A mecca for hot spring vacations, California is a state blessed with enough hot springs to cater for all tastes, be you a first-timer hanging with friends and looking for some secluded soaking in the desert after a hike, or a dedicated hot-springing family seeking shaded, splashtime fun nearer town. A lot of the nearly 100 soakable hot mineral pools in California have been snapped up and privatized, but there are many that are still free – and these are what we’ll be sharing with you today!
First, let’s look at why California has so many hot springs on offer. It’s no secret that the state has both extinct and active volcanoes; at least seven of them with magma bubbling just underneath the surface, suggesting they could erupt again in future, and which are in no small part related to the seismic activity California experiences on a regular basis. But the hidden threats of the Golden State have also led to some delightful hot springs pools for you to enjoy. Let’s have a look at the Traxplorio team’s free, natural favorites.
Montecito Hot Springs
Montecito Hot Springs is a beautiful cascade of turquoise, hot sulfur pools nestled in a golden, rocky canyon. Getting to them is a gentle 3-mile round trip hike from the town of Montecito.
Either take a taxi up or, if you’re driving, get there early, because this hot springs destination draws big crowds! In fact, we were criticized when we first uploaded our article about Montecito Hot Springs for being irresponsible to nature by advertising it (at which point, we’ll reiterate our strong recommendation to LEAVE NO TRACE when you go hot-springing – love our nature and it will love you back, and that includes responsible parking in the neighborhood before you get there!)
The top Montecito Hot Springs pool, nearest the source, bubbles out of the rocks at 112°F, while those lower down gradually drop in temperature to a low of 60°F. Each pool can comfortably seat up to 8 people. The water in each pool is a murky blue due to the natural and perfectly safe bacteria living there.
Considering the Californian climate, the best months to visit Montecito Hot Springs are April, May, October, and November.
Sespe Hot Springs
Sespe Hot Springs is the perfect hot mineral oasis to head to if you like a hike or horseback ride before your soak. Over the 16 miles of your walk along the gentle grading trail, which offers plenty of primitive camping sites along the way for those who might need to pace themselves (and another [Willett] hot springs 9.5 miles in – see more on that below), you’ll move through lush Californian forest into golden rocky desert. It’s worth the trip to soak your aching muscles in the string of 105°F creek-side hot springs pools once you reach the Sespe Hot Springs site.
We highly recommend considering an overnight stay or two in the beautiful wilderness to fully capture the spirit of this escape. You can easily break the trip up into as many days as you have the energy and supplies for.
Sykes Hot Springs
Sykes Hot Springs, like Sespe above, is one that requires some leg-work to get to – this being an 11-hour round trip that for the fit can be done in a day, and for others can be broken up by a glorious overnighter under the stars in one of the many primitive campsites on the way.
Sykes Hot Springs is a stunning, two-pool, 100°F hot sulfur water cascade on the steep slope of a canyon, at the bottom of which flows the Big Sur River, home to another hot mineral pool held in place by an adjustable wall of rocks.
Willett Hot Springs
Willett Hot Springs offers an easier and shorter adventure than either Sespe or Sykes (above), with a 100°F hot springs tub and pools reached via an easy to follow backpacking trail through the California desert wilderness.
On the way, and season depending, you’ll encounter pools aplenty to bathe in or drink from along the creek, even before you get to the mineral-packed hot tub awaiting to soothe your tired body in dappled sunlight.
Willett Hot Springs boasts a variety of therapeutic minerals, including sodium, calcium and sulfates.
Deep Creek Hot Springs
Deep Creek Hot Springs, a selection of 100 – 105°F hot mineral pools by the cool Mojave River, is a great destination for those looking for the perfect afternoon soak near Los Angeles.
Nestled in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, surrounded by golden rocks and lush vegetation, Deep Creek offers sunbathing spots, cliff jumping and rope swings to compliment your hot springs soaking and river cooling – the ideal escape from the world.
The two-person top pool, the most secluded of the group, is the hottest at around 108°F, and is suitably named the “crab cooker.” This then runs off in a hot “shower” to the other pools below, the largest of which can fit up to 12 bathers and is deep enough to swim in.
Travertine Hot Springs
Travertine Hot Springs is a mineral-rich thermal delight in Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest that is very easy to access, and boasts unbeatable, beautiful scenery all around – the perfect Instagramable destination!
Start your hot mineral exploration with an (up to) 120°F soak in the man-made pool by the parking lot. Check the temperature with your elbow before jumping in- for some, it is just too hot to handle!
The real gem, though, are the four small travertine and mud-bottomed geothermal pools just a short walk away. They are divided by man-made rock walls to balance the liquid flow. Each can accommodate up to four people, so you may need to wait your turn.
The hot mineral water travels along channels cut into the rock, over the ridge, and drips straight into the main pool, which then feeds the rest of the natural baths, which vary in temperature between 156°F at the big pool and 115°F at the pool furthest away.
