With its regal mountain majesty and alpine hush, it’s hard to imagine that Mammoth Lakes is situated on the edge of an ancient volcanic caldera. Here, some 760,000 years ago, a massive volcano exploded, leaving behind the relatively flat basin now cradling Mammoth Lakes. A wonderful byproduct of this fiery past is the region’s network of natural hot springs. Many of these bubbling hot tubs, some developed for safe dipping, are concentrated between Bridgeport and Mammoth Lakes. Stop by the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center (just west of U.S. 395 at 2510 Main St.) for locations and directions. Also check on access; routes may be closed in winter.
Here are four natural hot springs in the region, all safe for soaking.
Benton Hot Springs: In the almost-ghost-town of Benton, relax under shady cottonwoods in one of nine tubs filled with ultra-pure spring water. Each tub has hot and cold taps so you can easily control the water temperature. The springs are on the grounds of the Old House and Inn at Benton Springs, where you can book a stay in a late-1800s ranch house or a 1940s-era lodge room. Springs are located on State Route 120 about an hour's drive northeast of Mammoth Lakes; reservations suggested.
Travertine Hot Springs: Get sweeping views of the east side of the Sierra Nevada while you soak in this natural hot spring. You can pitch a tent nearby, though not adjacent to the springs. Travertine Hot Springs is easily accessed off U.S. 395 just south of Bridgeport (about an hour's drive north of Mammoth Lakes).
Keough Hot Springs: First opened as a medicinal and health retreat in 1919 (the water is said to contain 27 different minerals), these springs are still a great place to soak and relax. There's camping on site, and lodging options include several tricked-up cabin tents, some with queen-size beds and down comforters. From Mammoth Lakes, drive south about 1 hour on U.S. 395 to Keogh Hot Springs Road. Closed Tuesdays.
Hilltop Hot Springs, a.k.a. Pulkey’s Pool: This smallish, man-made pool makes up for its diminutive size with stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding meadow and snow-capped Sierra Nevada range. A wooden walkway over soggy marshland leads you to waters with adjustable temperature, usually between 110 and 130 degrees. Come early for an epic sunrise experience—there’s a good chance you’ll have it to yourself. A popular soak for locals, Hilltop is traditionally a clothing-optional pool.