Hot Creek Geological Site

How To Visit Hot Creek Geological Site In Winter

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

Parking by the trail starting point in winter

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.

Views of the surrounding mountains from the trail

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

Viewpoint of 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.

Steaming water rising from Hot Creek River

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.

Snow hiking along Hot Creek Hatchery Road

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.  

Hot Creek Geological Site looks stunning in the winter surrounded by snow-capped mountains!

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.

Trailhead to Hot Creek Geological Site

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.

The trail is wide and easy to follow

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.

Vault restrooms next to the site

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.

The path that leads to Hot Creek Geological Site

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.

Fumaroles emitting steam at the Hot Creek Geological Site

One section across the river has stunning turquoise pools but this area also looks the hottest and is not accessible from the trail.

Boiling pools next to the creek

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.

Hot Creek wild trout area

After exploring the area, we turned around and went back along the 2-mile-long path the same way that we came.

Be sure to keep an eye out for ‘Danger’ sings

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.

Brees Lookout Point

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!

Winter Jacket

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.

Thermal Leggings

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.

Thermal tights on REI

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.

Vasque Women’s Skywalk Gore-Tex Boot


Wearing microspikes will prevent you from falling and injuring yourself.

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.

Hiking microspikes on Amazon


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!

Winter Beanie

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

Photo by The Village Lodge

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.

Click here to book it!

Tamarack Lodge

Photo by the Tamarack Lodge

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.

Click here to book it!

The Westin Monache Resort

Photo by The Westin Monache Resort

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.

Click here to book it!

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:

This post is written by Laura Sausina. Hi, I’m a California local and the founder of the California Wanderland travel blog. I currently live in Ventura County and help 30,000 readers a month discover things to do in Central California! Read more about me here.

Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I earn a small commission when you book through these links which helps me run this blog. Thank you!


  • Carlos

    Hi! I ask you: is it possible to swim in Hot Creek Geological Site near Mammoth Lakes?
    I will appreciate your information!

    • Laura

      Hey Carlos! All the signs indicated that it is not allowed to swim here. This area has boiling hot water so touching it can be very dangerous.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *