Exploring Mammoth: Visiting the Yellowstone-like Hot Creek Geologic Site

Date Visited: August 7, 2011
Check current conditions: Inyo National Forest (760) 873-2400
  • Hours: Sunrise to sunset
  • Fees: None
  • Parking: Free (paved lot)
  • Location: Inyo National Forest
  • Nearest Town: Mammoth Lakes, CA
  • Kid-Friendly: Yes
  • Dog-Friendly: Yes

If chemistry hadn’t been so hard for me, I would have pursued a degree in geology.  I am an earth science junkie — thanks to my parents, who made us learn about the geologic history and wonders of every place we camped and hiked as kids.  And one of my favorite childhood vacations was Yellowstone National Park, in all its geothermal glory.  So, when I we planned this second trip to Mammoth with the kids last month, Jeff and I purposely set out to discover geologic treasures that we’d missed the first time.

Hot Creek Geologic Site

This serene looking creek originates from Twin Lakes as Mammoth Creek, which flows through the town of Mammoth Springs. It changes its name to Hot Creek once it intersections with the faults that make up Hot Creek Gorge.

Hot Creek Geologic Site is the home to an active geothermal spring — which includes geysers (we unfortunately didn’t see these) — situated in the Long Valley Caldera, a 20-mile long valley at the base of Mammoth Mountain formed from a volcanic explosion 760,000 years ago.  It is located 8 miles east of Mammoth Springs, off Highway 395, near the airport.  An adjacent fish hatchery makes this a very popular fishing spot — there’s even a nearby fishing resort.

Until recently (last year or early this year), visitors were even allowed to swim in the hot springs.  But water temperatures have climbed to a level too unsafe to allow people in anymore.  Visitors can still, however, view the springs and bubbling blue pools from the parking lot and from a paved walkway that borders the creek.  The view from down below is definitely worth the 10 minute round-trip walk from the parking lot and picnic tables to the creekside viewing area — just be prepared for the smell of sulfur.

Hot Creek Geologic Site

People must still evidently attempt to take a dip in the hot springs.

Hot Creek Geologic Site

Signs everywhere warn of the possible dangers, and all restrictions.

Hot Creek Geologic Site

Follow the short paved walkway down from the parking lot to get a closer look at the geothermal springs and pools.

To access the site, exit Highway 395 at Benton Crossing Road (the airport exit), which is almost directly across the highway from the Convict Lake off-ramp. Follow Benton Crossing to Hot Creek Hatchery Road, past the fishing resort and the hatchery, about 1 mile to the site parking lot.

Hot Creek Geologic Site

Fences that once allowed visitors an up-close look at bright blue pools now cut right through the geothermal activity.

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