If you plan a trip to Mammoth Lakes in California, one of the top spots you should be adding to your itinerary is Crab Cooker Hot Springs. 

Considered one of the stunning hot springs near Mammoth mountain, you can reach it via a short drive and either stop for a quick soak. 

Or spend time enjoying a relaxing dip taking in the splendid views of the panorama comprising of the magical wilderness of the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains – I’d highly recommend the latter.

And there are many reasons:

  1. You can combine your trips to other hot springs equally or more stunning, perfect for a few relaxing days.
  2. There are options to camp near the springs.
  3. You can do both for free and witness some fantastic sunrise and sunset in this part of California.

Whether you are only here for a quick stop on your California road trip or here for a weekend getaway to Mammoth Lakes, I would highly recommend a hot springs visit. 

In this guide, I share all the details you will need to enjoy your visit to Crab Cooker Hot Springs. So let’s get started right ahead.

WHERE IS CRAB COOKER HOT SPRING?

The US 395 Highway is a blessed surreal stretch of a vast expanse of wilderness, from Death Valley to the stunning Alabama Hills and the lovely Sierra Nevada mountains.

Mammoth Lakes is an attractive ski town located along this Highway 395, tucked away in the Sierra Nevadas.

Wild Willys Hot springs

Crab Cooker Hot Springs is located in the Long Valley Caldera just 13 miles outside Mammoth Lakes, about a 20-minute drive east

Long Valley is blessed with some of California’s highest concentrations of geothermal waters formed due to volcanic activities thousands of years ago. 

As such, this part of the terrain is home to splendid hot springs like Crab Cooker, Wild Willys Hot Springs, Buckeye Hot Springs and others.

WHAT TO EXPECT AT CRAB COOKER HOT SPRINGS?

Crab Cooker Hot Springs, considered one of the most beautiful hot springs in Mammoth Lakes, is the place for you if you want to soak in the blissful mountain views enjoying the hottest water temperature.

Unlike the other hot springs near Mammoth Lakes, Crab Cooker Hot Spring is not a natural spring, and it consists of an artificial stone tub. And hot water is piped to this stone tub from a geothermal mineral spring about 30 feet away. 

Crab Cooker Hot springs in Mammoth Lakes

Crab cooker hot Spring sits relatively higher elevation than the surrounding hot springs. It means you can enjoy the best 360° views of the entire valley comprising the surreal Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains forming the backdrops around meadows and brush grass valleys nearby.

If you leave the valve on, the water gets too hot, giving it the name Crab Cooker, which is hot enough to cook crabs, and that’s why the name.

Crab Cooker Hot Spring pool is approximately 2 feet deep. As compared to the nearby Wild Willy’s hot Spring, where you can get a little dirty from the mud floor, the water is dirt-free with a cement base, a little relief if you hate getting mud all over you.

Since these hot springs are famous and Crab Cooker is no exception, be prepared to share the tub with others unless you time your visit early in the morning before sunrise, which has the slightest chance of fellow travelers to be there.

Crab Cooker springs

Note that Crab Cooker Hot Springs turns into a party place on weekend evenings and holidays with more people than usual gathering here for soaking and drinking.

If you do not wish to be a part of this, plan your visit during peaceful times.

Although Crab Cooker can accommodate a small group of about four people, if you aren’t already acquainted with each other, it may be a bit uncomfortable in the small space. In that case, be prepared to wait a while.

WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT CRAB COOKER HOT SPRINGS?

The Mammoth Lakes region is known as the winter destination, thanks to its many snow-powdered mountains and cold, snowy winters that make it one of the best ski regions in California.

October and April are the most popular months for winter travel, with temperatures frequently dropping to freezing.

Although winter is the ideal time to enjoy hot baths surrounded by magical landscapes, most dirt roads remain buried under thick layers of snow, making them inaccessible.

It is the same case for Crab Cooker Hot Springs too. If you are willing to wait out and take chances, you may be able to access the hot Spring during winter, especially if you are here before the official onset of snowfall.

In general, the best time to visit Crab Cooker Hot Springs is between late May to early October, the summer months.

It is the busiest and the most favourite season of the year, which is no surprise given the weather.

With pleasant temperatures throughout the day, you will have the most comfortable daytime and morning temperatures during this season.

The best times of the day to enjoy Crab Cooker Hot Springs is before and around sunrise and sunset, when the views get spectacular, and temperatures will be pleasant.

If you manage to be here before dawn, you will probably enjoy seclusion, with a few to no other tourists around you.

