring towels and a outdoor jacket. It may be cold on the way down to the water or after you get out of the springs. I love my carry-on jacket, especially for adventures like hot spring hunting because the weather changes so much in the mountains. The durable nylon fabric and plenty of pockets make it easy to carry my phone, sunscreen and car keys while I run down to the hot springs!
The walk down is about a fourth of a mile and easy – though there are some stairs towards the bottom, so you can’t easily take a wagon or wheelchair.
Psstt – Scroll to the bottom for tips on how to get the best photos of the hot springs and what time to visit for photos.
CAMPING ON BLM LAND OR A CAMPSITE
How To Camp On BLM Land By Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
There is a parking lot by Wild Willy’s Hot Springs and a small lot of grass that you are can camp on for free due to BLM land laws (It’s open for public use!) While we were there, we saw about 4 different groups camping out. It can get very crowded during the summer, especially on weekends. If you are camping on a weekend, keep that in mind.
I called the BLM office to learn more about the regulations. You aren’t allowed to light fires in this area and there are no trash cans around. That means you are responsible for packing out all waste, including your human waste (if you get my drift.) The nights can be really cold up here and easily dip below 25 degrees at night. Many people choose to sleep in the back of their trucks or in campers, but there is space on the grass to pitch a few tents if you choose to.
Brown Owen’s River Campground
We opted to camp at a proper campground 5 miles down the road called Brown Owen’s River Campground. From the springs you can even see it in the distance. It’s about a 10-minute drive to the springs and totally worth the $30 a night to camp in order to have heated bathrooms with showers and use of a fire pit. The general store there also sells things like wood, food and camping gear if you forgot something.
The cost is $30 per site per night, cash only. You should reserve a spot ahead of time no later than a month ahead by calling 760-920-0975. There are about 80 campsites and they fill up fast, especially on weekends or holidays so make sure to reserve a spot. The best ones are by the river so you have a stunning view of the mountains outside your tent.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A VISIT TO THE HOT SPRINGS
As I noted before, the weather in the mountains can shift quickly. While we were there, the weather went from sun to rain to thunderstorms to sun again. We got caught in the rain while pitching our tents at the campground. We got soaked! That’s when I fell in love with my carry-on jacket from MontanaCo Clothing. It got soaked like everything else, but within 30-40 minutes from the storm, it was totally dry! The nylon fabric did a great job of drying out fast which is exactly what you want when you’re doing outdoor activities. This jacket is also the perfect weight to keep you warm but not too warm, and it folds up nicely in your backpack.
What To Pack For Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
1. A swimsuit (though the hot springs are clothing optional if that’s your thing.)
2. Sunscreen. You WILL get burnt out here!
3. MontanaCo Clothing jacket to keep warm before and after your soak.
5. Beer, wine, and water. Please avoid bringing glass to the hot springs and that could pose as a danger to others if it breaks.
6. Sandals that can get wet and dirty with clay.
THE BEST TIME FOR PHOTOS
Honestly, any time of day is going to allow for pretty photos. The mountain backdrop is always so freaking beautiful. That being said, the sunrise or sunset golden hour will provide the best photos in my opinion.
When you are at Wild Willy’s Hot Springs and looking towards the mountains, you are looking Southwest(ish). The sun rises to your back left and sets on your right, so there is never a time of day when the mountains are fully silhouetted against the sun. This means they will always be illuminated by light in one way or another.
I personally loved how they looked in the morning light. Softer with a pink sky. The hot springs will also be mostly empty minus a stray nude soaker or fellow early bird. This means you have time to take all the photos you want without people photobombing. The springs are also very clear and hot in the mornings, meaning it’s easy to capture the steam rising from them.
Sunset photos will be punchier and more dynamic. The mountains may pop more behind you in the sunset gold hour, but the tradeoff is that the pools are usually full of people at this time. If your group can claim stake to the heart pool off to the side, you can probably snap portraits without anyone else behind them. Otherwise, be prepared to have strangers in your photos.
(Left is sunrise, middle is mid-day and right is sunset)
I hope this helps you plan your visit to Wild Willy’s Hot Springs! If you have any questions at all, leave a comment below or DM me on Instagram @TheWhimsySoul and I’m happy to help answer them!
Check out some of my other favorite California hot springs like:
- Travertine Hot Springs
- Kern River Hot Springs
- Auburn Confluence (swimming hole, not a hot spring but still cool!)