Known for its boiling geysers, turquoise-colored pools, and fumaroles, Hot Creek Geological Site is a unique geothermal area where you can become a witness of impressive volcanic geology in action.
Hot Creek Geothermal Site is located in a small canyon of Mammoth Creek that flows through the Long Valley Caldera within the boundary of the Inyo National Forest. The name of the stream is changed to Hot Creek when it enters the Hot Creek Gorge which features fumaroles, steam vents, series of hot springs, and boiling blue pools lined with white calcium carbonate deposits.
Created over 700 thousand years ago by massive volcanic explosions, the 10 by 18 miles depression or caldera in the Earth's crust is situated in the large volcanic basin. The water from melted snow in the Sierra Nevada filters down through cracks in the Earth's crust and then heated to 430°F (220°C) by the molten magma beneath the Inyo Crater and Domes.
The pressurized hot water flows 10 miles eastward and emerges along the Long Valley Caldera. The temperature of the thermal springs at Hot Creek is about 199°F (93°C) that is a boiling point for the elevation of 7,000 feet above sea level. The temperature is decreased as the springs move farther east and mix with cold water. The temperature at Crab Cooker Hot Springs that is located 2 miles east of Hot Creek is 150°F (65°C), and at Crowley (Wild Willy's) Hot Springs - 5 miles east of Hot Creek is below 110°F (43°C).
Once a popular swimming and soaking area, Hot Creek has been closed to all bathing activities since May 2006, due to unpredictability, sudden, and frequent boiling water discharges. Flow rates, temperature, and geyser locations can be changed in seconds along the stream bed and its banks. Drastic changes in water temperature that is scalding hot and under massive pressure can burst into the air at any time. Currently, there are many roped off areas that swimmers once enjoyed.
Since 1998, 14 people died or have been seriously burned in Hot Creek. A lot of people have been injured. Now, no one is allowed to enter the water. It is recommended to stay on paved and designated paths, and do not go behind fenced areas.
Originated as an outflow of Twin Lakes and fed by snowmelt, the Hot Creek water has a cool temperature until it reaches the geothermal area and ends up being mixed with much hotter water downstream where the thermal vents and simmering volcano warms the water up. The total flow rate of hot water is about 240 liters per second.
The area of Mammoth Lakes also gets small, yet periodic earthquakes, but this part of the Long Valley Caldera is available for intrigued visitors to witness such a unique ancient geology in this part of the Eastern Sierra region. There are also many changes related to new hot springs developing at Hot Creek at any time.
Hot Creek is a popular wild trout fishing site - catch and release only.
Visitors can visit the interpretive site from sunrise to sunset. For snow lovers, Hot Creek Geological Site can be visited by cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and by using snowshoes to see these amazingly blue pools of potentially deadly water. The beautiful views of California's majestic nature are sure to entice outdoors lovers who want to take some breathtaking pictures of all that the Hot Creek Geological Site has to offer.
Cautions: The scalding temperatures, steam, fragile ground surface, sudden temperature changes, unpredictable eruptions, arsenic in water - all of these hazards make Hot Creek Geothermal Area dangerous. Keep your children at a safe distance. If you have dogs with you, keep them on a leash.
The Hot Creek Geological Site is located approximately 15 mins to the south of Mammoth Lakes, right off Hot Creek Hatchery Road.
Soaking is available in one of the primitive hot springs tubs in the Long Valley Caldera: Shepherd Hot Springs, Crab Cooker Hot Springs, Hilltop Hot Springs (Pulky’s Pool), Rock Tub Hot Springs, and Crowley Hot Springs (Wild Willy’s).
Hot Creek Geological Site | Facts
Dangerously Hot for Soaking
Location: 10 miles east of Mammoth Lakes • California • USA
Services: Interpretive Site, restrooms
Hiking distance: Short
Road Access: Any vehicle
Day-use fees: None
Elevation: 7,000 ft (2,134 m)
From Mammoth Lakes,
- Travel 3.1 miles southeast on CA-203 E (Main Street) to US-395
- Merge right onto US-395 and drive 3.1 miles southeast to Hot Creek Hatchery Road
- Turn left onto Hot Creek Hatchery Road and continue 3.4 miles. Bear slight left on the fork at Hot Creek Ranch (halfway). The destination will be on the left.
From Benton Crossing Road,
- Turn northwest onto Whitmore Tubs Road and drive 2.7 miles to Hot Creek Hatchery Road
- Turn left onto Hot Creek Hatchery Road and continue 1 mile to the destination on the right.