As you might guess from the name, Hilltop hot springs sits along an elevated plateau in the Long Caldera Valley right on the brow of a hill. Due to this prime elevated position, the gorgeous views from Hilltop make it one of the best hot spring landscapes in the Mammoth Lakes area.
So what is Hilltop hot springs and why should you visit?
This is exactly what we will discuss in this comprehensive guide to Hilltop hot springs.
We will explain:
- What you can expect at Hilltop
- The best season and time of day to visit
- Driving directions
- Everything you need to know about the hot springs
- Hot spring etiquette tips
- What you should consider bringing for your visit
Let’s explore Hilltop hot springs in Northern California!
Don’t miss other popular guides for the area:
- 20 Best Northern California Hot Springs
- Complete Guide To Visiting Travertine Hot Springs
- Yosemite Itinerary: Ultimate First Time Visitor Guide (1, 2 & 3 Day Itinerary)
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What Is Hilltop Hot Springs?
Hilltop hot springs, also known as Pulky’s Pool, is a man-made cement tub offering stunning 360 degree panoramic vistas of the surrounding meadows and the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Warm water is piped into the man-made tub from a nearby geothermal mineral spring which often surfaces from the ground at a scalding temperature of 130°F.
It is common to see plenty of steam coming from the ground near this natural water source. The ground can also be extremely fragile so it is best to stay on the well beaten path.
There are two main water pipes leading the warm water directly into the cement tub. Hilltop has also been fitted with a valve so visitors can control the temperature of the water inside the pool.
When the valve is left open, this will allow the warm water to freely flow into the hot spring pool. But when the valve is closed, this will block the hot water from entering the pool so you can lower the temperature of the water until you are comfortable.
The best advice we can give you is to check the water with your toe before entering. If the valve has been left open, the water will be extremely hot and could burn you.
After your soak, please shut the valve for any visitors who enter the hot spring after your visit.
Is Hilltop Hot Spring Clothing Optional?
Yes, Hilltop hot spring is clothing optional. When we visited, there were both clothed and nude bathers. If nudity makes you uncomfortable, you may want to skip this hot spring.
Why Visit Hilltop Hot Springs?
We may go out a limb and say Hilltop hot springs is our favorite pool in the Mammoth Lakes area because of the stunning view. But this instagram worthy view is the exact reason this pool can be extremely busy.
But if you can time it right and you manage to have this pool all to yourself, it is pure magic.
Can You Swim At Hilltop Hot Springs?
Yes, you can swim at Hilltop hot springs. The primitive hot spring pool is only about three feet deep so consider your visit more of a soak rather than a swim.
Best Time To Visit Hilltop Hot Springs
The best time to visit Hilltop is at sunrise during late spring or early fall. This time of year has ideal weather conditions with early morning being the best chance of having the hot springs all to yourself.
Best Season To Visit
Hilltop hot spring is open all year, but the best time to visit is in the late spring or early fall. The weather during these two seasons is perfect for soaking without being too hot or cold.
If you chose to visit during the summer, you run the chance of sharing the hot springs with many other people. The warm temperature of a summer day may also be too uncomfortable to fully enjoy a soak.
If you chose to visit during the winter, the roads may be completely impassable. The US-395 is well maintained in the winter, but the dirt road (Benton Crossing Road) is not maintained in winter.
Be sure to check weather conditions and bring the appropriate vehicle if you plan to visit during the winter months.
Best Time Of Day To Visit
Sunrise is without a doubt the best time to visit Hilltop hot springs while sunset will be the worst time to visit because of the crowds. Try to arrive just before sunrise so you can enjoy a soak while you watch the sun peak over the mountains in the morning.
Because Hilltop hot springs is easily accessible, it can become extremely crowded. For the best experience, you want to try to visit when the crowds are minimal.
We would recommend you also try to visit midweek rather than during the weekend. The crowds will be much smaller and make for a more enjoyable visit during the middle of the week.
Unfortunately, the secret is out about these hot springs and it can be very rare to get these pools to yourself.
Hilltop Hot Spring Statistics
- Location: About 12 miles east of Mammoth Lakes (off Benton Crossing Road)
- Parking: Google Maps Location
- Price: Free
- Open: Year-round
- Clothing: Optional
- Features: One spring
- Services: None
- Temperature: 100˚ to 110˚F (but usually on the hotter side)
Where Is Hilltop Hot Springs?
Hilltop hot springs is about 12 miles east of Mammoth Lakes and about 40 miles north of Bishop. Mammoth Yosemite Airport is a very small airport nearby but we would recommend a bigger hub.
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 (about 12 miles) or from Bishop follow US-395 N (about 30 miles).
- If coming from Mammoth Lakes, turn left onto Benton Crossing Rd. If coming from Mammoth Lakes, turn right onto Benton Crossing Rd.
