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California Trails

5 Essential Sierra Hot Springs Every Hiker Should Visit

Match a hard hike with the best cure for aching muscles on these essential trips.

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There’s nothing better than kicking off your boots and soaking your tired bones in a warm spring at the end of a long day. These five California hot springs are perfect for cracking a beer, watching the sunset, or just relaxing. Pair with a hard day hike, or a night watching the stars. 

Jordan Hot Springs – Kennedy Meadows, CA

hot spring
Emily Pennington

Hike through a dense pine forest, a meadow full of grazing cattle, and a recovering burn zone and you’ll find yourself at one of the Southern Sierra’s best natural spas. Jordan Hot Springs is a 12-mile (out and back) round trip adventure with nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. You can do it as a burly day hike, but this spring is best savored as an overnight trek so that you have ample time to explore the ruins of an abandoned, historic resort, dip into the adjacent creek, scan for butterflies in the meadow, and gaze up at the Milky Way from the hot pools at night. Trailhead Blackrock Permit Required; Obtain at the Blackrock Visitor Center (free) Season Summer through fall

Buckeye Hot Springs – Bridgeport, CA

Hot Spring
Emily Pennington

The moment you turn onto Twin Lakes Road from the historic town of Bridgeport, you’ll feel as though you’ve time-traveled back a century. Wind through cow pastures with an epic view of the Eastern Sierra before a dirt road climbs the final three miles to a remote parking lot surrounded by mountain sage and wildflowers. A short but steep hike brings day-trippers to a hot spring built between a sidewall dripping with minerals and the roaring rapids of Buckeye Creek. For cooler water and a better view, there’s a mud-bottomed upper pool beneath a large juniper tree situated right next to the parking lot. Trailhead None Permit None; Camping available nearby at Buckeye Campground Season Late spring through fall 

Wild Willy’s Hot Springs – Mammoth Lakes, CA

hot spring
Emily Pennington

A gentle .25 mile walk along a series of wooden planks brings weary hikers and snowboarders to a series of legendary springs that are open year-round, rain or shine. You won’t find much solitude here—this destination is anything but secret—but that’s part of the fun. Kick back at sunset and regale a tub full of strangers with tales of your gnarliest climbs and most epic bear sightings. Pro tip: In winter, hike or snowshoe in a mile from Benton Crossing Road for smaller crowds and incredible views of snow-capped peaks. Trailhead Wooden walkway from Wild Willy’s parking lot Permit None Season Year-round

Iva Bell Hot Springs – John Muir Wilderness, CA

hot spring
Tobin

If you’re one of the lucky few who manage to nab a permit for this wondrous, warm lagoon tucked deep into the John Muir Wilderness, then it’s time to lace up your boots and celebrate! Iva Bell Hot Springs might just be the spring with the best view in the entire Sierra. A 24-mile out-and-back hike through Jeffrey pines, asters, and lupine features commanding views of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River is the price of admission to this series of six small pools nestled on the edge of a mountainside, each one warmer and with a better view than the last. For the best campsites, bear left after crossing Sharktooth Creek and find a secluded spot in the shade. Trailhead Fish Creek Permit Required; Obtain online or at the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center ($6 + $5 per person) Season Summer through fall

Benton Hot Springs – Benton, CA

hot spring
Emily Pennington

Though Benton Hot Springs is more “built up” than the other sites we’ve listed, it earns its spot on the list for the breathtaking views of Montgomery and Boundary Peaks that can be seen from nearly every pool. Campsite reservations are on the steep side, price-wise, starting at $60/night, but the fees include a private pool, fire ring, picnic table, and a huge, secluded area for car camping that’s perfect for a group escape from the big city. Hike up Convict Canyon or into Twenty Lakes Basin during the day, then crack open a can of your favorite IPA and soak your aching muscles as the sun sets. If you’re into California history, a nearby jaunt up to the neighboring centuries-old cemetery is a must. Trailhead None Permit Camping reservations required Season Year-round