At the end of a long day on the trail, there’s nothing better than taking a swig of whiskey, kicking off your dusty hiking boots, and soaking your aching joints in a wild hot spring. It feels magical and otherworldly to have warm water bubbling up from the earth in the middle of nowhere, almost as though some ethereal being created these boiling lagoons just to sooth us tired humans. The hot springs we’ve curated below are all hike-in only. They’re going to make you work for it, but in our opinion, that just makes the soak even sweeter.
Overnight permits are required for hikers looking to camp at each of the springs here. Reserve online at the nearest ranger station, and don’t forget the bear canister!
The six mile hike down to Jordan Hot Springs is a burly day hike or a great overnight trip for beginner to intermediate backpackers. Stop at the Black Rock Ranger Station on your way out of Kennedy Meadows to get a permit (non quota), then park at the Black Rock Trailhead and descend through a shady pine forest for the first few miles. The trail opens up to an expansive meadow full of grazing cattle before continuing its tree-lined descent along the banks of Ninemile Creek. After a brief jaunt through a burn zone, the trail spits hikers out into a grassy meadow bordered by fabulous campsites with fire rings and, of course, easy access to Jordan Hot Springs’ huge, warm pool. Hit the trail early when it’s time to head back to the car – you’ve got a 3,000-foot climb ahead of you!
Iva Bell Hot Springs boasts the prettiest view of any I’ve seen in the Sierra. This 25-mile out-and-back starting from Reds Meadow takes hikers right past Rainbow Falls, into a verdant, fern-covered canyon, across a series of Yosemite-style granite slabs, past a series of secret waterfalls, and along a burbling, crystal-clear creek before reaching the absolutely lovely hot springs. Along the way, trekkers will catch some seriously epic views of craggy rock formations and towering granite cliffs off to the west. Nab an overnight permit for Fish Creek if you’re planning on camping at one of the juniper-lined sites here, then head up the super steep use trail and keep your eyes peeled for several secluded tubs with a view of the entire valley below.
OK, so they might not look like much from the picture, but for those adventurous souls hiking the High Sierra Trail, the Kern Hot Springs are a sight for sore eyes. Bubbling up near the base of Chagoopa Falls’ delicate cascade, this bathtub-sized concrete pool is at least a 20-mile hike in from any direction. Thruhikers on the HST will hit this glorious place at mile 36, on day 3 or 4 of a week long journey. With the gigantic rock walls of Kern River Canyon rising all around and the chilly, mellow rapids of Kern River to your right, what’s not to love? Shady campsites with established fire rings, a bear box, and a pit toilet are all a short walk away. It’s a slice of heaven for those willing to go the distance.