I think the best time to visit Crab Cooker and the surrounding area for many is Spring, the temperature is pleasant, and there are few bugs.

The landscapes look unique and surreal as thin layers of snow remain, while most of them start to melt away, bringing in freshwater filling the streams, rivers, and waterfalls.

The fresh wildflower blooms carpet the Eastern Sierra Nevadas, painting the landscapes in different colours treating the senses.

If the wildfire will spare this part of California and pleasant weather prevails, Fall can also be great for all of the same reasons as Spring to enjoy your trip to Crab Cooker Hot Springs.

I prefer spring or fall to plan a trip to Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs for a few reasons.

I find summer crowded to enjoy peaceful soaking, while Fall is fantastic to enjoy the glorious fall colours in Mammoth and fewer tourists.

As I mentioned before, Spring is my preferred season. With pleasant temperatures, you can witness the magical wildflower blooms and the lack of mosquitoes and other bugs in the evening, which is a common nuisance in summer.

WHAT IS THE TEMPERATURE AT CRAB COOKER HOT SPRINGS?

As you know, the hot spring gets its name as the water temperature is hot enough to cook some crabs. 

The temperature can get as high as over 105°F, but don’t worry, if you are not used to soaking in hotter temperatures, you can regulate it by using the valve provided nearby.

HOW TO REACH CRAB COOKER HOT SPRINGS?

BY ROAD

If you live within driving distance or plan to arrive by road, I’d recommend planning a road trip to explore all the hot springs near Mammoth Lakes and the tons of things to do in and around Mammoth.

Crab Cooker Hot Springs is almost centrally located in California.

FROM LOS ANGELES – You need first to drive 300 miles northeast of Los Angeles to reach the US 395 Highway, which will take about 5 hours. 

FROM SAN FRANCISCO – Drive about 330 miles southeast of San Francisco to arrive at the 395 US highway, which takes about 5.5 hours. 

RENTING A CAR FOR YOUR TRIP

If you fly into Mammoth Lakes or need to rent a car to make your road trip, I would highly recommend doing it online on Discover Cars.

Some rental companies do not allow their cars to be driven off-road, and you can be sure of not getting any such when you book online on Discover Cars. 

You can compare availability and prices across many companies. 

They also provide fantastic deals if you book in advance or take cars for more extended hire. Compare the prices and check the availability here.

You could alternatively also drive to the nearby Shepherd Hot Spring, which can be accessed via a much better-maintained road, and park there.

From that parking lot, walk 0.3 miles one-way southeast to arrive at Crab Cooker along a footpath.

BY FLIGHT

If you’re not within driving distance, you can alternatively fly in. Mammoth Yosemite Airport, located in Mammoth Lakes, is one of the nearby airports to arrive at Mammoth. 

But the flights from other cities to Mammoth are not many, more expensive, and not frequent.

It is best to fly into a bigger airport for better airfare options. You have the option of flying into Los Angeles, which is about 4 hours and 40 minutes away from Mammoth Lakes.

Alternatively, you can fly into Las Vegas or San Francisco, over 5 hours away from Mammoth Lakes.

From these airports, rent a car for your whole trip, or book a car again, preferably a high-clearance vehicle, once you arrive at Mammoth Lakes to explore Crab Cooker Hot Springs and other attractions around since you will be driving on many dirt roads on your trip.

GETTING TO CRAB COOKER HOT SPRINGS FROM US 395 HIGHWAY

From Bishop, heading north on Highway 395, take a right at Benton Crossing Road, right before the airport. The road with the green church on the corner is easy to recognize.

Drive for about three miles until you pass the second cow grate on this road. After you pass this, take a left to find a dirt road you will have to drive for about 1.5 miles.

It is a bumpy drive over this potholed dirt road that is best tackled on a high clearance car.

Continuing on this road, you reach a dirt parking lot with logs marking the area where you will park.

WALKING TO CRAB COOKER HOT SPRINGS

Once you reach the parking lot, on the south side of the parking, there are a few short trails etched into the hillside. 

If you take a short 0.2 mile downhill easy walk, you will reach the hot pool. It should take about 10 minutes of walking.

One of the best things about visiting is the walk to the springs is gorgeous—your first glimpses of the majestic snow-capped peaks at the horizon and pine forests around you. Make sure to admire the views as you arrive at the hot spring.

WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING CRAB COOKER HOT SPRINGS?

If you want to base yourself close to the centre, Mammoth Village is the best area as it has many amazing resorts and hotels. 

The Village Lodge is the most popular choice as it is ideal for couples and people with kids looking for spacious rooms. You can choose from a studio to two-bedroom units some of which also come equipped with a kitchen. 

