For thousands of years humans have been drawn to mineral filled hot springs in search of warmth, purification and healing. Even in modern times, the sites of these schisms bubbling forth liquid from earth’s deeper surfaces have attracted many onlookers, including myself.
My travels have led me to several of these hot springs throughout California, though the most memorable ones I found were along areas close to Highway 395. The route is one of my favorites for “pool-hopping,” a term I’ve coined for the act of being on a hot spring tour.
Although there are many destinations to visit, far too many for one article, one I would strongly recommend is Travertine Hot Springs near Bridgeport. These hot springs located in the Sierra Mountain range are a must see for anyone interested in geology and adventure.
The site is easily accessible with a four-wheel drive vehicle and does not require a permit. To get there, head north on Highway 395 toward Bridgeport, and once close to town look for a small Inyo National Forest ranger station; the road to the springs is right behind it. Turn right to follow the path, which moves past an industrial-like site before clearing out toward the springs.
Once at the site, there are numerous pools to choose from. Some are hotter than others as they are located closer to the source of their ruptures. While touring the different-sized pools, try applying the clay mud found at the bottom of to one’s skin. It’s said to be good for the complexion. Smaller pools surround one giant boulder featuring a multi-colored stream of minerals carved into its surface.
The atmosphere here is surreal and alien. Snowcapped mountains surround the unusually cream, yellow-gray mud and clay fields, which are filled with peculiar looking mounds and small crater-like depressions, some boiling with water. The name “Travertine” actually means a form of limestone that is deposited by various types of mineral springs.
The scent of sulfur often wafts through the air, and the highly salted surface tends to dehydrate one quickly. Explore the area around the hot springs to feel what it’s like to walk on an alien planet, but wear something more substantial than flip-flops. The rocks are sharp and there are strange-looking spiders by the small pool away from the dirt road. I know this from first-hand experience because my friend and I both got bit while we were exploring one of the springs far from the main entry way.
At the pools, the dress code is pretty relaxed, and there is no fee or permit required to visit these site, which is unusual in this day and age. Despite lack of official enforcement, the area seems cared for and well kept, probably by locals.
Places to Stay and Grub
Travel to the area is best in the summer; check out the Buckeye Camp grounds when they’re open for the season. There is another great hot spring located about a mile from this camp, called Buckeye Hot Springs. These springs flow right into a river, and are popular with Burning Man-type, so there tends to be a bit more nudity, but no more spoilers— these one you can discover on your own.
Also, while in Bridgeport, you might want to check out the Burger Barn. It’s like one of those places that Anthony Bourdain should visit but hasn’t yet. And don’t let the name fool you, the Burger Barn has great vegetarian options, too.