California is blessed to have its fair share of hot springs, many of which are found in and around the Sierra Nevada. The riverside pools of Mono Hot Springs are perhaps the most remote of these springs still accessible by car.
Located on the banks of the South Fork of the San Joaquin River on the edge of the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Mono Hot Springs consists of three main pools and a handful of smaller soaking pools spread around a meadow on the south side of the river. The natural therapeutic mineral water comes from a fracture deep within the surface. Many have enjoyed its mineral health benefits over the years, from the Mono Indians to generations of campers. The main pools were built up by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s when concrete slabs were constructed to reinforce the walls. The CCC also built bathhouses around the pools that no longer remain.
The hottest two pools, known as Old Pedro and Iodone Springs, are over 100 degrees. The other pools range from 80 to 90 degrees. With its scenic perch and view above the river, Old Pedro sees the most use. In summer, however, when the days are warmer, the other pools are often more comfortable.
The Forest Service-run Mono Hot Springs Campground is across the river from the spring and adjacent to parking, and Mono Hot Springs Resort is directly next to that. The rustic family-owned resort runs private hot spring baths, cabins for rent, a public store, and a restaurant.
Public parking for the hot springs is located next to the campground. For access, walk through the campground and cross the river on a narrow log bridge that connects to boulders. Old Pedro is just above the trail, and Iodine Springs is located to the left a few hundred yards away down a muddy footpath that parallels the river. The remaining pools are above Old Pedro and are spaced around the meadow. Please keep the area clean, pack out what you bring, and pick up any trash left by inconsiderate soakers.
If it wasn’t for the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project, built in the early 20th century to provide power to the rapidly growing City of Los Angeles, Mono Hot Springs would very likely still be accessibly only by foot or horseback. With the construction of the Big Creek series of reservoirs and dams stretching up into the Sierra came the building of the "Cheap and Nasty," a one-lane access road that has opened access to Mono Hot Springs during snow-free months. It takes about an hour to drive 10 miles from Huntington Lake on the twisty hair-pin road, which consists of countless blind turns and potholes that keep the most experienced driver vigilant. Long story short, drive this road with caution. Large RVs and trailers are not recommended.
Both the campground and the resort are closed between November and May (exact dates vary year to year) due to snowfall and limited road access. While Mono Hot Springs are never officially closed, access is difficult until Kaiser Pass Road is free from snow.
During summer and fall there is good trout fishing on the South Fork of the San Joaquin and nearby tributaries. Hiking is plentiful in both the adjacent Ansel Adams and nearby John Muir Wilderness.