How To Visit Crab Cooker Hot Springs In Mammoth Lakes


Aerial view of woman sitting on the edge of crab cooker

Crab Cooker hot spring is a man made cement tub with water piped into it from a nearby geothermal mineral spring. This is an extremely popular hot spring located on BLM land near Mammoth Lakes in California. It features stunning views of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range.

In this guide, we’re going to show you everything you need to know about visiting Crab Cooker hot springs.

Our Crab Cooker Experience

Woman enjoying a hot spring pool in mammoth lakes california
Kristen sitting on the side of a hot spring

We visited Crab Cooker as part of a west coast road trip in November 2021. During this trip, we visited many hot springs in northern California. We drove between the hot springs in our bath robes and it’s been one of our favorite travel memories to date. Read more about us.

Northern California is filled with hot springs and you can visit several in one day if you plan well. This guide is filled with our best tips for making the most of Crab Cooker.

What Is Crab Cooker Hot Springs?

  • Location: About 15 miles east of Mammoth Lakes
  • ParkingGoogle maps
  • Price: Free
  • Open: Year round
  • Clothing: Optional
  • Features: One man made tub
  • Services: None
  • Temperature: 95°-110˚F (but usually on the hotter side)

If the name didn’t give you a hint, Crab Cooker is an extremely hot mineral spring. It’s a very popular spot because it offers a stunning backdrop of the Sierra Nevadas.

The water temperature ranges from 95°-110˚F. However, the source that feds the spring is well over 150˚F and this tub typically tends to be on the hotter side.

A few feet away from the hot spring, there is a cement well which releases large amounts of steam. This is where the water is piped into the tub and it’s extremely hot so use caution near the well.

Crab Cooker is fitted with a valve to control the temperature of the water inside the tub. If the valve is left open for too long, the water will be extremely hot and you won’t be able get in. Prior to getting into the tub, we recommend you dip your toe to test the water.

This hot spring is clothing is optional. During our visit, there were both nude and clothed bathers. If nudity makes you uncomfortable, you may want to skip this one.

Travel Tip: The water at Crab Cooker has been known to be over 150˚F (66˚C) so be extremely careful when entering the tub.

How To Get To Crab Cooker Hot Springs

Water in hot spring pool from above showcasing a rock bottom
The bottom view of Crab Cooker hot spring in California

Crab Cooker hot springs is about 15 miles east of Mammoth Lakes and 40 miles north of Bishop. Mammoth Yosemite Airport is a very small airport nearby but we recommend a bigger hub.

For the sake of this guide, we’re going to assume you are coming from nearby Mammoth Lakes or Bishop, California for these driving directions.

  • From Mammoth lakes follow US-395 S for about 13 miles and turn left onto Benton Crossing Rd.
  • From Bishop follow US-395 N for about 35 miles and turn right onto Benton Crossing Rd.
  • Benton Crossing Road has a green church on the corner. Once you make the turn, follow this dirt road for about 2.5 miles.
  • Before the first cattle grate, take the first left turn and follow an unmarked dirt road for about another 1.0 mile. You will reach the parking lot at the end of this road.

Airports such as Las Vegas (5 hours), Los Angeles (4 hour 40 minutes) or San Francisco (5 hours) would be a great option as part of a longer road trip. We drove to Las Vegas after visiting Mammoth Lakes.

Further Reading: Best things to do on the Las Vegas Strip

Navigating The Roads

Woman sitting on the edge of crab cooker hot spring near Mammoth Lakes in California
Kristen sitting on the edge of Crab Cooker

Benton Crossing Road is a dirt road with many potholes. The unnamed road where you make the last left turn is also another rough unpaved road. It’s by far the worst road in the area and the potholes are very deep.

We made it in our Ford Escape SUV, but we saw a few sedans struggling to make it to the parking lot. If you’re renting a car, keep in mind some rental car policies have restrictions against driving on dirt roads.

Parking at Crab Cooker hot spring is free. There are many parking spaces available with ample room for campervans and RVs if you can make it down the dirt road. There are no toilets or services in the parking lot. After you parked, there’s a 0.2 mile walk down a rutted track to reach the hot spring.

Travel Tip: If you’re worried about your vehicle, another way to reach Crab Cooker is to drive to Shepard hot springs (parking lot located here) and walk about 0.3 miles southeast along a footpath.

The Solo Tub

Crab cooker hot spring drone shot from above
The empty tub at Crab Cooker with the mountains in the distance

There is no entrance free for soaking at Crab Cooker and it’s completely free to visit. This tub will fit about 5-7 adults comfortably and it’s about two feet deep.

But there is only one hot spring pool. However, we think this is one of the best reasons to visit because it’s completely secluded with one single tub.

When we first arrived, there was a small group of people in the hot tub. We waited about 15 minutes for the group to leave so we could experience this tub alone.

Once it was our turn to soak, the water was extremely hot because the valve was left open. We had to close the valve and wait a few minutes for the pool to cool down before we could get into the water.

Travel Tip: After you soak, leave the valve about 1/4 open so the group behind you can comfortably use the tub. If you close the valve completely, the water will be become cold and if you leave the valve wide open, it will be too hot.

Best Time To Visit Crab Cooker

Perspective photo of a tub filled with water and the Sierra Nevada mountain range
Close up side profile of Crab Cooker Hot Spring

Sunrise in late spring or early fall is the best time to visit Crab Cooker because this time of year has the most comfortable weather conditions for soaking. This hot spring is open all year, but visiting in the summer and winter can bring additional challenges.

If you visit in summer, the hot springs will be very busy. The mosquitos are also quite bad this time of year and the air temperatures will be warm which might make it difficult to fully enjoy a soak.

