Also known as Pulky’s Pool, Hilltop hot springs is a man made cement tub located along an elevated plateau in the Long Caldera Valley near Mammoth Lakes, California. It’s a very popular spot because it features gorgeous views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
In this guide, we’re going to show you everything you need to know about visiting Hilltop hot springs.
Our Hilltop Experience
We visited Hilltop as part of a west coast road trip in November 2021. During this trip, we visited several hot springs in northern California. We drove between many 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 Hilltop.
What Is Hilltop Hot Springs?
- Location: About 15 miles east of Mammoth Lakes
- Parking: Google maps
- Price: Free
- Open: Year round
- Clothing: Optional
- Features: One man made tub
- Services: None
- Temperature: 95°-110˚F
Hilltop hot springs is a lone cement tub near Mammoth Lakes that has been man made. It showcases 360 degree panoramic vistas of the surrounding meadows and snow capped Sierra Nevadas.
The water in this hot spring ranges from 95°-110˚F. However, the nearby geothermal mineral spring that feds Hilltop is sometimes well over 130˚F so this tub can be quite warm.
It’s common to see a large amount of steam coming from the ground near this natural water source. The ground in this area is extremely fragile so its best to stay on the well beaten path.
Next to the tub, you will find two main water pipes leading the warm water directly into the cement tub. It has been fitted with a valve so visitors can control the temperature of the water inside the pool.
When the valve is left open, the warm water can freely flow into the hot spring tub. But when the valve is closed, the hot water is blocked from entering the pool so you can lower the temperature of the water.
You should always check the water temperature with your toe before entering because if the valve has been left open, the water will be extremely hot and could burn you.
At this hot spring, clothing is optional. If nudity makes you uncomfortable, you may want to skip this one.
Hilltop Hot Springs Directions
Hilltop Hot Springs is about 15 miles east of Mammoth Lakes and about 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 are 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 3.0 miles.
- After you pass two cattle grates, take the first left turn and follow an unmarked dirt road about 0.2 miles to a primitive parking lot. From here, you will walk a 0.25 mile trail to the spring.
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: How to find and book cheap flights
Benton Crossing Road is a dirt road with many potholes. 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 Hilltop Hot Springs 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 have parked, there’s a short 0.25 mile walk to reach the hot springs.
Travel Tip: If you are worried about your vehicle, you could leave your vehicle parked on the side of Benton Crossings Road and walk the last half a mile to the hot springs.
The Solo Tub
There is no entrance free for soaking at Hilltop and it’s completely free to visit. This tub is about three feet deep and would fit about six people squeezed together.
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 epic mountainous views.
When we visited, there was no one in the hot spring and we had it completely to ourselves. The water was very hot and we had to leave the valve closed for a short time before we could get in. But since the pool is only a few feet wide, it took no time for the water to cool.
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 Hilltop
Sunrise in late spring or early fall is the best time to visit Hilltop 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 Hilltop 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 Hilltop 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
- Best views in the Mammoth Lakes area
- Hot springs have numerous wellness benefits
- Relatively easy to access
- 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 might be extremely hot
- The dirt road can be difficult to drive down depending on vehicle
- Limited services nearby
Where To Stay Nearby
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.
If you aren’t camping, the best place to find accommodation when visiting Hilltop 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.
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
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 Hilltop 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.
We were lucky and had this pool completely to ourselves. But you might need to be quick with your photos if it’s busy.
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
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.
Is Hilltop hot springs worth it?
Yes, we think Hilltop is worth it because this pool offers the best views in the entire Mammoth Lakes region. It’s also very secluded and warm which makes for the perfect combination. If you plan to visit, you should check out Travertine, Crab Cooker and Wild Willy’s nearby.
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 Hilltop to your itinerary.
Further Reading: How to drive the Pacific Coast Highway
More From Mammoth Lakes
- Where to find the best Northern California Hot Springs
- How to find Crab Cooker Hot Spring
- Tips for visiting Wild Willy’s in Mammoth Lakes
- Complete guide to visiting Travertine Hot Springs
- The 10 best hotels in Mammoth Lakes California
- The perfect 1 to 3 day Yosemite Itinerary
- Where to stay in Yosemite national park
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 Hilltop Hot Springs helps with planning your visit to this beautiful area!
Please let us know if you have any questions about Hilltop hot springs or any northern California hot springs in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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Mark and Kristen Morgan are travel, hiking and photography experts. Over the last 6 years traveling full time, they have explored more than 40 countries and 30 US states.
Where Are Those Morgans has been featured in USA Today, Gestalten, Get Your Guide, CityPASS and Condé Nast Traveler along with various other publications. Read more about us.