TL;DR: We had a great time researching—and soaking—while writing this best California hot springs guide, but overall, the three best soaking pools are Travertine Hot Springs, Deep Creek Hot Springs, and Vichy Springs Resort. Here are the key takeaways:
- Travertine Hot Springs is five hours east of San Francisco, right off Highway 395, which makes it convenient and unfortunately busy. If you camp nearby, you can soak under the night sky or at dawn, when it’s less busy.
- Deep Creek Hot Springs is about three hours east of LA, perfect for a day trip and hike. You can access it by hiking 3.6 miles or 5.6 miles, depending on where you park.
- Vichy Springs Resort is a little over 2 hours north of San Francisco. It’s a comercial resort that’s provided relaxing soaking pools for over 160 years.
One of California’s best-kept secrets is its natural hot springs. Located along the Ring of Fire, one of the most active geothermal areas in the world, California has a ton of bubbly sights to offer and hot pools to relax in if you know where to look.
And the beauty of California hot springs is that they’re all over the state. There are options for soaking in hot springs near the ocean but also while surrounded by the Sierras or nestled in the forest.
If you’re looking for a unique place to soak in nature surrounded by beautiful views, these are the best hot springs to visit in California.
Tips for Visiting Hot Springs in California
- All of the primitive outdoor hot springs are clothing optional (and some of the resorts are too) – This is especially the case if you’re going to the free natural hot springs instead of spas, but most of the California springs you’ll come across are clothing optional. Be respectful and don’t stare or bust out your camera if people are relaxing in the nude.
- Don’t bring glass – This is just basic pool etiquette, but don’t bring glass to these natural springs. Some people like to have a beer or two in these scenic spots, but please bring cans instead of glass if that’s you. Bare feet and broken glass don’t mix.
- Leave no trace – This goes for any place you visit in California, but always pack out what you brought with you. Many of the primitive hot springs don’t have trash cans or people to pick up your trash after you leave. Keep these places beautiful for everyone to visit for years to come.
- Make sure you have everything you need before you set out – Some of these natural springs in California are remote and don’t have many nearby services. Make sure you fill up on gas and have plenty of food and water before you set out. Cell service can also be spotty so it’s good to download directions to your phone and the maps you’ll need ahead of time.
- Start with your toes – If you’re visiting a natural hot spring, temperatures can fluctuate and sometimes get very hot. Always test out the water temperature with your toes or the tip of your finger before putting your whole leg in.
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11 Best Hot Springs in California to Soak In
Although there are plenty of private hot springs and hot springs resorts in California, I tried to also include as many free outdoor hot springs as possible so everyone can enjoy them regardless of budget.
Travertine Hot Springs
Located in Bridgeport, Travertine Hot Springs is one of the most popular places to soak in the Eastern Sierras. These natural springs are as scenic as they are relaxing with views of the Sawtooth Ridge in the distance.
There are five pools spread out around the area and only room for about 10 people at any given time. This means it’s best to go during the week if possible or earlier in the day if you’re going for a weekend getaway.
These natural hot pools are only one mile off Highway 395, also known as hot springs highway because there are so many springs to relax in along the route.
This is also one of the few primitive hot springs that actually has an outhouse but it’s not cleaned regularly so it’s still probably best to use the bathroom before you arrive.
Local tip: If you want a unique experience at Travertine Hot Springs, bring a tent to camp for free in the BLM land nearby (literally any of the pullouts along the dirt road on the way to the springs) and spend the evening stargazing from the outdoor pools.
Whitmore Hot Springs
Mammoth Lakes has its fair share of hot mineral pools and one that shouldn’t be missed is Whitmore Hot Springs. This small pool ranges from 95 F to 105 F and can only fit about 3-4 people comfortably so expect to get there early, on a weekday, or prepare to wait for your turn.
Luckily, there are two other pools nearby if Whitmore is full but I always recommend checking to see if Whitmore is open first.
They pump water into the pool so it’s a little cleaner than the other nearby pools and it’s also very accessible from the parking lot (just a few steps) so it’s easy to check first to see if it’s open.
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
Not too far from Whitmore, you’ll find Wild Willy’s Hot Springs (also known as Crowley Hot Spring) in Mammoth Lakes. This is a completely natural hot spring so it’s a bit muddier but, on the upside, there’s space for everyone.