If you visit in winter, the roads may become impassable. US-395 is well maintained in the winter, but Benton Crossing Road is not maintained during the winter months. Be sure to check weather conditions and have the appropriate vehicle if you plan to visit during the snow season.

Because Crab Cooker hot springs is easily accessible, it can be extremely crowded. For the best experience, you want to plan your trip when the crowds are minimal. We think sunrise is a better time to visit compared to sunset because there will be fewer crowds and you can watch the sun rise over the mountains.

Travel Tip: Try to visit midweek rather than during a weekend because there will be smaller crowds.

Pros and Cons

We certainly recommend you add Crab Cooker hot springs to your California itinerary, but here are a few pros and cons to help sway your decision:


  • It’s completely free to visit
  • Beautiful scenic views
  • Hot springs have numerous wellness benefits
  • Crab Cooker is relatively easy to access (minus the last dirt road)
  • Pet friendly (but not allowed in pools)
  • Free camping nearby


  • Only one pool so you may not fit
  • Soaking for long periods may cause dehydration
  • This pool can be extremely hot
  • The dirt road may be impassable
  • Limited services nearby

Where To Stay Nearby

Crab cooker hot spring with woman sitting on edge of pool
Kristen enjoying the views from Crab Cooker

The land surrounding the Mammoth hot springs area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management or National Forest Service. Dispersed camping is allowed in the certain areas including the parking lot.

There are no services and only one drop toilet in the nearby Wild Willy’s parking lot. These are public lands and you’re expected to pack out all waste. Be sure to pay attention to the signs indicating where camping is allowed.

Do not camp in the meadows to help protect the environment and maintain the wild setting for others. The closest developed camp option is Brown’s Owens River Campground. You can also check out the  Dyrt PRO for more information and reviews from previous campers around this area.

Hotel Options

If you aren’t camping, the best place to find accommodation when visiting Crab Cooker hot springs is Mammoth Lakes. This is a beautiful ski resort town about 15 miles from the hot springs. The town is filled with traditional Alpine Lodges and we have stayed in the town ourselves several times now.

We recommend staying in Mammoth Lakes if you are driving to Yosemite National Park from Las Vegas, Death Valley or anywhere else Southeast of the park.

Here are top rated hotels in Mammoth Lakes:

Want more in depth hotel options?

Read our comprehensive guide on the 10 best hotels in Mammoth Lakes CA on our hotels site, Best Hotels Anywhere.

Tips For Visiting

Drone shot of crab cooker hot spring
Our drone shot of Crab Cooker Hot Spring

It’s important every visitor practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace so everyone else can enjoy this amazing hot spring. Here are a few important things to consider before your trip:

  • Pack any trash out. It’s our responsibility to keep these natural places beautiful and you should always leave the place better than you found it.
  • Be respectful of others. People visit hot springs to reduce stress and relax. This is not the place to play loud music or host a party.
  • Sharing is caring. Be considerate of others and invite them to soak if there is room. Just because you arrive first does not mean you should hog the hot springs for hours.
  • Avoid bath products. Natural hot springs do not drain and bath products can be harmful because they disrupt the balance of minerals.
  • Leave the valve 1/4 open when you leave. If you leave the valve completely open, the water will become so hot the group after you won’t be able to use the tub.
  • Arrive Early. Try to visit early in the day to maximize your chance of enjoying this beautiful place to yourself.
  • Dogs are allowed at Crab Cooker hot springs, but must be kept on a leash at all times. Please pick up after your pet and be considerate of other people in the area.

Need a campground in Northern California? Take advantage of our exclusive 30 day free trial of The Dyrt PRO to find a spot nearby or snag a reservation at sold out campgrounds with Dyrt Alerts.

Essentials For Your Visit

Aerial photo of crab cooker hot spring
Drone shot of Kristen standing on the edge of Crab Cooker

You won’t need much but here are a few essentials for your visit:

  • Swimsuit – If you don’t want to bathe in your birthday suit, be sure to bring a bathing suit. The sulfur springs might stain clothing so wear a darker color.
  • Wallaroo Hat – This area sits at a high elevation and the sun will be strong, you may want a hat to help protect you from the UV rays.
  • Bath Robe – We used robes when we visited and everyone loved them. For us, this was a necessity because it kept us warm and helped to protect us from the wind.
  • Towels – A big fluffy towel is just what you need for the ultimate spa experience.
  • Trash bag – Be sure to carry out all trash you make including dog poop. Unfortunately, we found trash when we visited and carried it out with us.
  • Water and beer – It’s okay to drink alcohol in the hot springs, but remember to also drink water so you don’t get dehydrated.

Keep in mind you can wear whatever you want when visiting this hot spring because clothing is optional and there may be nude bathers. If nude bathers make you uncomfortable or you are visiting with kids, you may want to consider skipping this area.

In Conclusion

Is Crab Cooker hot springs worth it?

Yes, we think Crab Cooker is worth it because this hot spring is very different compared to others in the region. This pool is very secluded unlike other popular springs nearby including Travertine, Hilltop and Wild Willy’s. It’s also extremely warm which makes for a great experience, especially in colder months.

However, there is only room for a few people so you might have to wait your turn. Most people visit this hot spring after hiking in Yosemite National Park or exploring Death Valley. If you’re driving US-395 as part of a California road trip, we highly recommend adding Crab Cooker to your itinerary.

More From Mammoth Lakes

Want more California content? Head to our California Travel Guides to explore National Parks, popular road trips and things to do in major cities of the sunshine state.

We hope this guide to Crab Cooker Hot Springs helps with planning your visit to this beautiful area!

Please let us know if you have any questions about Crab Cooker hot springs in Mammoth or any northern California hot springs in the comments below.

Happy Soaking,

Mark and Kristen

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