Home » 2017 4WD Eastern Sierra and Death Valley Adventure

Long Valley Primitive Hot Springs, CA

Saturday, September 16, 2017 - 3:30pm by Lolo
65 miles and 2 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


Lovely Long ValleyLovely Long ValleyWe were having so much fun driving the less-traveled dirt roads that rather than take 270 back to 395 from Bodie, we continued on Cottonwood Canyon Road, which brought us to the northern shore of Mono Lake, which lovely views of our approach along the way. From there, we got back on 395 and headed south to the Long Valley Primitive Hot Springs area, just south of Mammoth Lakes - another favorite we had discovered a few months back.

Most of the land in the Long Valley is owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and the BLM. As a result, it has fortunately not been commercially developed, as so many other hot springs in California. While the LADWP allows day use, the BLM land has no restrictions on overnight camping.

So we turned left (east) onto Benton Crossing Road in search of the perfect place to camp. Once again, we had our Falcon Guide, “Touring Hot Springs California and Nevada,” which gives a very detailed description of the location of about a dozen hot springs in the area.

Boardwalk to Wild Willy's PoolBoardwalk to Wild Willy's PoolWe headed first to the “Crab Cooker,” our favorite from a previous trip. It’s a bit tougher to reach in that the roads to it are unpaved and rougher, but that made it all the more likely to be unpopulated. However, when we got there, there were already some people near it - not in, just near. Not sure if they were arriving or departing, we walked down the hill to it to have a look. We soon discovered that the reason no one was in it was that it was cool. After poking around, we discovered that there was debris in the pipe connecting the pool with its hot water source, making it a rather ineffective “cooker.” That’s the challenge with natural hot springs - their status is always changing.

It didn’t make sense to camp near a cool pool, so we headed back to the Crowley Hot Spring area (also known as Wild Willy’s), where we knew there were hot pools and places to camp nearby. Just before the parking lot for Wild Willy’s, we took a right turn on a dirt road along which camping was allowed. We selected an empty pull-out with a path leading back towards the pools. Perfect.

Wild HerbieWild HerbieSince our home for the night was the back of the 4Runner, we didn’t have much setup to do other than to get our thermorests and sleeping bags out of storage box on top and lay them on the platform in the back of the truck. Herb did a bit more fussing about, as he was very anxious to make this a pleasant experience so that I would repeat it. It was really quite endearing.

So, some new toys came out. First he set up a pop-up shower tent, which doubled as a privacy booth to get dressed and take care of nature’s needs. It looked a bit like a phone booth. Herb also had bought a nemo helio, which is a shower device powered by a foot pump. He looked quite satisfied, having provided me with all the comforts of home.

Domestic chores complete, we donned our bathing suits and followed the path to the pools. There are actually two pools in this area to choose from. One is built of concrete and has a wooden deck, about 9 by 12 feet and 3 feet deep, surrounding it. The other is a smaller and more primitive one with a mud bottom. As expected, they were both already occupied.

The primitive one was a bit warmer, so we joined a group of people, all of whom were about one third our age, in that one. I felt a bit old, but since Herb and I are still quite physically active, we were able to share some of our own tales of adventure in the Sierra.

Our campsite in Long ValleyOur campsite in Long ValleyIt was a bit chilly getting out of the pool, as the air temperature was now in the 40s. We scurried back to our campsite, where I proceeded to use my privacy phone booth to put on most of the clothing that I had packed. Once warm and cozy again, we sat in our beach chairs sipping wine and gazing out at what was a truly dramatic setting. Herb was feeling pretty smug right now about the experience he was providing me.

The next morning before departing we took another quick soak in the pool before continuing on our journey, which would take us next to Bishop, with the eventual goal of Death Valley..


All the comforts of homeAll the comforts of homeThe Long Valley Primitive Hot Springs area, just east of Highway 395 a few miles south of Mammoth Lakes, contains one of the best collections of primitive, unspoiled hot springs in California.

Most of the land in the valley is owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and the BLM. While the LADWP allows daytime use, the BLM areas also allow camping. LADWP land is marked with large white signs.

The valley is a hotbed of constant seismic and volcanic activity, created by an eruption about 760,000 years ago, in which the volcano collapsed, forming a massive caldera, which is now the valley. The area is still volcanically active, and recent renewed earthquake activity has caused concern that another eruption is in the making.

Benton Crossing Road, which is paved, is the main access road to the springs. From this road, dirt roads of varying quality (some graded and some quite rough) lead to the springs. Some of the more popular springs include:

  • Crowley Hot Spring (Wild Willy’s)
  • Hilltop Hot Spring (Pulky’s Pool)
  • Alkali Lake Hot Spring
  • The Crab Cooker
  • Shepherd Hot Spring

Long Valley Primitive Hot Springs location map in "high definition"

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