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What to Know Before Visiting Hilltop Hot Springs (aka Pulkey’s Pool)


One of my favorite low-key outdoor adventures is soaking in a natural hot spring, and Hilltop Hot Springs, near Mammoth Lakes, California, is one that can’t be missed. From awe-inspiring views of the Eastern Sierra mountains, to its cozy, remote location, Hilltop Hot Springs is a must-stop on your next California road trip.

This article shares everything you need to know about soaking at Hilltop Hot Springs, including how to get there, what to expect, what to pack, and information about hot springs etiquette.

Hilltop Hot Springs near Mammoth Lakes, California. A large pool with a pipe leading to it with snow capped mountains in the distance.

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Recreating Responsible at Hot Springs

Soaking in a natural hot spring can be a magical experience, but it’s important to remember that they’re delicate ecosystems. Because impacts from recreation are cumulative, it’s important that everyone who visits Hilltop Hot Springs practices basic hot springs etiquette when soaking.

Here are some quick tips for practicing Leave No Trace and recreating responsibly at Hilltop Hot Springs:

  • Leave the glass at home. Keep beverages in stainless steel, plastic, or aluminum containers. Glass breaks easily and broken glass at a hot spring can be dangerous.
  • Pack out all of your trash. Always leave a hot spring better than you found it!
  • Stay hydrated. Soaking in hot water for long periods of time can dehydrate you, so be sure to have a water bottle handy to stay hydrated.
  • Be considerate of other visitors. Be mindful of nudity, especially if children are around. If it’s crowded, share the pool and limit your soaking time so others can have a turn.

Woman in a blue bathing suit soaking in Hilltop Hot Springs near Mammoth Lakes, California.

Where is Hilltop Hot Springs

Hilltop Hot Springs, also known as Pulkey’s Pool, is one of many hot springs located near Mammoth Lakes, California. This area has robust geothermal activity, which has allowed natural hot springs and creeks to bubble to the surface. Many of the hot springs near Mammoth Lakes have water piped to a pool (in other words, you’re not soaking directly at the source), including Hilltop Hot Springs.

Hilltop Hot Springs is about a 15 minute drive from Mammoth Lakes, and a 40 minute drive from Bishop. To get to the parking lot, take US-395 to Benton Crossing Rd. Continue driving for about 3 miles before making a left turn down a short drive to the parking lot.

The hot spring is a short, ¼ mile walk from the parking lot. There’s an established trail that keeps you off of the muddy ground. Be sure to stay on the trail to avoid impacting the surrounding environment! 

The pool itself is constructed from rocks and cement, and has a couple of nice places to sit once you get in. Hot water is piped into the pool from a nearby geothermal creek. When I visited there were a couple of patches of artificial grass surrounding the pool so you don’t have to worry about getting your feet dirty while getting in. It’s important to note that Hilltop Hot Springs is extremely exposed, so if there’s inclement weather or wind your soaking experience will be impacted.

Parking Lot Location: Google maps

Woman getting into Hilltop Hot Springs while looking out at the Eastern Sierra mountains.

When to Visit Hilltop Hot Springs

Hilltop Hot Springs is accessible during most of the year, except in the winter when Benton Crossing Rd. becomes impassable.  Because the hot spring is located so close to the highway, it can get busy, so visiting early in the morning during the off-season is going to be your best bet if you want to beat the crowds and enjoy a solo soak.

Hot springs near Mammoth Lakes typically see the most visitation during the summer and on holiday weekends. Fall is an ideal time to visit Mammoth Lakes and go soaking in the nearby hot springs, because temperatures will be cool, and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch some early snow on the Eastern Sierra mountains. Spring is another ideal time to visit for pleasant weather.

Woman in a blue bathing suit soaking in a hot spring in front of a field with mountains in the distance.

My Hot Springs Experience

My husband and I visited Hilltop Hot Springs on a chilly Tuesday morning in early October. We had originally planned to get up early to watch the sunrise while soaking, but we struggled to get out of bed because it was so cold!

When we arrived at the parking lot, there were a couple of vehicles already there, including a bus that we saw parked in the lot when we drove by the day before. Based on the number of vehicles in the parking lot we expected to find other people soaking in the hot spring, but to our surprise, we had it completely to ourselves (it appeared that people were still sleeping in their vehicles while we were there).

The water in Hilltop Hot Springs was probably in the mid-upper 90°s when we arrived, which is a tad bit cool for my soaking taste. After a little maneuvering, my husband was able to get hotter water to start flowing out of the pipe to warm up the pool.

The best part about soaking at Hilltop Hot Springs were the breathtaking views of the Eastern Sierra mountains. It snowed the day before we visited, which made the experience even more magical.

We spent about 45 minutes soaking and taking in the views before another car pulled into the parking lot. I was also getting pruny, so we hopped out so the next visitor could enjoy the hot spring by themselves.

Soaking in Hilltop Hot Springs with feet in the air and a view of the Eastern Sierra mountains.

What to Pack For a Hot Springs Soak

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If you want to have an enjoyable hot springs soak, don’t forget the following essentials:

Bathing Suit. Even if you’re planning on soaking au naturel, it’s still a good idea to have a bathing suit handy when visiting a hot springs.

Sandals. The walk to Hilltop Hot Springs is short, so sandals are appropriate footwear. There are a few areas where you walk through dirt, so I wouldn’t recommend walking out barefoot.

Towel. Don’t forget a towel so you can dry off after your soak!

Water Bottle. Staying hydrated is essential when soaking in a hot spring, so be sure to pack a water bottle.

Camera. Don’t forget your camera to capture the epic views from Hilltop Hot Springs!

Woman stands beneath a hot springs waterfall in Idaho.
I’m a big fan of wearing Chacos when visiting hot springs!

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