Squeezed into our site off Hot Creek Road

Squeezed into our site off Hot Creek Hatchery Road

A very large, open BLM area on the East side of Hwy 395 just South of Mammoth Lakes, CA with hidden free hot springs to boot! Best suited to smaller campers (Class C, trailers, vans) however.

Location: Hot Creek Hatchery Road, Benton Crossing Road (sometimes locally called “Green Church Road”) & Whitmore Tubs Road are all located on the East side of Hwy 395 around the Mammoth Lakes Airport just ~3 miles South of Mammoth Lakes, CA
Coordinates: Approx. 37.634829,-118.86393 (start of Hot Creek Hatchery Road), or 37.622288,-118.819634 (start of Benton Crossing Road). Link to map location HERE
Cost: FREE (14-day stay limit)
How We Found It: I had initially heard of this area from the RV forums (boondocking forum on rv.net), and subsequently got more info from word-of-mouth and other bloggers who’ve stayed in the area.
Nearest Dump/Water: No water or dump in the area. There is a free dump at Convict Lake NFS campground around 5 miles away and on the opposite (West) side of Hwy 395. There is also a pay dump ($12) at the Shell Station ~30 miles south in Bishop, CA.

  1. Access – 1/5
    Access is probably the most difficult aspect of this area. The area around the Mammoth Lakes airport is wide, flat and completely open (= nice views, no shade). There is plenty of BLM space out here, but many of the  the spurs are rough and the vast majority of open campsite areas are small. The initial parts of both Hot Creek Hatchery Road (just north of the airport) & Benton Crossing Road (just south of the airport by the “Green Church”) are paved, then turn into wide, dirt roads accessible to just about any size rig, but there are no real campsites here. You need to drive a few miles in before you’ll see accessible areas to camp and most of these are cleared spots off the main road on smaller spurs with limited turn-around space. In our extensive drive around the area we found many of these smaller sites. Most have  gorgeous views and some are even walking distance to “hidden” hot springs, but only one or two would accommodate our size (and even then, it’s a squeeze). So, there are plenty of options for smaller rigs (trailers, vans, Class C’s), but very, very few options for larger sizes. DO be aware that some of the land out here is owned by LA Water Department and is not open for camping (look for the LA DWP “no camping” signs).
  2. Nature – 5/5
    Absolutely gorgeous nature out here. The BLM area east of 395 is mostly high-desert scrub so no real shade, but you’ll get 360-degree views of the lovely Sierra Nevada Mountains. Lots and lots of “hidden” hot springs plus interesting dirt roads to explore.
  3. Isolation – 3.5/5
    Medium to good isolation here depending on how far off the main road you’re able to camp. We found some very small campsites with excellent isolation down the rougher spurs which would be perfect for high-clearance smaller campers (e.g. truck campers). However the more easily accessible campsites are closer to the main road and the hot springs, both of which are relatively popular drives. During the week it’s pretty quiet, but on week-ends and evenings you’ll see some cars on the road.
  4. Pet Friendliness – 5/5
    Another great location for the paws. Lots of open space around camp plus miles of dirt roads on-site to hike and explore with doggie. Nearby hot springs are also dog-friendly so feel free to bring pooch along for your dip. Surrounding area is brush desert and has the bonus of lots of interesting rabbits. Just be ready for dusty paws!

Overall Rating = 3.6
BONUS ALERT = Camp within steps of “hidden” hot springs and with 360-degree mountain views!

Summary: We came to this area primarily to explore the “hidden” free hot springs just south of Mammoth Lakes and were intrigued by the fact that you could camp here too. Overall it’s an excellent location….large, open BLM area, close to town, within a few miles of excellent hiking and with lots of stunning 360-degree views of the mountains. Some of the area is owned by LA DWP (and thus closed to camping -> you’ll see the signs), but most of the rest is BLM (not signed) and completely available. You can access the area on the East side of Hwy 395  just north of Mammoth airport (on Hot Creek Hatchery Road) or just south of the airport (by the “Green Church” on Benton Crossing Road) and pretty much anything a few miles in will be open for camping. So, what’s the catch? Well, despite the size of available land, the spots cleared for camping are mostly off narrow dirt spurs, smaller in size and have limited turn-around space. This makes for lots of interesting options for smaller rigs (Class C, trailers, vans), but very, very few viable options for larger sizes. We scratched the side of our rig with scrub on the way into our site off Hot Creek Road and only (just) barely managed to turn around to get back out (it took almost an hour and a few years off my life). In our extensive drive around the area we only really found one site that would comfortably fit us and it was rather close to the main road. Other than size limits, however, we loved the spot and had a blast soaking in the free hot springs. So, all in all a highly recommended area for smaller rigs, but probably best to miss for larger sizes.

