Eastern Sierra Color and Hot Springs

The Eastern Sierra’s fall colors peaked about 2 weeks ago. 2011 was historical, sporting brilliant oranges, golds, and reds. I longingly followed the progression through extraordinary photographs on the very helpful website California Fall Color. Missing the peak did not discourage me from planning a packed weekend in search of the last colorful aspen standing, testing multiple natural hot springs in the Mammoth area, and hiking up 3 stunning canyons.

The weekend started with a hike up Lundy Canyon following Mill Creek, north of Lee Vining, CA. This canyon is a favorite of photographers and a new experience for me. It was a huge treat and I would love to revisit with a backpack up this gem of a canyon.

For years I have read about the hot springs near the Mammoth Airport. Armed with rough maps printed from the Internet, we set out to visit as many as possible. So fun. We managed to experience Hilltop, Little Hot Springs, Wild Willies, and Hot Tub. The night sky complete with shooting stars while soaking in these tubs, is a must do. These natural hot springs have been developed by Bureau of Land Management. A word of caution: clothing is optional at most of the tubs.

Hilltop Hot Spring was our hands down favorite. It featured a scenic short walk on a boardwalk, stunning views of the Sierras, a valve to regulate temperature, and the perfect hot tub depth. I left this area wondering, “WHY HAVEN’T I VISITED HERE BEFORE, ESPECIALLY AFTER BACKPACKS?”

Hilltop Hot Spring

Boardwalk to Hot SpringsMost campgrounds in the area are closing for the winter on November 1st. We lucked out and stayed at French Camp Campground along Rock Creek near the Tom’s Place off ramp, below Mammoth Lakes. The campground is secluded, clean, and has flush toilets.

On our second day, we headed up Little Lakes Valley from the Mosquito Flat Trailhead. This trail is very popular for all ages with little elevation gain at the start and beautiful scenery and lakes from the get go. I love the view of Bear Creek Spire that dominates the head of this valley.

Bear Creek Spire (center)Convict Lake has been on my list to visit for years. It is a short drive from highway 395 just north of the Mammoth Airport. A hike around the lake was just perfect to take in the lingering fall beauty. And AGAIN I highly recommend this very cool alpine lake and would also like to backpack from this trail head.

Boardwalk - Convict Lake

Convict LakeIt has been a long time since I have hauled my BIG camera (DSLR) along on a hike. Getting acquainted with my old friend again and taking my time making pictures in fall’s golden light was a treat. I even shot in RAW format.

View slide show on Flickr.

Get out and enjoy the last little bit of fall. It is not too late.


  1. These pictures show many of my favorite places on earth. I spent my childhood fishing the streams in and around Convict and South Lakes. Found the hot springs with a trip I took for a college class. Never knew they were there before that. There was a meteor shower the night we were there. Just stunning!

    Your photography is amazing! I am hoping to get up there this Fall and this has just rekindled the spark in me. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you, I am glad the visit to this area sparked good things. We were taken by surprise also. I have passed by hundreds of times over the years and had no idea the hot springs were there. I want to return in the winter when there is snow and snowshoe out to Hilltop Hot Tub. Imagine the pics then…

  2. Barbara Tieskoetter

    Thanks for sharing your gorgeous and stunning photos of your fab fall sojourn.

  3. Those pictures are absolutely beautiful. Hope I see them on a calendar this next year. Hint hint. Must try the hot tubs, sounds like great fun.

  4. Hi there — I am envious of those hot springs! What a treat!

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