Hot Creek Geological Site Near Mammoth Lakes, CA

In California, located approximately 8 miles southeast of Mammoth Lakes, off Hot Creek Hatchery Road, the Hot Creek Geological Site offers boiling hot springs, geothermal features, and steam rising from underneath volcanic rocks. It was the first time my two brothers and I visited this location, which is supposedly known as “Mini Yellowstone.” This place offers bubbling hot creek, with temperatures ranging from warm to scalding hot, with multiple signs to stay 10 feet away from the water. It was amazing to see steam emerging from volcanic rocks as well as from the blue-green water. We also caught some snow in the background of our visit during late March.

Getting There:
Expect to drive on gravel to get to the site as the paved road ends for a bit. It was a fun bumpy ride in our rental SUV. If you’re coming from Bishop, CA, expect to go from ~4000 feet elevation up to ~7000 elevation. If you’re like me and prone to altitude sickness, beware as you might start to feel a bit lightheaded. In my case, taking altitude acclimation medicine the day before seemed to help.  

Be careful walking down the paved trail as there was some melting snow, which caused some muddy areas.

What to Expect: 
This tip comes from my brother Sean, who said, “You’ll smell a hint of sulfur but it’s bearable and you’ll get used to it. It smells like hard-boiled eggs.” 

While the trek down to the hot creek is all downhill, be prepared for a nice workout on the way up. I recorded my walk back up to the parking lot and it was a short 0.16 MI, around 9 minutes and 91 feet of elevation. Due to the high elevation of the area at 6,980, we were taking breaks while walking up as we had to catch our breath. 

6,980 ft elevation at this location

Tiny blue “mini Yellowstone” hot spring in the back. Another location is in Lassen National Park.

Bubbling hot spring behind us.

Expect to see fumaroles and mud pots, tied to volcanic activity and hydrothermal processes. Interpretive signs along the trails offer educational information about the area's geology, ecology, and cultural history. See below as I transcribed one of the signs:

Living with the Extremes: 
Like the landscape and the climate, plants that you find when you explore the Convict Lake area vary widely. The region brings together plants common to the Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin.

From tall pines to compact alpine cushion plants scarcely an inch tall, from rich flower-filled meadows to dry slopes of hardy sagebrush scrub, all plant life has adapted to live in extreme conditions.

Exposure to wind, sun, and precipitation differ from one elevation to another, and soils vary from the rich creekside to nutrient-poor rocky mountainsides. Rain and snow may not come for months and plants need to adapt to extreme cold, fierce winds, and long droughts. Unlike some plants of this region, which have very specific water and soil reps, wax currant is widespread. It grows into alpine elevations and its berries are eaten by bears, coyotes, birds, and small mammals. A waxy coating on the leaves helps plants retain moister. - Thriving on poor soil and sprawling low on the ground, the evening primrose opens at night and closes in the mid-day heat. Large hawkmoths pollinate the flower, which grows in the sagebrush scrub. - Small leaves covered with tiny hairs keep Great Basin sagebrush from losing moisture in dry and windy conditions. 


There was a warning to make sure that the New Zealand Mudsnail doesn’t make its way into the ecosystem and ruin it all. These snails reproduce like crazy and pose a threat to the environment.

 “A single snail could result in the production of more than 40 million snails in one year,” according to the sign posted. “They outcompete and replace native invertebrates that are the preferred foods of fish. They can cause drastic, harmful changes in the native plant and animal food web of streams and lakes.” 

What You Can Do to Prevent Mudsnails:
  • If you wade, freeze waders and other gear overnight (at least 6 hours). 
  • Have extra waders and boots that are used only in infested waters. Store them separately. 
  • After leaving the water, inspect waders, boots, float tubes, boats/trailers-any gear used in the water. Remove visible snails with a stiff brush and follow with rinsing. If possible, freeze or completely dry out any wet gear. 
  • Never transport live fish or other aquatic animals or plants from one water to another.

Conservation efforts are in place to preserve Hot Creek's ecological and geological significance. Visitors are encouraged to practice responsible stewardship by respecting wildlife habitats and refraining from littering.

Hot Creek Geological Site Travel Tips:

While the site is accessible year-round, certain areas may be closed during winter due to snowfall. Visitors are advised to exercise caution when exploring Hot Creek Geological Site, as the geothermal features can be hazardous. It is essential to stay on marked trails, obey posted warnings, and refrain from entering the water, as hot springs can reach scalding temperatures.

  • Plan Ahead: Research the site's location, operating hours, and any seasonal closures before your visit. Check weather forecasts, especially during winter months, as certain areas may be inaccessible due to snow.
  • Dress Appropriately: Wear sturdy hiking shoes and comfortable clothing suitable for outdoor exploration. Layers are recommended, as temperatures can vary throughout the day.
  • Stay on Marked Trails: Stick to designated paths and obey posted signs and warnings. The terrain can be uneven, and venturing off-trail can be dangerous.
  • Exercise Caution: Be mindful of the geothermal features, which can pose hazards such as hot springs and unstable ground. Keep a safe distance from these areas and refrain from touching or entering the water.
  • Pack Essentials: Bring plenty of water to stay hydrated, especially during warmer months. Sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses are also recommended to protect against sun exposure.
  • Respect Wildlife: Keep a respectful distance from wildlife and refrain from feeding or approaching animals. Remember that you are a visitor in their natural habitat.
  • Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack out all trash and leave no trace of your visit. Help preserve the site's natural beauty by leaving it as you found it.
  • Be Prepared for Altitude: Mammoth Lakes sits at a high altitude, so visitors may experience symptoms of altitude sickness. Take it easy, stay hydrated, and be mindful of your body's signals.
  • Check for Updates: Before heading out, check for any updates or advisories regarding road conditions, closures, or special events at Hot Creek Geological Site.
  • Enjoy Responsibly: Take time to appreciate the stunning scenery and geological wonders of Hot Creek, but do so responsibly. Respect the environment and fellow visitors to ensure an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Overall, this was a great visit and I was amazed to see water bubbling, a first for me seeing this out in the wild, in nature. I highly recommend this location off of Highway 395 as it’s family-friendly and we saw people of all ages checking out the bubbling hot creek. 

Location address: Hot Creek Hatchery Rd, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546

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