Hot Creek Geological Site is a stunning location to visit year-round, but winter is an especially wonderful time to explore this unique geological wonder.
The trail that leads to Hot Creek Geological Site stays accessible all year long making it one of the best winter hiking destinations near Mammoth Lakes if you’re looking for a fun activity to do besides skiing and snowboarding.
With expansive mountain views, unique volcanic scenery, a meandering river, and surreal hiking trails, the Hot Creek Geological site is a must-visit location in Mammoth!
In this guide, I cover how to visit Hot Creek Geological Site in the winter including where to park, what to bring, and what you can expect to see at this location. Let’s dive in!
Table Of Contents:
Hot Creek Geological Site Location & Parking
Hot Creek Geological Site is located near the Mammoth Yosemite Airport, about 15 minutes south of Mammoth Lakes town. To get there, you can turn off on Hot Creek Hatchery Road from Highway 395 and take it until you reach the end.
In the summer this road typically stays open so you can continue driving all the way to the Hot Creek Geological Site. In winter this road closes early so you will need to leave your car and continue on foot for 2 miles until you reach the Hot Creek Geological Site.
The visitor parking area is pretty small, but we came on a weekend morning and had no issues finding parking along the road.
If you come in winter immediately after a storm, there might be some snow and ice on Highway 395 and Hot Creek Hatchery Road. We’ve seen people get stuck on Mammoth roads in winter, so keeping a set of cable tire chains in your car is always a good idea for winter trips.
Google Map Location: Hot Creek Hatchery Rd, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
About Hot Creek Geological Site
Hot Creek Geological Site is a popular geothermal location in California that is very similar to Yellowstone National Park.
Hot Creek Geological Site consists of a large river basin that is the result of a 700,000-year-old volcanic eruption. The interesting features that we can see here are part of the Earth releasing pressure, heat, and water in the form of steaming geysers, boiling water, and bubbling hot springs.
While Hot Creek Geological Site is accessible year-round, there are a couple of things to keep in mind if you plan to visit it in the winter season.
After a heavy snowfall, you may need snowshoes to complete the trek to reach it as you will sink into the freshly fallen powdery snow. The more people come to this location in the winter, the harder and more compact the snow will get. Towards the spring months, you may need just waterproof hiking boots to visit it.
We hiked the trail to Hot Creek Geological Site in early February and it was doable with just hiking boots, although we did use microspikes to prevent us from slipping and falling in icy sections. You can find microspikes for cheap on Amazon and it’s a worthwhile purchase for winter snow adventures.
The best part about visiting the Hot Creek Geological Site is that it’s free, which is a nice perk since winter trips can be quite costly especially if you plan to hit the slopes in Mammoth.
Many people also visit this location for sunset to enjoy the picture-perfect views of the river as the sun sets over the mountains. BUT, if that’s part of your plan, be sure to bring plenty of warm clothing as mountain temperatures can drop to freezing as soon as the sun goes down.
Our Experience Visiting Hot Creek Geological Site In Winter
Mammoth is one of my favorite places to visit for outdoor activities and hiking. During our most recent winter trip to Mammoth, we decided to hike this highly-rated trail and finally check it off from our bucket list.
In the summer it’s possible to drive up all the way to the Hot Creek Geological Site, but in the winter this road is closed due to snow and ice so you will need to hike an extra 2 miles each way.
From the parking area, you can easily find the trailhead along a wide path that will lead you directly to the Hot Creek Geological Site. This hike is fairly flat with small hills and a little elevation gain of around 500 feet.
We did this hike in early February and the snow was already very hard-packed so we were able to complete this section fairly quickly.
Once you see a set of outdoor restrooms, the Hot Creek Geological Site will be to the left soon after.
From there you can take a short-paved path that leads directly down into the geothermal basin. Immediately you will start seeing views of the meandering river and boiling hot springs releasing steam into the air.
As you walk down the footpath, you will notice many signs with warnings to stay on designated trails due to scalding water and unstable ground.
Be sure to keep a close watch on where you step and avoid any steaming geysers and odd rocks. There might be more signs to avoid certain areas due to unpredictable thermal activity.
One section across the river has stunning turquoise pools but this area also looks the hottest and is not accessible from the trail.
If you keep going along the river, you will come across the Hot Creek wild trout area. This is a popular spot for trout fishing (catch & release only). We saw one guy fishing by the river but most people just come to enjoy the views and leave shortly after.
After exploring the area, we turned around and went back along the 2-mile-long path the same way that we came.
