Wild Willys Hot Spring is one of the most stunning hot springs in Mammoth Lakes in California. Whether you are on a California road trip or exploring Mammoth Lakes on a weekend trip or want to stop by on your US 395 Highway trip, this gorgeous spot is a must-see.
In this post, I share some valuable tips and things to know to help you plan a fantastic trip to Wild Willy’s Hot Springs.
WHERE IS WILD WILLY’S 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.
Only 13 miles outside Mammoth Lakes, about a 20-minute drive east, sits Wild Willy’s Hot Springs in the Long Valley Caldera.
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 Wild Willy’s.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT WILD WILLY’S HOT SPRINGS?
Imagine soaking in a comfortable, warm streaming creek, where pockets of steam rise from rich sagebrush plains from perfectly tiered pools, with spectacular 360-degree views of majestic mountains of the snow-capped peaks and rugged cliffs of the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains surrounding you.
And all of this for free – that’s what you can experience at Wild Willy’s Hot Springs, located over 2080 meters high.
Wild Willy’s, also known as Crowley Hot Springs, comprises two hot spring pools, a hot creek and a separate heart-shaped pool, nestling amidst a panoramic backdrop comprising the eastern precipice of the Sierra Nevada to the west and the Glass Mountain Ridge to the east.
The pools are reached by following a wooden boardwalk(more details below).
The larger pool is the main draw, about 10 feet wide and 3 feet deep.
You can submerge yourself by sitting down as the water is shallow and pleasantly warm, perfect if you do not want hot water admiring the splendid views of the beautiful mountains.
It’s also popular thanks to its bigger size, thanks to the tiered hot stream where soakers can sit and a large separate pool, allowing over 30 people to enjoy the pool.
You can see the other smaller pool about 50 feet near this pool. This pool is relatively deeper than the creek and hotter, shaped in a heart, ideal for a romantic dip.
It holds up to three or four people comfortably and is perfect for relaxing if you prefer hotter temperatures.
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT WILD WILLYS 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 Wild Willys 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 Wild Willys 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 temperatures ranging from 30°F to 60°F degrees, you will have the most comfortable daytime and morning temperatures during this season.
The best times of the day to enjoy Wild Willys 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.
The best time to visit Wild Willys 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 Wild Willys 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.
Spring is my preferred season as, along with temperatures being pleasant, 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 WILD WILLYS HOT SPRINGS?
The water temperature in Crowley Hot Springs or Wild Willys Hot Springs ranges between 95°F or 35°C to 105°F or 41°C. The first pool is warmer while the second is hotter usually.
HOW TO REACH WILD WILLYS HOT SPRINGS?
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 Wild Willys Hot Springs and other attractions around since you will be driving on many dirt roads on your trip.
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.
Wild Willys 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.
GETTING TO THE 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 right 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 WILD WILLYS HOT SPRINGS
From the parking lot, you can see a trail on an elevated wooden path.
Following the well-maintained gravel and wooden boardwalk leads you to the hot springs.
The elevated trail is flat, about 0.25 miles long and 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 WILD WILLYS 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 minute 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 that 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 WILD WILLYS HOT SPRINGS
Depending on your preferences, you can choose from a few locations if you plan to camp on your trip to Wild Willys Hot Springs.
The nearest option for camping here is the dispersed camping around the Wild Willy’s parking lot area since it is located on BLM land for free for up to 14 days. RV is allowed here as well.
It is not overcrowded, and you get to enjoy the stunning views of the rugged mountains around and do stargazing as well.
If you plan to visit other hot springs in the area, there are many others in the surrounding BLM land, like the Rock Hot Tub, Whitmore Tubs Road, or the Hot Creek Hatchery Spur Road.
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.
WHAT SHOULD YOU PACK FOR WILD WILLY’S HOT SPRING?
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 Wild Willy’s, 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 VISITING WILD WILLYS 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 Wild Willys Hot Springs, know that the Bureau of Land Management or BLM, the board that manages the springs, locks the gate to the road that leads to the springs when there is too much 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 Wild Willys 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 Wild Willys 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 Wild Willys 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.
WILD WILLY’S HOT SPRINGS MAP
Below is the map you can look up or copy on your phone.
Address – Wild Willy’s Hot Springs, Benton Crossing Road, Whitmore Hot Springs Mono County, California, 93512, United States
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