Nestled in the Long Valley Caldera, just a short drive from Mammoth Lakes, is the idyllically-located Hilltop Hot Springs, also known as Pulkey’s Pool. This scenic, natural hot spring is one of the many hidden treasures of its kind begging to be soaked in!
Offering 360-degree panoramic views of the surrounding meadows and Sierra Mountains, Hilltop Hot Springs provides the perfect location for an evening soak while you watch the sunset behind the distant mountains.
While it’s no longer the local secret it once was, it can be a challenge to find! We’ve put together this guide to visiting Hilltop Hot Springs to provide you with everything you need to know to have a safe and enjoyable visit.
Hilltop Hot Spring is just one of the many natural hot springs in the area! Open our comprehensive guide to ALL of the Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs in a new tab to make sure you don’t miss any.
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Hilltop Hot Springs Overview
We visited every hot spring in the Mammoth Lakes region and Hilltop Hot Springs was our favorite for a sunset dip. The isolated location means a better chance of having it to yourself, and the higher elevation allows the sun to linger long enough to bathe in golden light before it hides behind the Sierras.
“Pulkey’s Pool” is a man-made stone tub fed by a system of pipes from the steamy creek nearby. If it is too hot or cold, you are able to adjust the temperature by valve to ensure it’s just right for you!
While less natural in appearance than some of the other Mammoth hot springs, the stone pool provides a more comfortable base to sit in than the mud and gravel you will find in the others. The short walk to the hot spring from the parking lot also creates a feeling of seclusion at the pool, unlike those that are located roadside.
When we arrived just before sunset on a weekday evening in July, we had the pool to ourselves for about 15 minutes before two other solo visitors joined us. Shortly after, another couple arrived. However, all six of us fit comfortably in the pool! Speaking of, be prepared to see nudity here; the spring is “clothing optional” and many elect to enjoy the water in their birthday suits.
The pool was occupied by different people that came and went until 11:30pm. At this point we went back for a soak under the moonlight, which was truly magical and well worth it! If you have a full moon, you’ll have the benefit of being able to walk to the spring without a flashlight and enjoy a night soak in lunar light. On moonless nights, you’ll be treated to spectacular starry skies instead!
Hilltop Hot Springs Facts
Location of Hilltop Hot Springs: Off Benton Crossing Road, about 10.6 miles east of Mammoth Lakes, California
Coordinates for Hilltop Hot Springs: 37°39’50.3″N 118°47’21.8″W (open in Google Maps here)
Parking coordinates: 37°39’37.4″N 118°47’19.9″W (open in Google Maps here)
Elevation: 6,890 ft (2,100 m)
Size: Fits 6-8 people
Temperature: Variable, controlled by a valve (100-110°F / 38-43°c)
Hiking distance: 0.25 miles
Road Access: Any vehicle
How to Get to Hilltop Hot Springs (Pulkey’s Pool)
While many will claim that the hot springs near Mammoth Lakes are a local secret, you can find them all on Google Maps. In other words, the secret is definitely out, though they still take a little work to find and get to. For those who make the effort, a magical reward is waiting!
The majority of the drive will be on main roads, but the last part of the drive to the springs is on a bumpy, dirt road. Four-wheel drive and high clearance are not required, but you’ll want to take it slow. Luckily, it’s only 0.2 miles of this and we managed it in our massive Sprinter van without an issue!
Map of Hilltop Hot Springs
The map below shows the exact location of Hilltop Hot Springs parking and the hot spring itself. Click here or on the map below to open an interactive Google Map in a new tab. You’ll find driving directions from Mammoth Lakes and Bishop, as well as walking directions from the parking lot to the hot spring.
Directions to Hilltop Hot Springs
Hilltop Hot Springs are located along a dirt road off of Benton Crossing. GPS: 37°39’50.3″N 118°47’21.8″W
- From Mammoth Lakes take the US-395 S, or from Bishop take the US-395 N.
- Turn left if coming from Mammoth or right if coming from Bishop onto Benton Crossing Road. You will see a small green church at the junction.
