Summary: Wild Willy’s Hot Springs is incredibly unique, free to visit, and easy to access. Tucked away in the Eastern Sierras, you’ll see why this place is a must visit. Complete guide on the location, what to expect, where to camp, and when to visit. *I use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases. Thanks for your support!
Land Acknowledgement: Northern Paiute and Mono/Monache People. Find what Native Land you are visiting by using the app Native Land! I encourage you to read the history and culture of the Indigenous people who’s land you are visiting!
Depending on when you’re reading this, there may be a stay at home order still in place for California. Please travel in accordance with the State’s Covid-19 regulations. Check the status HERE
- VIDEO SERIES: CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP
- WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH WILD WILLY'S HOT SPRINGS?
- Getting to Wild Willy's Hot Springs
- Directions to Wild Willy's Hot Springs
- WHAT TO EXPECT AT WILD WILLY'S HOT SPRINGS
- LET ME SET THE SCENE…
- Best Time to Visit Wild Willy's Hot Springs
- WHERE TO STAY NEAR THE HOT SPRINGS
- HOT SPRING PACKING LIST
- Photography Guide to Wild Willy's Hot Springs
- HOT SPRING OBSESSED?
VIDEO SERIES: CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP
If you want a short visual of our time at Wild Willy’s Hot Springs, check out the YouTube Video my partner Johnathon DeSoto created! Subscribe if you want to see the complete mini series!
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH WILD WILLY’S HOT SPRINGS?
This place is absolute magic. Scenic mountain views, steamy springs, and we somehow timed this visit with a full moon making it extra special. Wild Willy’s Hot Springs is located in Long Valley, deep in the Sierras, and is an area that has the highest amount of hot springs in California!
This was our second hot spring on this road trip and it was incredible. Wild Willy’s Hot Spring geothermal mineral springs in the Eastern Sierras of California is one you don’t want to miss. Let me break down some pros/cons of this place!
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs PROS:
- It’s free!
- There is free camping nearby
- up to 30 people can soak here
- Pet friendly (Leashed, and not allowed IN the pools)
- Pools range between 95-105 degrees in temperature
- Other hot springs nearby
- Mountain views in all directions
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs CONS:
- Rough road to get out there (but manageable for most vehicles)
- BUSY. There were so many people here in December!
- Temperatures in that area can be VERY cold in the winter
- The road can possibly be blocked by snow in the winter
Getting to Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
- From Las Vegas Airport: 5.5 hours
- San Francisco Airport: 6 hours
- Los Angeles Airport: 5 hours
We used Google Maps and typed in ‘Wild Willy’s Hot Spring’ and had no issues getting routed directly there. The hot springs are in an area with very limited cell service, so I recommend loading the directions beforehand.
Closest city is Mammoth Lakes, California (20 minutes away) which offers quite a few restaurants, hotels, grocery stores and gas stations. If you are going to rent an Airbnb or get a hotel, this is where I recommend!
Trail to The Hot Springs
The trail is a .25 mile walk on a wooden pathway! It’s important to stay on the walkway due to the fragile ecosystem in this area. It’s an easy walk, but we did it in 9 degree weather and it felt like an eternity hah!
Directions to Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
You will need a capable car to get here. This road is not anything wild, but depending on the time of year and weather, you may want to consider a vehicle with higher clearance and AWD.
Heading North on Highway 395 from Bishop, California, take a right at Benton Crossing Road at the Green Church.
Drive on this road for 3 miles (past 3 cow gates), and then turn right onto a dirt road towards the top of a slight hill.
Drive an additional 1.5 miles and you’ll see the parking lot for Wild Willy’s Hot Springs!
WHAT TO EXPECT AT WILD WILLY’S HOT SPRINGS
I recommend that you first brush up on your Hot Spring etiquette. Maybe you’ve been to a few hot springs, but you might learn something that can help keep these hot springs around longer!
Read my Hot Springs Etiquette Guide HERE. Comment if you think anything needs to be added, or in general I would just love your opinion!
- Leave No Trace
- No Glass
- Clothing Optional
- What goes in a pool, stays in a pool (don’t bathe or urinate in these)
- Watch out for trash/glass (wear protective footwear down to the pools)
- Be polite and keep your noise to a normal level.
Important Area Specific Things to Note:
- No cars/vehicles/motor bikes are allowed past the parking lot. There is a wooden walkway for foot traffic only
- Stay on the wooden foot path, as this fragile area is very prone to erosion and the plant life here is delicate in the desert.
LET ME SET THE SCENE…
As you walk along the last little bit of the trail, you will see the large, more popularly photographed pool to the left. This pool is heart shaped and is also the deepest and hottest pool. It sits away from the others by a pile of rocks.
At the very end of the boardwalk, there is access to the second pool area that feels more like a river than a pool. There are multiple areas that are large enough for small groups of people to enjoy.
The water at the very end of the walkway is a bit cooler than further up. The pool we soaked in ended up being so warm that I had to stand up every now and then in the freezing cold to cool down.
Collectively the hot springs can fit around 30 people
Best Time to Visit Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs is growing in popularity and once you visit it’s not surprising why! More and more people are showing up to these hot springs and it can make it challenging to get a private moment. I think what set Wild Willy’s apart from Travertine Hot Springs for me, was that there are mountain views EVERY way you look!