Other Winter Visitor Tips
- There are several dangers to be aware of at the Hot Creek Geological Site including scorching water, toxic substances, unpredictable eruptions, and unstable ground. When visiting this location stay on destinated trails and do not get in the water. Over the years 14 people have lost their lives or been seriously burned in this creek.
- Dogs are allowed to visit the Hot Creek Geological Site and many people bring their furry friends on this hike. Keep an eye on your pets around the geysers and boiling water and be sure to bring extra dog poop bags to clean up after your pet.
- This part of the Mammoth Mountains has very limited reception. The trail itself is pretty straightforward and many people visit it, especially on the weekends. However, I always recommend looking up directions and downloading an offline map from the AllTrails hiking app ahead of time.
- This area is open from sunrise to sunset for visitors. No overnight camping is allowed.
What To Bring On a Winter Hike
Heading out on winter adventures can feel intimidating if you’re not sure what to bring for snow activities. After years of testing out different winter gear, here are some of our favorite items that we recommend to pack for winter trips!
Having a good outer layer will keep you warm in cooler mountain temperatures. I have an alpine jacket by Mountain Hardwear that is lightweight and easy to move in for hiking, yet protects me from cold and wind.
While it’s common to layer up with warm tops in the winter, don’t forget about the bottoms too! On winter trips, I usually wear thermal leggings or waterproof hiking pants that will keep me comfy.
Waterproof Hiking Boots
Having waterproof hiking boots is one of the essential items to have for winter hikes. Waterproof boots will keep your feet dry and warm which is so important when trekking across snow, mud, and ice. I always bring two pairs of boots in case one pair gets wet and muddy.
Having a set of microspikes to put on our hiking boots has been a game-changer for winter adventures. Microspikes have metal spikes underneath that will grip onto snow and ice preventing you from slipping and falling.
Microspikes are somewhat small and lightweight so they’re easy to carry with you in a day pack for hikes or just walking around in the snow.
For the longer day hikes in Mammoth or after a fresh snowfall, you will need a set of snowshoes to manage trekking through knee-deep snow.
One of the worst parts about winter hikes is taking off your gloves every time you want to take a video or photo (and there will be plenty of photo opportunities at Hot Creek Geological Site). For that reason, I recommend getting gloves with touch-screen compatibility.
I have a pair and they work great! I don’t have to take them off when taking photos which helps keep my hands warm even on the coldest days.
For winter hikes having a beanie is essential to keep your ears and head covered to maintain blood flow. Plus, they look really cute in photos, especially if you didn’t get the chance to do your hair that day!
Read More: California Winter Packing List (By a Local)
Where To Stay In Mammoth Lakes
Before you embark on your upcoming mountain adventure, these best hotels in Mammoth Lakes will ensure you’ll have a cozy experience.
The Village Lodge is an upscale hotel in Mammoth Lakes that puts guests right in the heart of the action. Guests can choose between one, two, or three-bedroom condo units to accommodate between four and eight guests.
Impressive amenities are a major draw at this contemporary resort and include a heated outdoor swimming pool, three gyms, and five hot tubs. There are also two restaurants onsite for convenient dining that serve American dishes and pizza.
This lodge has a cozy and rustic atmosphere and is surrounded by fantastic views of the mountains and Twin Lakes. This historic Mammoth Lakes establishment was founded in 1924 and is an ideal choice for those who seek a more quiet locale immersed in nature.
There are many booking options available that include one or two bedrooms and the opportunity to book a cabin with a sofa bed. Most cabins at the Tamarack Lodge come equipped with a fireplace and a kitchenette.
For a relaxing and upscale experience, consider The Westin Monache Resort, Mammoth. This trusted hotel brand is ideally situated at the base of Mammoth Mountain and features luxury amenities such as airport pick-up and a 24-hour gym.
There are suites of differing sizes, but most can accommodate groups of four and six. On the hotel grounds, enjoy a soak in one of two hot tubs or take a lap in the heated outdoor swimming pool.
Read More: 10 Best Hotels In Mammoth Lakes, California
We hope this guide has helped you prepare for a wonderful visit to the Hot Creek Geological Site in Mammoth! Looking for more things to do around Mammoth Lakes? Check out these posts next:
- 15 Fun Things To Do In Mammoth Lakes In Winter
- 20 Best Winter Hikes In California (By a Local)
- 10 Best Mammoth Vacation Rentals In California
- 12 Best Places To Stay In Mammoth Lakes
- How To Visit Hilltop Hot Springs In Mammoth Lakes
- How To Hike Inyo Craters Trail In Mammoth Lakes
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