- After 3.5 miles (and passing two cattle guards), turn left onto a smaller dirt road. This will lead you to a primitive parking lot where you’ll park.
- The parking area will be on your left as you drive in, and to your right you’ll find a gravel trail that will lead you to a raised boardwalk that takes you over the meadow to the hot spring. It is a 0.25 mile (5 minute) walk from the parking area to the hot spring.
The hot spring is open year-round, but the parking lot may be closed in the winter. If you arrive to find the parking area closed, you can park alongside Benton Crossing road instead and will just have to walk the last 0.2 miles to the trailhead.
When to Visit Hilltop Hot Springs
The best time to visit Hilltop Hot Springs is during the evening golden hour into sunset! Watching the golden light transform the scenery as the clouds change into colorful evening garments is a magical experience.
We visited all of the Mammoth Lake hot springs in the summer and thoroughly enjoyed each of our visits. The nights get cool enough to make an evening soak appealing. However, it is typically too hot in the day to really enjoy the hot springs and the mosquitoes can be quite aggressive around sunset.
Spring and fall are perhaps the best seasons to visit Hilltop Hot Springs. The weather is cool enough to enjoy the hot springs at any time of the day, the mosquitoes won’t be bothering you, and you are likely to have a snow dusting on at least the mountain tops to add a little extra beauty to the landscape.
While winter is also a great time to visit, Mammoth Lakes does get very cold and you should expect snow. This can make driving more difficult and access more limited. The cold weather will also create a bit of discomfort when its time to get out of the pool.
Where to Stay near Hilltop Hot Springs (Pulkey’s Pool)
The Long Valley Caldera region where the Mammoth hot springs are all located is extremely popular for dispersed camping. However, we understand many of you aren’t traveling in a camper van or simply prefer a proper bed and four walls around you. Luckily, Hilltop Hot Springs is conveniently located just a 15 minutes drive from the city of Mammoth Lakes. In town, you will find a range of accommodation options to suit your taste!
You can find current options for accommodation in Mammoth Lakes here.
Hilltop Hot Springs is located on public land and camping is permitted within the primitive parking lot, as well as in many other pull offs nearby. Be aware that while there are many spaces for camping in the area, there are no toilets. Additionally, be sure not to set up camp in the delicate meadowland nearby. You will see ample signage informing you of areas where camping is not permitted.
The entire area is a combination of Forest Service and BLM land, therefore camping is permitted anywhere unless otherwise signed. Camping on public land is free but you will not find any facilities. You are expected to help protect these public lands by packing out all waste with you, including human waste. You can find out more about camping on public land on the BLM website and National Forest Service website.
The closest developed campground is Brown’s Owens River Campground. They have both RV and tent campsites. We chose to stay on BLM land so cannot personally recommend this site but it does have great reviews.
For full hook-ups and facilities, Mammoth Mountain RV Park is a great option. We booked in here for one night while staying in town. As it is in Mammoth Lakes town, it requires a 15-minute drive to the hot spring but is a great option if you need a hook-up.
Hot Tubbing Etiquette and Tips
Locals and visitors alike cherish the Mammoth Hot Springs. They are open to the public and continue to operate ungoverned based on the collective cooperation of visitors. Please be sure to read the following section carefully and do your part to ensure these natural treasures are protected.
It is worth noting that Hilltop Hot Springs and the other hot springs in the area are all considered “clothing optional”. You will likely encounter other visitors enjoying the tubs in their birthday suits.
There is something special about experiencing these hot springs in the nude and connecting with nature, but you are welcome to wear a swimsuit if that’s not your thing… just don’t expect others to do the same!
Most people are respectful and discreet but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re visiting with kids or are uncomfortable with nudity.
Leave No Trace
Please follow all leave no trace principles. Leave the hot tubs as good as you found them… if not better! Local volunteers and visitors will often scrub the tubs and clear trash as they are not officially maintained.
Take out all of your trash and do not bring any glass containers to the springs! Cleaning up broken glass is a nightmare and will inevitably end up with someone being injured.
