Hot Creek Geological Site (Mammoth Lakes)

Recently, Ashley and I had the chance to visit and do some hiking at the Hot Creek Geological Site near Mammoth Lakes, California. The Western Unites States has over 100 geothermal areas and generally, when most people think of geothermal areas they automatically think of Yellowstone National Park, which is the most impressive geothermal area in the world. However, one of the other impressive geothermal areas is right here in California's Long Valley in Eastern California between Mono Lake and the head of the Owens Valley. The Long Valley Caldera area has sporadically active geysers in addition to the more common phenomena of fumaroles, mudpots, and hot springs. One of the main features of this area is the Hot Creek Geological Site which is a fun short hike that the entire family can do together. For more pictures of the Hot Creek Geological Site Hike make sure to check out our Facebook Page.

Directions to Trailhead: To get to the Hot Creek Geological Site you are going to take highway 395 towards Mammoth Lakes, California. Exit highway 395 at the Hot Creek Hatchery Road, located approximately 10 minutes South of Mammoth Lakes, right by the Mammoth Yosemite Airport. The Hot Creek Geological Site is another 3.3 miles from the exit off of highway 395. Approximately a mile and a half after the exit off of highway 395, the Hot Creek Hatchery Road turns into a dirt/gravel road (The road is maintained well enough for cars to drive on the road). The parking area for the Hot Creek Geological Site is well marked and is located on the left hand side of the road. There is no cost for parking here and the area is open sunrise to sunset. During the winter months you may access the Hot Creek Geological Site by snowmobile, snowshoe, or cross-country skiing.

Description of Trail: The hiking trail for the Hot Creek Geological Site hike in the Eastern Sierras is well maintain and is very short. From the parking area there is a paved trail that heads down to the Hot Creek Geological Site. You will pass multiple signs that have information about the geothermal activity found in this area as well as numerous warning and danger signs telling visitors not to swim in the water or walk off trail near the geothermal features. On the hike down you will see much of the geothermal features and at the bottom there is a dirt trail you can travel along to view the entirety of the Hot Creek Geological Site. This hike is 0.5 miles roundtrip with less than 50 feet of elevation gain/loss and is a fun short hike to a neat geothermal area.

Further Thoughts: Ashley and I really enjoyed this fun short hike to the Hot Creek Geological Site.  It was neat to be able to see the different colors in the hot springs and to see fumaroles and bubbling hot water coming into the creek. You can truly sit back and enjoy this area and marvel at the geology in action. Boiling water bubbling up from the creek bed, fumaroles and periodic geyser eruptions at Hot Creek attest to the chamber of hot magma which lies about three miles below the surface of the earth in this area in what is formally known as the Long Valley Caldera.

This region was is a large volcano which had such a massive eruption approximately 760,000 years ago it resulted in the Long Valley Caldera, which is a 20 by 10 mile depression above a subterranean reservoir of molten rock, that continues to cause instability in the form of frequent earthquakes and occasional eruptions. The steam you see along the Hot Creek drainage is created when water percolates deep into the ground and enters a complex underground plumbing system. The water is heated and pressurized before it rises to the earth's surface. It is believed this journey takes around 1,000 years. Earthquakes have been known in the past to cause sudden geyser eruptions in this areas as well as create new hot springs at Hot Creek overnight. Water temperatures can change rapidly in this area, and so entering the water is prohibited for safety reasons.

The beautiful blue pools and impressive boiling fountains along Hot Creek have provided enjoyment to generations of visitors, but they have also been the cause of injury or death to some who have disregarded warnings and fences. The springs and geysers in the stream bed and along its banks change location, temperature, and flow rates frequently and unpredictably. Fences that previously protected the public now run through active hot pools. The fences and new pools emphasize how this geologically active area has been changing in our lifetime. The hot springs and geysers of Hot Creek are visible signs of dynamic geologic processes in this volcanic region, where underground heat drives thermal spring activity.

Rating: Elevation Gain: < 50 ft. (Very Easy), Distance: 0.5 Miles Roundtrip (Very Easy).

Time to Complete Hike: 30 minutes.

View Hot Creek Geological Area (Mammoth Lakes) in a larger map