- Benton Crossing Road will be the road with the green church. You will make a turn onto a dirt road. Follow this dirt road for about 2.5 miles.
- After the first cattle grate, take the first left turn and follow an unsigned dirt road for another 0.2 miles. You will reach the parking lot for Hilltop at the end of this road.
A Few Words About The Unpaved Road
Benton Crossing Road is a dirt road with many potholes. But the unsigned road (where you make the last left turn) is another rough unpaved road.
We made it in our Ford Escape SUV, but we saw some sedans struggling to make it to the parking lot. If you are renting a car, keep in mind some rental car policies have restrictions against driving on dirt roads.
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.
Parking At Hilltop Hot Springs
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 is a short 0.2 mile walk to reach the hot springs.
How Many Pools Does Hilltop Have?
Hilltop hot springs consists of one single pool. In our opinion, this is one of the best reasons to visit Hilltop because it is very secluded from the other hot springs in the area.
The Pool Explained
As we have said early in this post, be sure to try the temperature before heading straight into this hot spring. When we first arrived, the water was boiling and we had to leave the valve closed for a short time before we could get in.
The pool is only a few feet wide so it takes no time at all for the temperature to cool. We estimate the cement pool is about three feet deep and would fit about six people squeezed together.
Pros and Cons To Visiting
We would certainly recommend you add Hilltop hot springs to your California itinerary, but there are a few pros and cons to consider before you visit.
- The best views in the Mammoth Lakes hot spring area
- Soaking in the pool is extremely relaxing
- The single pool is a highlight
- Relatively easy to access
- Pool may be crowded and busy
- Soaking for long periods may cause dehydration
- The pool might be extremely hot
- The dirt road can be difficult to drive down depending on vehicle
Tips For Visiting This Popular Area
- Pack any trash out, even if the trash is not yours. It it our responsibility to keep these natural places beautiful. Always try to leave these beautiful springs better than you found it.
- Be respectful of others. People visit hot springs to reduce stress and relax. This is not the place play loud music or host a party.
- Sharing is caring. Be considerate of others and invite them in the pool with you if there is room. Just because you arrive first does not mean you should hog the hot spring for hours.
- Avoid bath products. Keep in mind natural hot springs do not drain. Bath products can be harmful to the hot springs because they disrupt the balance of the minerals.
Our Top Tip For Visiting Hilltop Hot Springs:
Arrive Early. While this is a natural place of beauty, it can become very crowded. We recommend you try to arrive as early as possible to maximize your chance of enjoying this beautiful place to yourself.
We had the pool for only a few minutes before another group joined so if you want some nice photos, you will have to be quick!
What Should You Bring For Your Visit?
You won’t need much when visiting Hilltop but consider some of these essentials for your visit:
- Swimsuit – If you don’t want to bathe in your birthday suit, be sure to bring a swimsuit.
- Wallaroo Hat – This area sits at a higher elevation and the sun will be strong, you may want a hat to help protect you from the UV rays.
- Robe – A robe will help to keep you warm as well as protect you from the wind before and after your soak.
- Towels – You will want something to dry off with after you soak so bring a big fluffy towel for the ultimate spa experience.
- Trash Bag – Be sure to carry out everything you carry in.
- Water, Beer and / or Snacks – These are definite essentials for a memorable soak, but please pack out all trash!
Where Should You Stay When Visiting Hilltop?
The best place to find accomodation when visiting Hilltop hot springs is Mammoth Lakes.
Mammoth Lakes 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 would 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 the best hotels by guest rating, price and location in Mammoth Lakes:
- Alpenhof Lodge – Low Budget: (8.5 / 10)
- Innsbruck Lodge – Mid-range Budget: (8.5 / 10)
- Village Lodge – Mid-range Budget: (8.7 / 10)
- Westin Monache Resort – Luxury: (8.7 / 10)
Hilltop Hot Spring FAQ’s
Let’s take a look at some frequently asked questions regarding Hilltop hot springs.
What Should You Wear For Your Visit?
You can wear whatever you want when visiting Hilltop hot springs. Please keep in mind clothing is optional so there may be both nude and clothed bathers.
If nude bathers will make you uncomfortable, you may want to consider skipping this area.
Can You Camp At Hilltop Hot Springs?
No, you can not camp at Hilltop hot springs. The land is owned by the Los Angeles Water and Power Company which forbids camping.
However, camping is permitted on nearby public land. Check out the Dyrt PRO for more information and reviews from previous campers at this location.
How Warm Is The Water At Hilltop?
The water at Hilltop hot spring ranges from 95˚ to 110˚F. However, the source which feds Hilltop is sometimes well over 130˚F so this tub typically tends to be on the warmer side.
Are Dogs Allowed At Hilltop Hot Spring?
Yes, 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 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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