Finally, the area surrounding Hilltop Hot Springs is a very delicate environment. Please stick to the boardwalk to reach the hot spring and don’t venture off-trail into the surrounding meadows.
The mosquitoes got pretty bad here just after sunset in the summer and there are also fire ants in the area (which I found out after one bit my bum while I was sat on the ground!).
Chemical insect repellants are not recommended as they will pollute the water source! They will also simply rinse off once you’re in the water. It might be worth applying some natural insect repellant, such as this plant-based option, to your face during the summer (you can submerge the rest of your body into safety!).
If you’re visiting in cooler months you are far less likely to encounter any pesky bugs.
While we highly recommend taking a few beers with you to the tub to enjoy at sunset, do not forget to also take plenty of water with you! You will be sitting in 100-110°F (38-43°c) water and can become dehydrated very quickly without noticing, particularly if you’re also drinking alcohol. It is recommended to take a gallon of water per person.
Hilltop Hot Springs is located at an elevation of 6,890 ft (2,100 m). While altitude sickness doesn’t typically kick in until you’re above 8,000ft (2,500m), you may feel short of breath and dizzy at the hot springs due to the higher elevation, particularly in the first few days after you arrive. This will typically pass within a couple of days. It is, however, worth keeping in mind that the heat of the pool coupled with the higher elevation can cause you to feel dizzy sooner than you may expect.
You don’t need to bring too much with you to enjoy the hot spring. However, I would recommend the following:
- A swimsuit if you’re not comfortable going nude or if there are families around!
- Flip flops or sandals that you don’t mind getting wet and possibly a bit muddy.
- A travel towel.
- Warm layers for before/after if it’s cold out.
- Ecofriendly/reef-safe sunscreen, our favorite is Stream 2 Sea sunscreen. As you’re at higher elevation, the UV rays are stronger here.
- Plenty of water! (Ideally in a reusable water bottle to protect the world from unnecessary plastic!). As mentioned, it is easy to get dehyrated due to the heat and elevation. A gallon per person is recommended.
- A small cooler of canned beer or your beverage of choice. Just please do not bring anything in glass.
- A camera! These hot springs are beautiful and you’ll likely want to capture the moment. All our photos were taken with our Sony a7riii.
The natural hot springs in the Mammoth area are for soaking, NOT for bathing. They are located within a fragile environment and the water from the pools feed into this. Therefore, please do not use soaps in Hilltop Hot Springs or any other of the local pools. Similarly, rinse off any insect repellant or lotions before entering the pools to help protect the environment.
Depending on your cell provider you may pick up some service nearby Hilltop Hot Springs, but it is extremely limited. Be prepared to be without service and download offline maps to ensure you can get about with ease.
Other Springs and Local Destinations
Before you go, be sure to check out some of the other local treasures nearby.
Mammoth Lakes and Nearby Destinations Guides
- Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs Comprehensive Guide
- June Lakes Loop Scenic Drive
- Travertine Hot Springs Guide
- Buckeye Hot Springs Guide
- Shepherd Hot Springs Guide
- Rock Tub Hot Springs Guide
- Whitmore Hot Springs Guide
- Yosemite Itinerary for 1-3 Days
- Yosemite Day Trip Guide
- ULTIMATE Guide to Yosemite Firefall
- Yosemite Photography Guide: Tips For Photographing Yosemite Valley
Final Thoughts on Hilltop Hot Springs (aka Pulkey’s Pool)
A sunset or moonlight visit to the Hilltop Hot Springs is sure to be an experience you remember forever from your time in Mammoth Lakes. Watching the sun go down over the Sierra Mountains while naturally-heated water relaxed every muscle in my body was one of many highlights from a wonderful week in this beautiful mountain city.
We hope you found everything you needed to know for a safe, enjoyable, and successful visit. Most importantly, we hope you will do your part to protect these natural gifts.
If any of the information is incorrect or out of date, please let us know in the comments below. Additionally, we always appreciate positive feedback if you found this guide to Pulkey’s Pool useful.
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