There is also a heated outdoor pool and several hot tubs. And the views from the hotels are splendid.  Check prices here to book.

If you love heritage properties as I do, I would highly recommend Tamarack Lodge, a historic lodge located on the shore of Twin Lakes and surrounded by mountains and skiing.

About 10 minutes drive away from downtown, this lodge has maintained its old heritage with a neat blend of modern times.

Along with cosy rooms coming with a kitchen and fireplace, you can also enjoy dining at their Lakefront restaurant. You can also sign up for their mountain bike lessons, guided hikes and fly fishing classes. Book here.

Innsbruck Lodge is another place located near the Village Gondola that I prefer for its secluded and stunning location. 

This pretty lodge offers apartments with kitchens to simple rooms, and they have an on-site hot tub and spa. It is worth staying here if you love quieter stays.

The Westin Monache Resort is next to the Village Lodge and beside Mountain Center in the Village, another excellent choice. 

This pretty place comes with condos comprising spacious rooms and balconies offering beautiful views. The property features a heated outdoor pool and hot tubs.  Book a stay here.

If the popular ones do not appeal to you, check out Sierra Lodge, centrally located, which offers spacious rooms with kitchenettes. The hotel features a hot tub, free parking and a barbecue.

Juniper Springs Resort, located in Mammoth Lakes, is ideal for a winter trip as it is close to the ski lifts and winter activities.

If you are looking to camp, check below for information on the available campsites.

CAMPING AT CRAB COOKER HOT SPRINGS

Depending on your preferences, you can choose from a few locations if you plan to camp on your trip to Crab Cooker Hot Springs.

Unfortunately, since Crab Cooker Hot Spring is located on land owned by the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water, camping is not allowed here right around the hot spring. 

If you plan to visit other hot springs in the area, many others are in the surrounding BLM land, like the Rock Hot Tub, Whitmore Tubs Road, or the Hot Creek Hatchery Spur Road.

Crab Cooker Hot Springs

The other campsites that you can check out are Brown’s Owen River Campground, a no-frills campground open from April to September that is only a 10-minute drive from the hot springs and costs $35 per night. 

Another option is Convict Lake Campground, further away at about a 20-minute drive, available only during the summer for $29 per night.

If you are looking for camping with more amenities, McGee Creek RV Park & Campground is great.

Check with the local office at (760) 872-5000 to get confirmation on whether camping is permitted in the area that you choose to make sure you do not end up paying a hefty fine.

WHAT SHOULD YOU PACK FOR CRAB COOKER HOT SPRINGS

As I mentioned earlier, most of the hot springs near Mammoth Lakes are remote without the standard facilities, shops, or eateries. 

You don’t need to bring a lot of things to visit Crab Cooker Hot Springs, but below are some of the items you should consider packing.

A swimsuit – Although many hot springs in the area are clothing optional, carry a swimsuit with you if you are not comfortable being nude when there are other people around.

A reusable water bottle – Bring plenty of water to avoid dehydration in a reusable water bottle. You will be sweating a lot, and also, high altitude sickness is best avoided by drinking lots of water.

Travel Towel – Bring a quick-drying, easy-to-pack travel towel. An additional oversized towel will come in handy to sit on in the car en route to the next hot spring as there are no changing rooms. 

Extra clothes – Bring a set of spare clothes that you can change into once done with soaking in the pools.

Travel Cooler  If you are here during the summer, carry a compact cooler to keep your water, beer, juices, and snacks cool.

Dry bag – Bring a dry bag to pack all of your electronics, including our camera, tripod, cell phones, towels, food, drinks, and other essentials that you can carry around without having to go back to your vehicle.

Jacket – One of the essential layers is a light, packable jacket, better suited for a slight breeze and windy weather.

Flip flops  You need to walk on gravel paths or hike along steep trails to access some hot springs from parking lots. I’d recommend carrying good walking shoes/hiking shoes for this purpose. 

But along with this, also carry a pair of flip flops to change into before and after stepping out of the pools. You can also alternatively bring water shoes.

Sunscreen may not be too sunny except for the summer months, but it is best to apply sunscreen in high elevations. 

Snacks – Bring enough snacks for the way and picnic near the hot springs as there are no shops nearby.

SOME USEFUL TIPS FOR HOT SPRINGS

Here are some of the things to consider while planning your trip to make it an enjoyable and safe experience.

