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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.