Extra Info: Good 4G LTE Verizon signal. No facilities (no RV dump, no water) but there are convenient trash dumpsters and vault toilets a few miles away at Hot Creek Geological site. Nearest RV dump & water at Convict Lake NFS campground on other side of Hwy 395.

Extra, Extra Info -> “Beast-Size” Boondocking?: For larger rigs I recommend the free NFS campground called Glass Creek which is only a few miles north of Mammoth Lakes. It is easily accessed off Hwy 395 and has plenty of open, flat space to accommodate any-sized rig. See HERE and HERE. This campground is popular w/ ATVers on the week-end, but very quiet during the week.

Entrance to Benton Crossing Road showing the "Green Church". First part of road is paved, then turns to wide dirt.

Entrance to Benton Crossing Road showing the “Green Church”. First part of road is paved, then turns to wide dirt.

View of our shared site w/ the Watson's off Hot Creek Hatchery Road. That turn at the end was TIGHT!

View of our shared site w/ the Watson’s off Hot Creek Hatchery Road. That turn at the end was TIGHT!

Front view of our site

Front view of our site. The road coming in was rather narrow and scrub scratched the side of our rig.

View of our "sitting area". Very pleasant once we were squeezed in.

View of our “sitting area”. This was after the Watson’s left and we’d made the tight end-turn. Very pleasant once we were squeezed in.

View of a smaller site off Whitmore Tubs Road. The road here was rough, but the site is right next to a hot spring.

View of a smaller site off Whitmore Tubs Road. The road to get here was rough, but perfectly do-able for a smaller rig. The site is right next to a hot spring too.

View of another site off Benton Crossing Road. Again, a very rough, narrow road to get here, but once in the area there is lots of space.

View of another site off Benton Crossing Road. Again, a very rough, narrow road to get here, but once in the area there is lots of space.

Another small site off Whitmore Tubs Road. This was just a pull-off and could probably fit a Class C.

Another small site off Whitmore Tubs Road. This was just a pull-off and could probably fit a Class C.

View of one of larger pull-offs on a spur Benton Cross Road. This may possibly be the only site we could fit into.

View of one of larger pull-offs near Benton Crossing Road. This may possibly be the only site we could fit into.

Beware of areas owned by LA Water Department. These are clearly signed & don't allow camping.

Beware of areas owned by LA Water Department. These are clearly signed & don’t allow camping.

General map of BLM area behind the airport. Boundaries are very general here since the BLM extends many miles back.

General map of BLM area behind the airport. Boundaries are very general here since the BLM extends many miles back. Hot Creek Road is on the left of the airport, Benton Crossing Road is on the right. Camping starts a few miles back.

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25 Responses to Boondocking Site Review – Hot Creek/Benton Crossing/Whitmore Tubs Road, Mammoth Lakes, CA

  1. We call those “scrub scratches” “Desert pin-striping” A badge of honor in our group and usually with a little bit of polish they will come off. Glad to hear of this place….. we are going to have to ck it out! Thanks for sharing. Wait one last question are there naked people in the tubs? kind of scary if you go there and find them without expecting them.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Pretty much all the hot tubs in the area are “clothing optional”, so yes you might find naked people there. However most seem to prefer clothed, at least that was what we experienced.
      Nina

  2. flyfishnevada says:

    I’m gonna have to go find those hot springs the next time I’m down there. That green church is like a signpost to fishermen. Its the way to the Upper Owens, Crowley, Hot creek is just north and McGee creek which has big spawning trout from Crowley in the spring and fall is just past there. The hot springs would be nice after a day of fishing. Be warned: I’d be naked ;)

    • libertatemamo says:

      Nice tips on the fishing! McGee Creek is also a fabulous fall viewing area. We didn’t make the hike this time around, but we usually go there everytime we come to the area.
      Nina

  3. One day…one day…Love this post

  4. Ingrid says:

    I’m convinced Nina….after last years posts and this years, I just have to visit the Alabama Hills and explore along Hwy 395. We’re parked in a RV Park for awhile and the lack of room and views is not making for a happy camper. The open space of boondocking is calling. Great info and post :-)

    • libertatemamo says:

      I think you guys would love it here. Just spent some time catching up on your blog. You’re travelling through some fabulous country there!
      Nina

  5. Dave says:

    Another one of your posts to put into my “boondock” folder. Thanks for the detailed info. Enjoy your drive south. –Dave

  6. Hanna says:

    It’s a great life you live :-) The pictures and descriptions are very interesting. I think the church at the intersection is equal to a film set without wanting to disadvantage any of the pictures.
    You must experience a pronounced tranquility in the places where you stay overnight?

