Hot Creek is a scenic wonderland containing dozens of natural hot springs bubbling up within the rocky walls of a river gorge and in the shadows of towering Eastern Sierra mountain peaks. It is a breathtaking place where boiling, bubbling water rich in dissolved minerals emerges in turquoise pools rimmed by layers of travertine rock and shrouded in veils of steam. A short drive and hike is all it takes to meander along trails that run alongside the creek. From here sightseers get a first-hand view of the geological processes actively shaping the distinctive Eastern Sierra landscape.
Easily accessible throughout most of the year, a well-maintained trail descends into the heart of the geothermal activity. The short, asphalt trail descends into the gorge from the parking area and is lined with interpretive markers and signs. Once you reach the creek, the trail turns to dirt and adequate footwear is strongly suggested to ensure safe footing. Swimming is illegal at this location due to the rapid fluctuation of water temperatures, as changes of 200 degrees (F) over mere seconds have been recorded within the stream.
What to Expect at Hot Creek Geologic Site
There are only a handful of places on Earth like Hot Creek’s active geologic setting, which makes it a nice addition to your next adventure in Mammoth Lakes. Within the shallow gorge, groundwater heated by subsurface bodies of molten rock (magma) reaches the surface and mixes with the cool waters of Hot Creek, creating a picturesque environment with otherworldly features. Below the hot springs, healthy populations of fish thrive off the abundant nutrition generated by the consistently warm waters of the creek. Delicate rock formations created by the precipitation of minerals rim the hot spring pools. Like most geothermal springs, the area is constantly changing and evolving. Once-active geysers and springs are now dormant or extinct, and new springs appear annually.
Restrooms and picnic facilities are available at the parking area. The interpretive area is open from dawn to dusk throughout the year, although road conditions may prevent access in the winter. For more information, contact the U.S. Forest Service at the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center or by calling (760) 873-2400.
Getting to Hot Creek Geologic Site from Mammoth Lakes
Hot Creek is a spectacular interpretive site and recreation area located only 8 miles southeast of Mammoth Lakes. To reach the gorge, head south from town toward U.S. Highway 395 on State Route 203 (Main St). At the junction of U.S. 395 and SR 203, merge right (south) and travel 5.4 miles on southbound US 395. Turn left (north) onto the Hot Creek Hatchery Road heading toward the Mammoth Lakes Airport. Travel 1.2 miles, passing the Airport Road and take a right (east), continuing on the Hot Creek Hatchery Road. Remain on the well-traveled road for 3.6 miles as it turns to gravel and expect a slight left bend at the halfway mark. The parking lot is on the left, and the trail begins to the right (east) of the main parking area. Even from the parking lot, you can enjoy an incredible view of the gorge.