We knew we wanted to photograph the hot springs, so we made sure to seek out a private area where we would not make anyone else uncomfortable with our cameras out (as people often soak nude).
A plus of Wild Willy’s Hot Springs is that there is dispersed, primitive camping right down the road on Bureau of Land Management area and also an established campground with showers ( more on this below). Hotels were also within 20 minutes. This makes getting there for sunrise a lot less painful.
We car camped at the camping area and set our alarms for an hour before the sun came up. This gave us time to shiver into our swimsuits, hydrate and find a pool all before the sunrise. EVEN at 4 in the morning when it was still dark out, the main pool was already full of people.
My advice: Wake up before the sun is up for your best chances of a private hot spring experience.
Even Better Advice: If you have a flexible schedule – go during the weekdays. Weekends are significantly more crowded. On our road trip, our experience here ended up being on a weekend.
Best Time of Year to Visit
A pro/con list of when I went in December.
We visited Wild Willy’s Hot Springs in early December. There were a lot of good and bad things with this. [Insert photo that I didn’t take of me walking to the hot springs wrapped in 5 blankets]
- less crowds
- gorgeous views of snowy mountain peaks
- the pools feel incredible in the cold air
- no overheating
- IT WAS SO COLD. We woke up to 9 F degree weather
- The established campground here is seasonal and only runs through September.
- The road can be closed off in the winter due to snow. It would take a lot of warm gear for me to walk 2 miles or more depending on where the road is closed.
- getting out of the pool is incredibly difficult because the air is frigid
WHERE TO STAY NEAR THE HOT SPRINGS
Option 1: Bureau of Land Management
The parking lot is a free space to camp at due to Bureau of Land Management laws, but NO fires are allowed in the area and you are required to pack out all your trash (no trash bins at this lot).
Note: No motor vehicles off of the road. This will damage already fragile areas.
This option gets very crowded and full most of the year (especially on weekends). Summer seems to be the busiest time of year. But even when I went in December and it was legitimately 10 degrees, the lot was still full.
Option 2: Brown Owen’s River Campground
This campground is on the same road as the hot springs, just 5 miles further down the road. From the looks of it, it is absolutely worth the extra 10 minutes of drive.
- $30 a night cash only (but a website update now shows they accept Visa and Mastercard. My Type-A self would still come prepared with cash)
- Campsites at the river
- Amenities: bathrooms, showers, fire pits and a general store.
- Seasonal availability from April-September 30th
- RESERVATIONS ONLY. Their website shows they only take reservations and a phone number was the only contact I could find. Call 760-920-0975
Mammoth Lakes is less than 20 minutes away from the hot springs with a population of about 8,000. This is definitely a vacation city and has over 300 Airbnb options. Get $65 off your first Airbnb stay using my link HERE
19 of those options are cabins! I love using the filter options on Airbnb to find cabins or other unique stays when I’m on the road.
There are also plenty of hotel options in Mammoth Lakes.
HOT SPRING PACKING LIST
- Swimsuit (optional!)
- Drinking Water (don’t get dehydrated!)
- Slip on Shoes/Sandals
- Trash Bag & Gloves (for any trash created by you OR others)
- Canned beverage (optional)
* I recommend packing a darker colored swimsuit, as they can get pretty dirty in a natural hot spring.
SOME TRENDY AND FUNCTIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS
Photography Guide to Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
I find it hard to truly feel confident going to a new location to take photos unless I’ve read someone’s blog about what to expect. We went the night before for an after-dark soak that allowed us to get the lay of the land. It also showed us just how busy the hot spring was that weekend. We got the last parking spot that night.
I recommend going for sunrise photos, but get there while it’s still dark. I’m talking like an hour before sunrise. Even when we did this, the main pool was occupied. Just as the sun started to rise, we were able to get our photos and everyone from the parking lot started coming down the trail.
Be adaptive: We did not get the main pool that we were all set on photographing. Instead of leaving or waiting until a different time, we made the other “less scenic” pool work and we ended up loving the scenery a lot more. Be prepared to have a plan B
Photographing Steam: Steam is most visible in photography when it is backlit or 3/4 lit, otherwise it is not very visible in the photos (if that is the desired effect you want). At sunrise when the light is still soft, shoot towards the sun (either straight on or 3/4) to get the backlit effect.
Plan your visit! By chance, we ended up there during a full moon that was still present at sunrise. It. Was. Stunning. If you know you want a specific feel or feature, like a full moon, plan it out!
Use a Tripod! Since you will begin shooting right before the sun comes up, it would be ideal to use a tripod so that you can use a lower shutter speed in the darker conditions. Also if you use a tripod set up, everyone can be in the hot springs and you can use a remote instead of making a poor soul stand out in the cold to get the shots.
Just be sure to be aware of your surroundings if other people are nearby, as tripods are definitely intimidating if someone is planning to soak nude nearby.
HOT SPRING OBSESSED?
Other Hot Springs nearby: Whitmore Hot Springs, Crab Cooker Hot springs
Save for Later and Share! Let me know if you have been or plan to go in the comments below!