Initially Mammoth Lakes was meant to be a quick stopover, just a motel room on our way from Death Valley to Yosemite. It’s only home to about 8 000 people and outside of ski-season (which is the activity it’s famous for) there isn’t much going on.

Photo by Richard Maspero

That is, until I read that this area is also geologically active. So despite it being a pretty cold place, warm water bubbles to the surface in the middle of the countryside, randomly. Bonus!

Some local geniuses (not sarcastic, promise) took the initiative to build rock pools wherever they found hot springs. Warm water simply fills these pool straight out of the ground, and the overflow runs out into the open field around it.

No chemicals, no pumps, just pure awesome. Some rockpools are small, fitting only two people at a time, while others are family-sized. We found a snug little one.

They are not signposted. There is no gate. No one controls access. There are no signs up anywhere or people asking for cover charge. Not even a donation tin. In fact, I only learnt about them on other blogs and Tripadvisor!

However, we got super lost looking for this tub, driving along dirt roads and peering into the distance for traces of rising steam. There was no one in it, so we hopped in and enjoyed the gorgeous environment for a while. It was well under 10 degrees Celsius out in the thin mountain air, despite the sunshine, but while you’re in the water, it’s perfectly warm without scalding.

If you’re heading out there and would like to hang out in one, here’s a pin.

Warning: If you’re taking this route, keep an eye on the weather. The Tioga Pass (which is where I made this GIF, above) is closed from route 395 into Yosemite during winter (October – May).

Because: weather.