There are two main pools – the heart-shaped pool that can fit around 10 people and the much larger pool that can fit over 50 people.
As you can probably imagine, the larger pool has more of a social atmosphere to it, especially in the evenings, and people often bring drinks to sip on while they soak.
This is a great place to meet locals and travelers alike while relaxing in the beautiful scenery that surrounds Mammoth Lakes. Both Whitmore and Wild Willy’s are also located just off Highway 395.
Sierra Hot Springs
If you’re looking for hot springs near Tahoe, look no further than Sierra Hot Springs which is located about an hour’s drive from North Lake Tahoe.
A non-profit retreat, Sierra Hot Springs offers various indoor and outdoor mineral-rich hot pools, a swimming pool, a sauna, workshops, a cafe, and accommodation at their historic hotel that was built in the 1870s.
Even if you choose not to stay overnight, Sierra Hot Springs has affordable day-use rates that range from $20-$25 (including the mandatory membership fee).
While you’re there, don’t miss the Temple Dome Hot Pool. It’s inside a large geodesic dome with skylights, stained glass, and two cold plunge areas.
Note: Similar to any of the natural hot springs on this list, the soaking area at Sierra is clothing-optional as well. Also, no dogs are allowed on the property.
Saline Valley Warm Springs
These mineral springs are located in one of the most inhospitable parts of the world, but if you’re up for the journey, they’re worth experiencing for their remote nature.
Most people who visit Saline Valley choose to camp overnight in the desert since it takes anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours to get there, depending on road conditions. Also, since the road is rough and bumpy, it’s recommended that you have a 4WD to get out there.
There are three main pools in Saline Valley that are surrounded by palm trees – a true desert oasis! And the water here gets hot, up to 108 F.
Local tip: You won’t find Saline Valley Warm Springs on any official NPS map and rangers will be reluctant to tell you where they are. Be prepared to find them on your own by doing proper research ahead of time and pinpointing the GPS units (36.8056, -117.7734).
Hot Springs on the Kern River
A popular whitewater rafting destination, the Kern River also features various mineral pools along its winding waterways in the Lower Kern River Canyon.
And the great thing about visiting the hot springs along the Kern River is that there’s a variety of pool temperatures and sizes for different preferences.
Plus, you’re right next to the river to cool off when you need a break from the heat. Just be careful of currents if you go swimming since the Kern River can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.
These are a few of the best hot mineral pools near the Kern River:
- Remington Hot Springs
- Miracle Hot Springs
- Delonegha Hot Springs
- Children of the Earth – Natural Hot Springs Pool
There’s plenty of primitive camping around each of these springs and Bakersfield is only about an hour away by car.
Local tip: Some of the springs along the river can be VERY hot (I’m talking up to 120+ F) so make sure to test the water before jumping in.
Sykes Hot Springs
Looking for outdoor hot springs near Big Sur? Look no further than Sykes Hot Springs. With a challenging 5,234-foot elevation change, this 22-mile hike-in hot spring is no-joke.
Sykes Hot Springs isn’t quite as good as it used to be before the 2017 winter storms that took out a decent chunk of the trail and hot spring area.
However, if you’re looking to do some backcountry camping in a beautiful area, they’re still worth a visit (and the trail has been reopened and revamped as of 2021).
Just be prepared to pack in everything you brought with you. With the popularity of this spot increasing over the years, so has the trash and human traces (don’t be that person).
It’s also a good idea to bring plenty of bug spray because this area can get very buggy.
Note: Although the trail has reopened, it’s always good to check current conditions before you set out since this area is prone to landslides after heavy rain.
Tecopa Mud Baths
Ranging from 95 F to 105 F, Tecopa Mud Baths are located just south of Death Valley National Park and about 80 miles from Las Vegas. They offer a somewhat remote oasis from the more popular pools further north, although they can still get crowded at peak times.
In an area surrounded by private pools, this is a free place to enjoy the healing benefits of mineral-rich mud. Just be mindful of mud mites, which can sometimes cause painful bites.
Or, if you’re looking for a less primitive place to relax with more facilities, I’d recommend checking out the nearby Delights Hot Spring Resort which is also in Tecopa.
Note: Please don’t do any off-roading on your way to and from the pools. The area is made up of fragile mud hills and the landscape has taken a beating since more people have discovered it.
