Top 5 California Hot Springs to Visit in a Camper Van
A Sprinter camper van is a fantastic way to travel the state, visiting hot springs along the way. The warmth of the springs and the minerals found in the waters can have a rejuvenating effect on the body and mind. The springs found in this guide range from remote pools with beautiful mountain vistas and free off-grid camping nearby, to fully developed springs where you can camp in your van and enjoy amenities like a bathroom and fire pit.
Benton Hot Springs is a Sprinter van owner’s dream. This privately owned inn and campground is well off the beaten path, nestled in the high desert east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and just west of the equally impressive White Mountains. The hot springs are about a 45-minute drive from both Bishop, CA and Mammoth Lakes, CA.
What makes Benton unique and highly appealing is that they offer 12 campsites, each with their own private soaking tubs. Every site offers stunning views of the White Mountains. The sites are separated by fences and thick stands of trees. You will have privacy, so clothing is optional, though the owners note that ‘discretion is encouraged’.
Each campsite has a fire pit, a barbecue grill, and a picnic table. The sites vary in size, but the larger sites can fit multiple camper vans and/or cars, and the larger pools can accommodate up to 8 people. There are 5 restrooms to accommodate the 12 campsites. Dogs are allowed at Benton, but they must be kept on-leash. Be sure to bring along some firewood, as there is none available onsite.
Benton offers no RV hookups, but that’s not a problem for people with an off-grid Sprinter van setup. There are few places in the world where you can camp in your van and have around-the-clock access to your own private spring-fed hot tub just feet from your door.
No California road trip is complete without some time spent on the beautiful coastline. Perhaps the most breathtaking stretch of coast in California is Big Sur, where steep cliffs meet pounding waves and secluded beaches hide amongst the rocks.
Esalen Institute is a center for workshops and retreats located on a breathtaking 120-acre piece of land alongside the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur. The land features a natural hot mineral stream that gushes out of a seaside cliff.
Although Esalen is primarily open for those participating in retreats and workshops, they offer night bathing every night from 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. in their stunning oceanside spring-fed tubs. Reservations are required, and must be made online the same day you wish to bathe (reservations open at 9 a.m. PST daily). The cost is $35 per person. Night bathing at Esalen is a truly unique experience and something you will not soon forget!
Although there is no camping available at Esalen, we recommend booking a site for your Sprinter van at one of the several nearby campgrounds in Big Sur. Or, if you’re up for a splurge, you can book one of Esalen’s many rooms and enjoy less restricted access to the soaking tubs.
Wild Willy’s is a natural hot spring located just outside of Mammoth Lakes, CA in the beautiful Owen’s River Valley. It is situated on BLM land, meaning you can visit the spring and camp nearby for free. The hot spring features stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding mountain ranges.
This is a “wild” hot spring, so be prepared for a primitive setting with pools that feature a murky, mineral mud bottom. There is a short 3-5 minute walk to reach the springs from the parking area, which is made more enjoyable by an elevated wooden walkway built over a marshy area. You can camp in your van in the parking area, but no amenities are offered and all waste (including human) must be packed out.
To reach Wild Willy’s, turn onto Benton Crossing Road from U.S. 395 just south of Mammoth Lakes, CA. Travel east 2.5 miles, crossing two cattle guards. Just after crossing the second cattle guard, turn right and follow the dirt road. Go left at every fork. After about a mile, you’ll reach the parking area.
If you prefer a developed campground when you are done soaking, check out Brown’s Owen’s River Campground, which is just 5 miles away. It offers heated showers, a general store, and more.
Nestled up against the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Buckeye Hot Springs offers visitors a secluded vibe with expansive mountain views. The soaking pools are located on a hillside above Buckeye Creek, a few miles west of the town of Bridgeport.
What sets Buckeye apart from other hot springs in the area is the fact that you can dip in both hot and cold pools. Buckeye creek comes rushing down from the Sierra’s Sawtooth Range, meaning it stays icy cold all year round. When the hot pools become too much, take a refreshing dip in the creek to cool off.
The closest nearby camping is at Buckeye Campground, which is open mid-April through mid-October, depending on snowpack. The campground is within walking distance of the springs, and Buckeye Creek is also highly accessible.
On the other side of the town of Bridgeport, to the southeast, you’ll find Travertine Hot Springs. Travertine is one of the most accessible free hot springs in the U.S. One of the pools sits so close to the parking lot that you can just about dip your toes while sitting in your Sprinter camper van!
Travertine features unique mineral deposits and all the pools have a stunning view of the Sierras across the valley. There are at least 4 soaking pools at Travertine within a 5-minute walk from the parking lot. The pools nearest to the parking lot are the hottest, and the uppermost pool closest to the parking is downright piping hot, so be careful as you enter the water.
There is a restroom in the parking area, but no running water. You can camp along the road that leads up to the hot springs for free in various pullouts, but camping in the immediate vicinity of the springs is restricted. To reach Travertine Hot Springs, Take U.S. 395 south from Bridgeport for 1/2 mile. Turn left on Jack Sawyer Road and follow the road to its end, about one mile. You’ll see the restroom and the first pool as you enter the parking area.
If you’re wishing you could hit the road in a thoughtfully designed Sprinter van conversion, and live your best #vanlife, give us a shout. We’re looking forward to connecting with you. Your friends at Muse & Co. Outdoors.