Shepherd Hot Springs, Mammoth Lakes: EVERYTHING You Need to Know About Visiting Shepherd Hot Spring ⋆ We Dream of Travel Blog

Shepherd Hot Springs, Mammoth Lakes: EVERYTHING You Need to Know About Visiting Shepherd Hot Spring

Shepherd Hot Springs blog cover photo.  Text overlaying an image of a girl soaking in a hot spring with mountain views behind.

Shepherd Hot Springs is locally renowned for having perhaps the best mountain views of any of the Mammoth Lakes hot springs.  Though it is small, the surrounding scenery and ease of access are more than enough to mandate at least one visit on any California road trip.

These geothermal springs are treasured by visitors and locals alike.  They are one of the few activities that anyone can enjoy for free and they continue to remain ungoverned, maintained only by volunteers.  We have created this guide to visiting Shepherd Hot Springs in order to ensure a safe, enjoyable, and sustainable experience.  

Before you scroll down…

Shepherd Hot Spring is just one of the many thermal pools in the area! Make sure you load our comprehensive guide to ALL of the Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs so you don’t miss any.

Below, you will find everything you need to know, including how to care for it.  Please be sure to read the section on hot tub etiquette carefully.  This will not be a soak you forget, and it’s important that we each do our part to make sure future visitors enjoy the same magical experience.

Disclosure: In order to keep providing you with free content, this post likely contains affiliate links. If you make a booking or purchase through one of these links we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. So a HUGE thank you to you if you click one of these links 🙂

Shepherd Hot Springs Overview

A young girl enjoys the stunning scenery of Mammoth Lakes in this photo of Shepherd Hot Springs.

The appeal of Shepherd Hot Springs is not the aesthetic of the tub itself, but the scenery surrounding it. Located at the edge of an expansive meadow, it offers breathtaking views of the surrounding Sierra Mountains. These postcard-worthy views would be worth the journey alone even without the presence of thermally heated mineral water awaiting you.

While it may not have the most natural of appearances, the concrete tub is one of the most comfortable for soaking in. It offers built-in ledges which serve as benches and a valve to control the temperature of the pool. At the source, the water is a scorching 135°F (57°c) but cools by the time it reaches the pool.

Of all the hot springs in Mammoth Lakes, Shepherd Hot Springs is one of the most easily accessed. Visiting requires no walk whatsoever, ideally located next to the parking lot. Additionally, the roads do not require 4WD or high clearance.

The small tub can comfortably fit about 4 people. When we arrived at 7:30am on a Thursday in July, we shared the pool with two other people. While having the pool to yourself may be ideal, there is also something wonderful about meeting other interesting travelers with their own colorful stories to share! About 30 minutes later, our company left and we had Shepherd Hot Springs to ourselves for an hour before moving on ourselves.

Shepherd Hot Springs is also just a 0.5 mile walk from Crab Cooker Hot Spring. Unfortunately, at the time of our visit in July 2021, Crab Cooker was empty and we were informed by locals that it had been for some time. It’s hard to say when or if it will ever be functional again. However, the short walk through the meadow does provide for a beautiful walk.

Shepherd Hot Springs Facts

Location of Shepherd Hot Springs:  Off Whitmore Tubs Road, about 10 miles east of Mammoth Lakes, California
Coordinates for Shepherd Hot Springs: 37°40’00.9″N 118°48’12.1″W (open in Google Maps here)
Elevation: 6,946 ft (2,117 m)

Open: Year-round
Size: Fits 4 people
Temperature: Variable, controlled by a valve (100-110°F / 38-43°c)
Development: Primitive
Clothing: Optional
Services: None
Hiking distance: None
Road Access: Any vehicle
Fees: None

How to Get to Shepherd Hot Springs

What Shepherd Hot Springs lacks in appearance, it makes up for in comfort, views, and ease of access.
What Shepherd Hot Springs lacks in appearance, it makes up for in comfort, views, and ease of access.

Despite some claims that the Mammoth Lakes hot springs are a local secret, they are readily available on Google Maps! Although the word is definitely out about these geothermal wonders, they do take a little work to find. Fortunately, Shepherd Hot Springs is one of the easiest to reach, yet just as rewarding as the many others in the area.

Just 20 minutes from Mammoth Lakes, the drive to Shepherd Hot Springs is a fairly simple one. The majority of the drive from the city will be on main roads with only the last 0.5 miles is on a true dirt road. You do not require four-wheel drive nor high clearance, but you may want to take it slow on the last stretch. We visited the hot springs in our massive Sprinter van without issue.