  • Although summer is the best time to visit, there is also a higher chance of bad air quality due to wildfire smoke. If you visit in late summer, check the air quality before planning your trip.
  • Mosquitoes can be problematic, and other bugs gang up during the evenings if you plan a summer trip. 
    • Ensure you use a natural bug repellant that will not affect the natural hot springs when you take a dip.
  • If you plan a winter trip to Crab Cooker Hot Springs, know that the road leading to the hot spring, owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, is not maintained and may be impassable due to snow.
    • If that happens during your visit, you can park along Benton Crossing Road and walk or snowshoe down the road to the parking lot, which will add to your adventure.
  • If you are camping, make sure you’re on the BLM land and not close to the prohibited areas around the pools, as that could attract huge penalties.
  • Follow the leave no trace principles if you go camping at Crab Cooker Hot Springs. 
  • The hot springs are located in a fragile ecosystem, and it is essential to keep the sensitive habitat in mind that needs to be preserved that way.
  • There are no amenities near Crab Cooker Hot Springs – no changing rooms or public toilets, pit toilet or drinking water. 
  • Make sure to carry enough water, snacks, and other beverages. You may have to go out in nature for bathrooms and change near or inside cars or secluded places.
  • Nudity is common in most hot springs near Mammoth Lakes, and you should expect the same at Wild Willy’s Hot Springs, too, as it is clothing-optional. 

So you may initially feel uncomfortable if you are not used to seeing others in their birth suits, but it gets less awkward after a while. 

  • Bring one or two pairs of a swimsuit if you are not comfortable going nude, which is perfectly fine as well.
  • It is an area where cows freely graze, something you may have to take into account if you plan to take a pet with you as they may startle the livestock.
  • One of the things you should do on your visit to the hot springs is head there or spend time at night, especially when there is little or no moon. 
  • Camping means you will get to see some of the best night skies in California, but even if you do not camp, soaking in the night admiring the starlit skies and the stunning mountains accompanying you on the horizon is a dreamy experience.
  • The closest grocery store is Crowley Lake General Store, which is 20 minutes away from the hot springs.
  • But I would recommend rather going to the closest town Mammoth Lakes, which is about 25 minutes away and has many supermarkets.
  • Mammoth Lakes is also the best location for restaurants and gas stations.
  • Like all hot springs, make sure to test out the water temperature with your fingers or toes before planning to soak your whole self so that your skin does not get burnt.
  • Cell phone coverage in the area is intermittent, so ensure you download offline maps on your Google Maps app before heading to Crab Cooker Hot Springs.
  • The springs become busier as the day progresses, especially during the peak months, holidays, and weekends. It turns into a soaking party with many travelers gathering for relaxing and taking in the views.
  • If you want some privacy, you need to plan your visit accordingly for those hours with lesser or no tourists.
  • Honestly, it is difficult to expect that as it is one of the most easily accessible and hence a trendy spring attracting tourists visiting Mammoth Lakes.

CRAB COOKER HOT SPRINGS MAP

Below is the location of Crab Cooker Hot Springs on Google Maps which you can bookmark or save.

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TOP TRAVEL TIPS & RESOURCES

Below is the list of the travel resources you can use to organize your travel – from flights to insurance and everything. These are the resources I use myself, which is why I recommend you for a hassle-free travel planning experience and fantastic trips.

Booking Flights: To score flight deals, search on Jet Radar, Kiwior 12go.Asia (for Asia planning). Book and fly mid-week, taking red-eyes flights or those in the early mornings for better deals and lower prices. Avoid check-in bags on a budget airline.

Booking Trains: The best websites for booking trains anywhere in Europe are Rail Europe and TrainLine. Both are easy to manage online and track your journeys.

Booking Cars: For the best prices and easy handling of renting a car for road trips and day trips, I’d recommend Discover Cars or Rental Cars, available throughout the world.

Accommodations: I typically use HotelsCombined or Booking.com to book hotels. There are special getaway deals with amazing discounts(over 50%!) for this year on Booking.com, and you can find them here.

I use Hostelworld and Agoda to book hostels as the deposit is low, easy change/cancellation is available and reviews are excellent on both. Depending on the destination, I love staying in VRBOs/homestays.

Travel Insurance: No matter whether it is a short trip or longer trips abroad, I strongly recommend buying travel insurance for international trips. I recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing for international travel insurance.

Tours: Being a solo traveler, one of the best ways to optimize my time, budget, and super importantly, meet amazing people from all over the world is by joining tours, especially food tours, walking tours, day trips, culture, and history tours.
You will get a local’s perspective, the best opportunities to experience places and people closely. I book using GetYourGuideKlookViatorand Voyagin.

Reshma Narasing
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