Categories: CampingDestinations

8 of Our Favorite Hot Springs in California

Venturing out to an ethereal hot spring often requires a trek through some breathtaking landscapes, but the journey is a prelude to the serenity that awaits. 

The saccharine sounds of trickling water and surrounding wilderness create an almost otherworldly experience. It’s no surprise that naturists and nature enthusiasts alike flock to these environments, seeking to reconnect with the earth in its purest form. We’ve gathered up our favorite hot springs in California for you to sit back, relax, soak, and camp nearby.

1. Sykes Hot Springs, Big Sur, Los Padres National Forest

The hot spring

In the valley down by the river you’ll find these exquisite pools that average nearly 102 degrees. The natural hot springs are particularly crowded on weekends so be prepared to wait your turn. When crossing the Big Sur River in the winter and spring months, the current is stronger and precaution is needed. 

Note: The trail to access Sykes Hot Springs is currently closed due to a landslide. Stay up to date via the Los Padres National Forest service website.

How to get there

The expedition to Sykes Hot Springs is not for the faint of heart. The trail is 20 miles out and back and starts at Pine Ridge Trailhead which can be found at the ranger station located half a mile past the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Make sure to properly prepare for a day-long adventure by packing snacks, liquids, and high spirits.

Camping nearby

The springs are actually located within the bounds of Sykes Campground, or perhaps it might be more fair to say that the campground is located around the springs. Sprinkled among the banks of the Big Sur River are an array of primitive campsites. Should you decide to endure the entire 20 mile trek in one day, camping is also available at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park only about a mile from the Pine Ridge Trailhead.

Looking for something a bit more private? Here are some nearby Hipcamps:

2. Deep Creek Hot Springs, Northern Mojave, San Bernardino National Forest

The hot spring

In the San Bernardino foothills, these basins are situated next to the refreshing currents of Deep Creek, providing enjoyment for warm and cold bathers alike. Relatively big, the main basin can hold as many as 12 to 14 people, and right below is a series of baths that cascade from the main mineral pool.

How to get there

The three primary hikes that provide access to the springs are Bradford Ridge Trail (3 miles), Pacific Crest Trail (6 miles), and the most simple, the Bowen Ranch Trail (2 miles). Since these are desert hikes, pack as much water as you need (and then some).

Camping nearby

Though you can camp on the Bowen Ranch for $10 per person, we would also suggest the nearby at Silverwood Lake about an hour’s drive away. There are also so awesome Hipcamps nearby:

3. Crowley (Wild Willy’s) Hot Springs, Mammoth Lakes

Photo by Lars Dugaiczyk
The hot spring

You’ve probably already seen Wild Willy’s Hot Springs on your Instagram feed due to its gorgeous overlook of the Sierras. Located near the equally popular Hilltop Hot Springs, these pools have garnered quite the reputation as a partying destination due to their ability to accommodate a bountiful number of bathers–hence the nickname.

How to get there

The hardest part of the arrival is the drive, as the trail itself is only about 200 yards on a wooden boardwalk. Arriving by car, you’ll have to take US-395 near Mammoth-Yosemite Airport, turning at Benton Crossing Road. After 3 miles and two cattle guards, turn right and take the left forks for the remaining 1.4 miles to the trailhead.

Camping nearby

Your best bet for camping will be at Devil’s Postpile about an hour west of Lake Crowley and the hot springs. Also check out these conveniently located Hipcamps:

4. Sespe Hot Springs, Sespe Wilderness, Los Padres National Forest

Photo by Dan Hughley
The hot spring

Being the hottest springs in California, Sespe Hot Springs is a blistering 194 degrees at its origin. However, there are numerous runoffs so you can find the perfect pool to soak. Thanks to their seclusion, these springs are also one of the most private spots to take a soak. Bear, mountain lions, and snake sightings are not uncommon in this area so come prepared and keep food in a safe place.

How to get there

Though there are several ways to access the springs, we recommend the 18-mile Piedra Blanca Trail (one way). If you’re more of a leisurely hiker, other trails require a backpacking trip of multiple days, so you can take your time getting to the ultimate steamy reward.

Camping nearby

For the Piedra Blanca Trail there is a campsite near the Willett Hot Springs 8.5 miles in. There’s also primitive camping allowed close to the springs but make sure to bring plenty of water. Should you like to try to make it a day hike, you can stay at the beautiful Castaic Lake about an hour away and then hike the 15-mile Alder Creek Trail (both ways).