Map of Shepherd Hot Springs

Driving directions from Mammoth Lakes to Shepherd Hot Springs.
Driving directions from Mammoth Lakes to Shepherd Hot Springs.

The map above shows the location of Shepherd Hot Springs and driving directions from Mammoth Lakes. Click here or on the map above to open the directions in Google Maps.

While the drive is reasonably straightforward, the hot springs are not signposted and cell service is limited in the area. I would recommend downloading some form of offline maps or saving the section below with driving instructions.

Directions to Shepherd Hot Springs

This photo shows the proximity of the tub to the parking lot.
This photo shows the proximity of Shepherd Hot Springs to the parking lot.

Shepherd Hot Springs is located along a dirt road off of Whitmore Tubs Road. GPS: 37°40’00.9″N 118°48’12.1″W

  1. From Mammoth Lakes take the US-395 S, or from Bishop take the US-395 N.
  2. 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.
  3. In 1.1 miles, turn left at the fork onto Whitmore Tubs Road. This road is gravel but well maintained with the occasional rut.
  4. After 2 miles turn right onto an unmarked small dirt road. This will lead you to a primitive parking lot where you’ll park. You will be able to see the hot spring from the parking lot!

The hot spring is open year-round, but the roads may be impassable in snow. During the winter, it is still possible to access the hot springs by cross country skiing, snowshoe, or snowmobile when the roads are closed if you’re feeling adventurous!

When to Visit Shepherd Hot Springs

Soaking in golden hour light and mineral water on a lovely summer evening.
Soaking in golden hour light and mineral water on a lovely summer evening.

The best time to visit Shepherd Hot Springs is early in the morning, particularly during golden hour! As the name suggests, this is when the sun bathes the landscape in glistening, golden light as it rises, adding a little extra luster to an already spectacular view. While sunset would also provide a similar scene, we would advise early morning over the evening for the cooler temperatures and premise that this is a small tub that can get busy in the evenings.

In regards to seasonality, most would agree that spring and fall are the best times to visit. The weather will be cool enough to really appreciate the hot water day or night, the mosquitoes will not be bothering you, and there is a good chance of snow dustings on the Sierra Mountains to add that proverbial cherry on top.

We visited all of the Mammoth Lake hot springs in the summer and loved each of our visits. The early mornings and late evenings get cool enough to delight in an evening soak. However, during the day it is typically too hot to really enjoy the hot springs and the mosquitoes can be quite aggressive around sunset.

Winter visits have their charm, but this region of California is at a high elevation and gets very cold. Additionally, seasonal weather will impact your ability to access Shepherd Hot Springs, as well as many other popular destinations in the area.

Where to Stay near Shepherd Hot Springs

Accommodation

Dispersed camping is popular in the Long Valley Caldera region where the Mammoth hot springs are located. However, Shepherd Hot Springs is conveniently located just a 20 minute drive from the city of Mammoth Lakes. Those of you who aren’t traveling in a campervan or simply prefer a solid roof and a proper bed are in luck!

There are a wide range of accommodation options in Mammoth Lakes from cozy mountain inns to large resorts and everything in between!

Find a wide variety of budgets and accommodation in Mammoth Lakes here.

Dispersed Camping

There are ample places with incredible views for dispersed camping near the Mammoth Lakes hot springs.
There are ample places with incredible views for dispersed camping near the Mammoth Lakes hot springs.

There are many areas around Shepherd Hot Springs where dispersed camping is permitted. However, it is not allowed in the parking lot. The land surrounding the hot springs is a combination of Forest Service and BLM land and “freedom camping” options are abundant. You will see many signs for places where camping is not permitted, including the delicate meadowland near the springs and many of the parking lots.

Although there are many places for primitive camping, there are no toilets or other facilities. You are expected to help protect the 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.

RV / Developed Camping

For those that prefer a developed site or require hook-ups, Brown’s Owens River Campground is the closest option with both RV and tent sites. We chose to stay on BLM land so cannot personally recommend this site but it does have great reviews.

A little further away is the Mammoth Mountain RV Park which is the nearest facility with hook-ups, showers, and flushable toilets. We booked in here for one night while staying in town to recharge our water and batteries and found it a little pricey but extremely well-managed. As it is on the outskirts of the city of Mammoth Lakes, it requires a 23-minute drive to Shepherd hot spring.