Glen Ivy Hot Springs
A popular hot spring resort in Orange County, Glen Ivy features a swimming pool, mineral pools, massage and spa treatments, mud baths, a steam room and sauna, and onsite dining. If you’re looking for luxury hot springs near Los Angeles, this one is a good spot to visit.
Right now, Glen Ivy Hot Springs is only offering more expensive spa packages because they’re still at reduced capacity, but during normal times, they also have a less expensive day-use fee for access to just their pools.
Deep Creek Hot Springs
Another one of the best Southern California hot springs, Deep Creek Hot Springs is a hike-in hot spring located in San Bernardino National Forest.
There are two ways to get to the springs. One way is a 3.6-mile hike that starts from Bowen Ranch Road. The Bowen Ranch route is on private property and will cost you a $5 day-use fee or $10 if you want to camp.
Just note that the owner of the ranch, Mike, can be a bit blunt and is very clear about not wanting people to leave trash behind on his land (fair).
The trail is narrow and steep and located in the desert so bring plenty of water and make sure you’re up for the hike back after relaxing in hot mineral water with no shade.
The other way is free to access but is also a more difficult 5.6-mile hike with a 1,500 elevation gain along the Bradford Ridge Path. If you’re up for the longer journey, it’s a more scenic hike than the Bowen Ranch one.
Local tip: Don’t just put “Desert Hot Springs” into your GPS because it won’t take you to the correct place to start either hike. You can either put in “Bradford Ridge Path / Deep Creek Trailhead” or “5900 Bowen Ranch Rd,” depending on which route you choose. It’s also best if you have 4WD because the road to get to the trailheads is rough.
Vichy Springs Resort
Located north of San Francisco in Ukiah, Vichy Springs Resort is a historic spot that has housed some of the top natural hot springs in Northern California for the past 160 years.
Vichy Hot Springs Resort offers their signature “Vichy Champagne” carbonated mineral baths, hot soaking pool, a large swimming pool, and comfy rooms for overnight stays. There’s also 700 acres of nature around the resort to hike through.
If you’re just looking to visit for the day, day-use rates start at $35.
Other Hot Springs to Visit in California
- Buckeye Hot Springs (Bridgeport) – Another hot spring in the Eastern Sierras but slightly less crowded than Travertine.
- Wilbur Hot Springs (Williams) – If you’re looking for more hot springs in Northern California, Wilbur Hot Springs is another great one to add to the list. It’s a couple of hours north of Napa Valley and, in addition to its natural mineral springs, features a 1,800-acre nature preserve and a geyser.
- Orr Hot Springs (Ukiah) – A no-frills hot springs hotel, Orr Hot Springs is near Mendocino and offers options for day-use visits and overnight stays.
- The Inn at Benton Hot Springs (Benton) – A popular bed and breakfast in the Sierras that features relaxing hot springs.
- Sycamore Mineral Springs (San Luis Obispo) – A luxury hot springs spa and resort with everything from hot tubs to mineral springs, yoga, dining, and comfy rooms.
- Tassajara Hot Springs (Big Sur) – Zen retreat that features a Japanese-style soaking experience.
- The Spring Resort & Spa (Desert Hot Springs) – Located in Southern California, this hot springs resort has some of the best hot springs near Joshua Tree and Palm Springs.
- Gaviota Hot Springs (Santa Barbara) – Also known as Las Cruces Hot Spring, it’s a 0.7-mile hike to get to Gaviota Hot Springs which consists of two small pools surrounded by ferns.
- Sespe Hot Springs (Los Padres National Forest) – It’s a 17-mile hike one-way to get to Sespe Hot Springs, so you’ll need to be up for a multi-day backpacking trip to access these remote springs, but they’re beautiful once you get there.
- Indian Springs Resort and Spa (Calistoga) – A fancy, Spanish-style hot springs resort in the Napa Valley, not too far from San Francisco.
- Beverly Hot Springs (Los Angeles) – If you’re looking for a luxury hot springs resort that’s right in Los Angeles, Beverly Hot Springs is one of the most popular places to visit.
- The Esalen Institute (Big Sur) – The Esalen Institute is pretty overpriced if you want to book one of their rooms or workshops. However, Esalen allows non-guests to soak in their hot pools from 1 am to 3 am at $35/person with advanced reservations. With that said, I didn’t put Esalen as one of my top recommendations since I’ve heard their staff can be pretty rude and entitled, especially towards guests who can’t afford the pricier overnight stays or workshops.
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