    • libertatemamo says:

      The Green Church is very iconic to the area. Many locals call the road “Green Church Road” and it makes for a beautiful backdrop to the mountains. And yes, we experience pronounced tranquility in these spots. It’s part of what we love about boondocking!
      Nina

  7. Gayle says:

    Another good thing about that area is that the Hot Creek Geological site just down the road has trash dumpsters and vault toilets, always a plus when boondocking!

  8. gypsyvinrose says:

    Thanks so much for sharing, Nina! This is jus the place we need to take our old VW Van…and set up Camp Peniki! California is the next stop for us! : )
    Happy & Safe Travels to you both!

    • libertatemamo says:

      Oh yeah, this is a perfect spot for vans! You’ll be able to find some really sweet sites in that size.
      Nina

      • gypsyvinrose says:

        Oh, that’s great to hear! : ) We’ve been wanting to head out to Cali for a while now, but our old girl Peniki needs some work. Nico (Hubby) will soon be putting in the new clutch, fixing the oil leak, and overhauling the engine. Sounds like a lot to take-on, but he’s a mechanic…so we’re lucky for that.
        I hope we can get back out there soon. Even though we have our caravan remod going on right now…it is home-base, but still cheap enough to leave behind and travel lighter in the van. We try not to plan too far in advance, since things never turn out as planned anyway. : )

        • libertatemamo says:

          Cool! Hope all the mechanical stuff gets sorted quickly! If you’re heading here soon just be prepared for some chilly weather. We hit 11 degrees one AM in this site (brrr!). It’s getting to the time of year where weather is really fickle up at these elevations. You may get nice, warm days but you might also get snow! If it gets too cold for you just head south on 395 to Bishop. Much, much warmer here.
          Nina

          • gypsyvinrose says:

            Thanks, Nina! I hope ya’ll stay nice and warm out there. We’re here on the island for the winter, but we do plan on getting Peniki up-to-par by next Spring/Summer. That is more-likely when we’ll be hitting the road and heading that way.
            ‘So nice to now have our heading.

  9. Chris says:

    As a local we hate that these locations have been published for the following reasons, so please be respectful.
    The tubs are for ALL to use which means regardless of BLM 14-day limits, please do NOT park your rigs adjacent to the tubs and ‘camp-out’.
    1) Park AWAY(far away!) from the tubs and visit only for the period to soak.
    Most all of us are in an out 20-40 mins. It’s not appreciated, considerate or respectful to set-up house right at the tubs. You don’t own them.

    2) When you arrive at a smaller tub (that only accommodates 1-5 people comfortably) and it’s already occupied by someone(s) come back later or ask how long they’ll be and return. DO NOT join without being invited. It’s rude and why we have a distaste for some, not all, tourists. Just because there is an empty seat at a table in a restaurant does not mean you are welcome.

    3) Take all of your trash out with you including your dog’s crap. Leave only footprints/tire-tracks.

    Common sense, common courtesy.
    Thanks

  10. steven schlah says:

    It is a shame that the Mammoth Fishery Hot Springs (near the airport) are again closed to the public, as we were there last Spring. Since I first went there, at age 8, in 1954, it has been closed, then opened, then closed, many times. I remember in 54 wading through very cold water to the comfortable warm springs, only to get nearly scalded and then again frozen from the changing creek currents. But it was worth the challenge, though I have heard that many people got bad burns. But my favorite place is still the nearby Convict (Monte Diablo) Lake. Bury me there.

    • libertatemamo says:

      What amazing memories of this place you have! Totally agree with you on Convict Lake. We camped there in 2012 and absolutely loved it. In fact we probably would have camped again in 2013 except for the Government shut-down that closed all the public campgrounds in the area. Thanks for sharing!

      Nina

  11. steven schlah says:

    I should have added, my ‘biological mother’, Mary Arlene (I’m an adoptee), along with her husband, Ray (who grew up in Aberdeen of the Owens), ran the store at Benton for may years in the ’50s and ’60s. So I drove the Benton Crossing Rd. last year, with one of my daughters, to investigate the area more fully, though I have been to the Owens a dozen times. Now I REALLY see why they moved from the San Fernando Valley to Benton and then Bishop, in the late ’40s.

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