Hot Tubbing Etiquette and Tips

Shepherd Hot Springs and the other local springs are cherished by locals and visitors alike. At present, they remain open to the public and are ungoverned based on the collective cooperation of visitors. Please be sure to read the following section carefully and help do your part to protect these natural wonders.

Clothing is optional at Shepherd and all of the Mammoth Lakes hot springs.
Clothing is optional at Shepherd and all of the Mammoth Lakes hot springs.

Nudity

Like the other nearby hot springs, Shepherd Hot Springs is considered “clothing optional”. It is likely that you will encounter other visitors enjoying the tubs in their birthday suits.

You’re absolutely welcome to wear a swimsuit, but there is something special about experiencing these hot springs in the nude and connecting with nature… just don’t expect others to do the same!

While most people are respectful and discreet, 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. They will also often leave brushes on the side, feel free to do your part and give them a scrub while you’re there!

Pack out what you pack in. Take all of your trash with you and do not bring any glass containers to the springs! Glass is easily broken and cleaning up is a nightmare that will inevitably end up with someone being injured.

Finally, the meadow area surrounding Shepherd Hot Springs is a delicate environment. Please stick to the trails and don’t venture off-trail into the surrounding meadows.

Taking deep breaths and leaving no trace; photography at Shepherd Hot Spring.
“Take deep breaths and leaving no trace” is the mantra to live by at any natural hot spring.

Bugs

While we didn’t experience any mosquitoes at Shepherd Hot Springs, we did notice that they can get pretty bad in the area just after sunset in the summer. 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.

Hydration

While we highly recommend taking a few canned beers with you to the tub to enjoy at sunset, do not forget to also take plenty of water with you! You will be soaking in 100-110°F (38-43°c) water and can easily become dehydrated without noticing, particularly if you’re also drinking alcohol. It is recommended to take a gallon of water per person.

Altitude

Shepherd 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.

Shepherd Hot Springs photo showing the pool empty.

Packing

You don’t need to bring too much with you to enjoy Shepherd Hot Springs. However, I would recommend the following:

  1. A swimsuit if you’re not comfortable going nude or if there are families around!
  2. Flip flops or sandals that you don’t mind getting wet and possibly a bit muddy.
  3. A travel towel.
  4. Warm layers for before/after if it’s cold out.
  5. Ecofriendly/reef-safe sunscreen, our favorite is Stream 2 Sea sunscreen. As you’re at higher elevation, the UV rays are stronger here.
  6. 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.
  7. small cooler of canned beer or your beverage of choice. Just please do not bring anything in glass.
  8. 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.

Bathing

The Mammoth Lakes hot springs are for soaking, NOT for bathing. They are located within a sensitive environment and the water from the pools feeds into this. Therefore, please do not use soaps in Shepherd Hot Springs or any other of the local pools. Similarly, rinse off any insect repellant or chemical lotions before entering the pools to help protect the environment.

Cell Service

The cell service in the area is extremely limited. You may get lucky and pick up some service depending on your provider, but be prepared to be without service and download offline maps to ensure you can get about with ease.

Other Hot Springs and Local Destinations

Wild Willy's is one of the many other hot springs in Mammoth Lakes.
Wild Willy’s is one of the many other hot springs in Mammoth Lakes.

If you’re looking to explore more of the local springs, we highly recommend that you check out our thorough guide to the hot springs in Mammoth Lakes. We detail all the hot springs in the area and how to get to them so you don’t miss any!

You may also be interested in our other regional guides:

Mammoth Lakes and Nearby Destinations Guides

Yosemite National Park

Final Thoughts

Soaking in the Shepherd Hot Springs near Mammoth Lakes on a summer morning.

We hope you have found this guide to visiting Shepherd Hot Springs in Mammoth Lakes helpful, informative, and perhaps even inspiring.  Most importantly, we hope you have read the hot tubbing etiquette section carefully and will do your part to protect this natural gift.

If you have found anything that is no longer accurate or have other constructive feedback, please let us know in the comment section below.  You are also welcome to ask any questions and can expect a prompt response!

Finally, don’t forget to queue up our guide to ALL of the Hot Springs in Mammoth Lakes to ensure you don’t miss any of them!

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**All photos contained in this photography-based travel blog are copyright of Adam Marland & Sophie Clapton. 
They are not to be used for any purpose without the expressed, written consent of their owners.**