My Journey to Deep Creek Hot Springs in Southern California

The Deep Creek Hot Springs are natural geothermal hot springs along the Mojave River in the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California. Nestled in between willow trees and curious rock formations, this is the perfect location for seclusion and clothing-optional soaking.

Along my journey to find these secluded, sought after pools, I found myself driving away heartbroken. Luckily, this was not from being unable to find the beautiful natural hot springs, or due to any grave misfortune. This form of heartbreak came from witnessing the lack of respect my fellow humans pay to nature and our gorgeous planet.

Before we get into my disappointments, however, let’s first discuss the great parts of the trip! There were so many.

Deep creek hot springs
Deep Creek Hot Springs. Photo: Justin W.

Unwinding in the Hot Springs

Situated in the Northern Mojave Desert, the journey in will find you amongst plenty of Joshua Trees, large boulders and interesting desert greenery. As a fan of stones, I have always found the geological formations within the Mohave to be incredibly fascinating. The boulders are made of undivided Mesozoic volcanic and metavolcanic rocks. Andesite andrhyolite flow rocks, greenstone, volcanic breccia and other pyroclastic rocks (USGS Mesozoic volcanic rocks, unit 3 (Mojave Desert, Death Valley area, and Eastern Sierra Nevada)).

Deep creek hot springs pools
Deep Creek Hot Springs Pools. Photo: Christian W

After you take in the sights on your trek down to the river, it’s time to choose a pool out of the seven available and let your body unwind. With both cold and hot water pools available to enjoy, this can really be a therapeutic experience if you go during a less-busy time.

The five main hot springs range from 100 to 105 degrees, with the largest pool being the coolest (temperature) of them all. This large pool is the most popular because of it’s comfortable temperature, and can fit around a dozen people. If you’re like me and prefer a bit more privacy, there are other smaller pools tucked between rocks. These pools vary in temperature, but most of them usually average over 100 degrees. The upper pool is also beautiful, with hot water flowing down the rocks in a little steaming waterfall.

Deep creek hot springs steam
Steam rising up from the Deep Creek Hot Springs. Photo: James P

There is no camping allowed near the hot springs, but you will likely find a few rule breakers saying over night regardless. If you do decide to stay overnight, the most important thing is to pack out ALL trash and leave the area more pristine than when you arrived. Part of what makes the Deep Creek Hot Springs so special is the pools are lovingly maintained by volunteers passionate about the area. Some of these amazing volunteers have been taking care of the land for decades.

How to Get There

For more in-depth information on how to get to Deep Creek and what you’ll need to bring with you, click here.

There are several routes which will take you to the hot springs. Bowen Ranch is one of the safer options, where the owner of private land also provides security to parked vehicles. Other locations have reported vandalism and break-ins. AAA will only serve paved roads, so make sure you have topped off your gas tank and are ready to off-road.

Caution, Adventure Seekers

If you are going to bring children or are uncomfortable with nudity, be aware that Deep Creek Hot Springs has been a clothing-optional safe environment for decades. You will likely find people skinny dipping in the pools. The US Forest Service is okay with this practice, although you should expect to get dressed out of politeness when law enforcement or agency representatives are encountered. Don’t be “that guy” and argue with an official. It could result in a $5000 fine and up to six months of imprisonment.

Each trail leading to Deep Creek Hot Springs is very steep, so please take this into consideration. These are not beginner trails and can be very taxing on the way back up (especially in the hot desert sun). Bring plenty of water, food, a hat, a small medical kit and be aware that cell phone service is very limited.

Now, for the slightly more uncomfortable bit of information. The US Forest Service has reported that the pools contain a high amount of fecal coliform, thanks to all the humans and dogs frequenting the area. The waters can also contain a rare, but sometimes-fatal disease called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis. This means that you should NOT drink the water nor submerge your head.

These warnings might seem excessive and have you wondering if the hike is even worth it. Yes. Train and come prepared for a unique experience in nature.

Hot Springs Heartbreak

The road to deep creek hot springs
The road to Deep Creek Hot Springs

After driving for a little over six miles on this bumpy, washed out dirt road, I was greeted by a sun-bleached string stretched between two decrepit wooden stakes in the ground. I pulled off to the side, despite there not being another car in sight. A breath in. A breath out. What do I do now?

I looked down at my phone. A bit of reception remained. I started looking for some alternative routes, as this one was apparently closed. As I waited for a website to load, two cars came quickly towards me. One was a newish clean pickup and the other a sedan. The truck led the way. The driver stopped at the string, got out, and laid it on the ground so the vehicles could get through. The driver in the sedan rolled down his window, a look of stress and worry stretched his face.

“The road is closed! The guy is crazy and called the cops on us.” I looked at the numerous No Trespassing signs and bit my tongue. I’m much more of the type to sit back, listen, and let others dig their own graves before I speak a word. At this moment, 2 beat up pickup trucks appeared, driving towards the makeshift gate. The sedan driver got back in and the two vehicles continued off back to where they came.

Both beat-up pickups stopped about one hundred yards from the gate. A lanky man with a wide brimmed hat and leathery skin got out and walked towards us, carefully approaching on the other side of the road, yet keeping a healthy distance.

I called out asking if he was the owner. I knew Bowen Ranch was private property, but wasn’t sure what exactly to expect. As he answered affirming my question, I noticed he was carrying a large socket wrench in what could be perceived as menacing body language.

Quick glances behind where I was parked led me to believe the tool wasn’t meant for me, and I didn’t want to change that. “Sir, is there another route I can take to get to the Deep Creek Hot Springs?”

This ragged man barked, “Figure it out on your own with your dumbphones and idiotnet!” I laughed and apologized for bothering him.

For whatever reason, he eased up in his body language and seemed to relax in my immediate presence. He went into a tirade, languishing about the people who have no respect for his private property, crossing no trespassing signs, not bringing water, having to be search and rescued, leaving trash everywhere.

In hearing the stories of how terribly people treated this incredibly beautiful land, I felt devastated. Where is the respect of this fragile desert ecosystem and oasis? Do these people not realize this property owner is letting them park here out of goodwill?

The much needed venting went on for a good twenty minutes. He eyed my truck up and down. “You’re the kind of people that this area is meant for.” He almost seemed on the verge of letting me through to experience the hot spring’s beauty despite saying the ranch was closed to the public for a while.

Road trash mojave desert
Photo: The San Diego Union-Tribune

In driving back down the long dirt road, curving between desert hills and boulders, I found my eyes open to the sheer amount of garbage. Empty plastic bottles, bags, and other pieces of trash lined the road.

Bowen Ranch Road is situated in some of the prettiest geological spots in the Mojave Desert, and yet the beauty is ignored by those who can’t be bothered to pick up after themselves.

I will be bringing extra trash bags with me on my next excursion down to Deep Creek Hot Springs. I hope you are inspired to do the same.

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