Buckeye Hot Springs
Buckeye Hot Springs, a popular-with-the-locals treasure in eastern California, reachable by a short downhill hike, offers majestic views as you absorb the calming vibes of the lagoon.
10 minutes from the parking area are the Upper Pools, overlooking the Buckeye Creek and the stunning Eastern Sierras.
A little further down the steep trail are the main, calcium-rich 100-110°F hot spring pools, sourced by a waterfall that flows over a cliff and straight into the most beautiful of the pools, built into a small cave, just like a fairytale.
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs is a beautiful (and kinda romantic – one of the pools is heart-shaped!) selection of sulfur pools fed by a creek and reached by a 2-mile, flat, elevated wooden walkway through the sand-and-sagebrush plain. When there aren’t a bunch of locals there partying, it can be as serene a soak as you can get.
Wild Willy’s first pool is 10 feet at its widest and 3 feet in depth, meaning you can really sink into the 95°F water for ultimate relaxation. And then you’ll see the OTHER pool near the rock. Go get in – it’s both deeper and hotter!
There are also three shallow, small, two-person hot springs pools nearby.
Rock Tub Hot Springs (Whitmore Pool)
Stunning scenery, a hot pool secluded in green bushes, close to town – what’s not to love? 15 minutes from Mammoth Lakes and right next to the parking area, Rock Tub Hot Springs gets a lot of visitors, so get there at sun-up, or be ready to share, and definitely be ready to see nudity! With spectacular views across to California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, the man-made 6-person Rock Tub clocks in at a comfortably toasty 100-110°F.
Remington Hot Springs
At Remington Hot Springs, you’ll find three cement-rock, man-made, pipe-fed/drained, and well-maintained tubs on a bank of the Kern River, and uphill the small, original pool built into the rocks, called “The Miner’s Tub.” To get there, you’ll need to hike a quarter mile down a steep dirt trail from the parking area.
The Miner’s Tub is the hottest, with water standing at up to 106°F, which then flows down into the other three tubs, cooling as it goes.
A lot of visitors soak nude here, though officially, it being Forest Service land, they should be clothed. Take the risk yourself if you choose: But if a ranger does happen by, you will likely get a ticket or warning.
Clothing officially required.
Gaviota Hot Springs
Located within the Los Padres National Forest, the semi-natural Gaviota Springs offers two rock-walled pools surrounded by greenery, with natural turquoise sulfur water of around 100°F in the top pool and 95°F in the lower tub.
With a half-mile and easy hike up from the ($2/vehicle) parking area, this is a good one to pop into at the end of a day exploring Gaviota Peak. The best time to visit is between March and May, when the weather is mild and the wild flowers are out in their colorful glory.
Clothing officially required.
Five Palms Hot Springs
Five Palms Hot Springs is the definition of a desert oasis: a bubbling warm (91°F) clearwater, sandy bottomed, shallow pool, which is secluded from the outside world by giant palm trees- something you thought you could only find in the adventure books!
Get there via a 1.6 mile dirt road which, if muddy, can only be driven on by 4×4.
Holtville Hot Springs (Old Fogey)
Holtville Hot Springs is day-use only. You’ll find two cement pools in a fenced-in area, with water at a nice 110°F in the bigger 10-person pool, and 104°F in the smaller pool. As these are totally natural and unchlorinated, you can expect to see some algae growing on the walls. It won’t hurt you!
There is also a hot spring water shower you can cool off under between hot soaks.
Top Tip: In the bigger pool is a water flow valve. Switch it on and fresh hot mineral water will flow in. Switch it off and the nearby shower will up its squirting!
Nearby is a beautiful palm tree-lined hot spring lagoon which is for looking at only- no swimming allowed!
A paved road leads right to the springs, and while there, you are almost guaranteed to meet some interesting characters with brilliant life stories!
THE DOS AND DON’TS OF VISITING HOT SPRINGS
Every hot springs has its own quirks. Visitors to natural hot springs, for example, should be ready for a hike – with plenty of drinking water and the right shoes, should avoid getting water up their noses, and should be ready to share and see nudity. For more general advice and very important “hot springs etiquette,” we highly recommend you take a moment to check out our carefully compiled easy-to-read list of “dos and don’ts” here. And always, always respect our nature – pack out what you pack in and LEAVE NO TRACE.
Check out Montana’s free hot springs offerings here: “FANCY A FREE HOT SPRINGS SOAK IN MONTANA? LOOK NO FURTHER”
You might also enjoy our “Pros and Cons of Hot Springs” article.
For the morbid among you, have a read of our “Death and Murder at Hot Springs” article – a collection of tales to pay heed to, then click on over to our popular “Why You Should Be Planning A Hot Springs Soak This Weekend” to get re-inspired!
While we at Traxplorio do our very best to give you the latest information about these hot springs sites, life happens, weather happens, and property owners happen. We always recommend you go to the official hot springs’ web page and/or the relevant state authority page to check conditions, times, and prices (where relevant) before you head out. Thanks for understanding, and enjoy your soak!