Check out other Hipcamps near Sespe Hot Springs:

5. Travertine Hot Springs, Bridgeport

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Madison Kotack at Paradise Shores Camp
The hot spring

The water source from these mineral springs drains into a limestone rock formation known as a tufa. This spring is the ultimate form of self-care as the sulfuric mud at the bottom of these pools is great for your skin. Only about an hour from Yosemite National Park, these hot springs make for a grand finale to a long weekend of adventuring.

How to get there

Near Bridgeport on Jack Sawyer Road off of US-395, these springs are a brisk walk from the parking area. The upper spring contains a bathtub made of concrete and is a true example of urban nature. If you’re looking for a traditional hot springs experience, do not fret. Continue further to the lower pools which have a more authentic feel.

Camping nearby

Some of the closet camping can be found at a Hipcamp, Paradise Shores Camp—a mom-and-pop campground with epic mountain backdrops. Only about an hour away from Yosemite National Park, these hot springs make an excellent and relaxing finale to a long weekend of adventuring in the park. Check out more of our favorite Hipcamps nearby:

6. Montecito Hot Springs, Montecito, Los Padres National Forest

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Stefany Hedman at Harmony’s Glamping
The hot spring

First inhabited by the Chumash Native Americans, the Montecito hot springs are said to have sacred healing powers. So much so that when Wilbur Curtiss, a sick miner was guided to the hot springs by a Chumash native, El Viego, his health was restored and he bought the property and turned it into a hot springs resort.

Today the eight cascading pools are ruins but Santa Barbara locals have taken it upon themselves to preserve and upkeep the spot.

How to get there

From Santa Barbara, California take US-101 S to Hot Springs Road in Montecito and continue on Hot Springs Road to East Mountain Drive. From there you’ll find a trailhead marked Hot Springs Canyon Trail. This easy 3.5-mile loop is the perfect break from the city.

Camping nearby

Check out some of our favorite Hipcamps nearby:

7. Buckeye Hot Spring, Stanislaus National Forest

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Nikki Neumann at Buckeye Hot Spring
The hot spring

With four different tubs fed by a picturesque waterfall, these springs are a superb spot to soak. The springs are sacred to the Mi-Wuk people who still participate in rituals at the mystical pools, so be sure to respect their privacy when asked.

How to get there

From Bridgeport, head west on Highway 395 to Twin Lakes Road. About 4 miles down Twin Lakes Road, take a right onto Buckeye Road which will turn into a dirt road. From the dirt parking area, you’ll hike 4.6 miles (one way) down a rocky hillside, so pack shoes with great grip.

Camping nearby

Check out some of our favorite Hipcamps nearby:

8. Five Palms Hot Springs, Curlew, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

RuggyBearLA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
The hot spring

The Five Palms Hot Springs is the epitome of a desert oasis located in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The singular pool is hugged by a group of palm trees that provide coverage from the heat and sun. Around 91 degrees, this spring runs cooler than most. Be sure to make friends with the red garra fish who will nibble on your toes.

How to get there

Take Highway 78 East from Brawley toward Glamis. After crossing the East Highline Canal take the first right turn on Whitlock Road and go south 2.7 miles. Next, take a left where you’ll drive 1.6 miles to the pools. We recommend taking a 4X4 down the dirt road to your destination as many people have gotten stuck before.

Camping nearby

Check out some of our favorite Hipcamps nearby:

How to leave it better at California hot springs

Hot springs are a highly sensitive natural resource. Before visiting, confirm that the springs and their access trails are open, as water quality and environmental factors can fluctuate. The chemicals on your body seep into the water so wear eco-friendly sunscreens, and do not put on lotions or other products beforehand.

Considering how breathtaking these water sources are, overcrowding is often a part of the experience, so visit during less popular times like mid-week and respect others’ time and space. Many hot springs are clothing optional and not always family-friendly. As with any adventure in the outdoors, it is pertinent to follow the seven Leave No Trace principles, packing out as much as you packed in.

Teaghan is a South Florida native, turned Angeleno and you can always find her near the water; either searching for surf spots or hiking near streams. She aims to share the sense of adventure through her words.

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