Buckeye Springs, California, 7200 ft (38°14’22.1″N 119°20’28.8″W)
Buckeye Springs are completely natural. Completely! Depending on the day, you probably won’t need a bathing suit here, but you will need good rock scrambling shoes to clamber back up the hill to your car. And you will need a car to get here – Buckeye is completely off the beaten track. Bring lots of drinking water, and be prepared for an altitude of 7200 ft.
To get to Buckeye Springs, you will have to travel a fair distance down some backcountry dirt roads in the remote eastern Sierra Nevada. You will start in Bridgeport (pop. 575), then head up for about a 30 minute drive into the mountains. While you are in Bridgeport (http://www.bridgeportcalifornia.com/), stock up on water and food. Make sure to bring lots of water!
On the road to Buckeye Springs
Enjoy this very scenic drive, the views from the mountainside are fabulous! From the 395 in Bridgeport, just past the Gas &Go (water!), you will turn left onto Twin Lakes Road. Follow this road up the mountain for about 7 miles until you see Doc and Al’s Camp and Cabin Resort (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Doc-Als-Resort/472867532765517) – then turn right onto Buckeye Road.
A short while after you decide that you missed a turn and have become completely lost, the road will hook down to a bridge and ta-daa, the springs will appear! For detailed directions on how to get there, click here http://hotspringsoak.com/buckeye-hot-springs.html .
As you cross the bridge over Buckeye Creek, you will see the springs. The parking lot is at the top of a little hill and you have a short scrabble down some very steep scree to the pools. The hot water emerges from the hillside and as you scramble down you will see little rivulets streaming down the rock face. Be careful, some of these rivulets are hot! Remember to keep enough energy at the end of the day to get back up this hill – it’s not an easy climb at this altitude after a few hours in the hot water.
From the rock face, the spring water drips into Buckeye Creek. The hot spring water mixes with the cool creek water to make warm water pools. One of the fun things about Buckeye is that you get to develop it yourself: the pools are made by moving rocks around until you get a mix that is just the right temperature for you. There are usually a few people there, so the pools get moved around as the day goes on. This is a great place to spend an afternoon, or have a picnic lunch. Since these springs cater to young or young at heart nature lovers, some of the bathers also enjoy natural herbal products in the peaceful atmosphere.
On the day I visited, there were eight people who came and went over a few hours. The atmosphere was very friendly, relaxed and open. All of us were nature freaks who had gone a fair distance to come to these springs. There was only one local: a man in his 60s who lived nearby and took great pride in the springs, meticulously moving the rocks around so we could all have the perfect temperature. One visitor was David, who had been hiking the nearby Pacific Crest Trail for months and told some great stories of his backcountry experiences on the trail. Thierry and Éliane were French students who were spending the summer visiting the United States and had stumbled upon someone who had suggested they come here. We built up a lot of camaraderie in just a few hours.
The pools are not very deep with only about 18” of water, but deep enough to lie down in and be fully covered. The environment is exquisite, Buckeye Creek is more of a river here, babbling along with almost musical notes through the rapids. At one point, some children came to fish from the bridge close enough that we could hear their laughter in the background. The air is crystal clear, with the smell of pine mixed with a little sulfur from the springs. The experience of sitting in this perfect mountain wilderness, sharing tales in the warm water was a little slice of heaven.
Buckeye is remote, so we had made sure to bring a picnic lunch. Ours was low key, in keeping with the environment, chicken salad sandwiches with a White Zinfandel. It was the perfect pairing!
With darkness falling we decided to leave and we found it a little difficult to get back up the scree to our car. But with one final burst of energy, we made it, then flopped down puffing in the parking lot – I am so terrible at altitude!
If you want to spend a few days in the beautiful eastern Sierra Nevada, you can camp in the National Park Services Buckeye Campground. Buckeye Springs is just within the limits of the vast Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, and nearby trails lead into Yosemite National Park. Or you can stay at the nearby Doc and Al’s Resort.
Click on these links to plan your trip to these remarkable hot springs!
You can stay at the nearby Doc and Al’s Resort (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Doc-Als-Resort/472867532765517)
Or camp in the National Park Services Buckeye Campground (http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/htnf/recreation/ohv/recarea/?recid=65272&actid=29)
Travertine Hot Springs:
Mono Lake and County: http://www.monocounty.org/
Bodie ghost town (about 1 hour drive): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodie,_California
Mammoth (about 1 ½ hour drive): http://www.visitmammoth.com/things-to-do/