Discovering a Sierra wilderness wonderland
John Muir, the sage of the Sierras, once wisely said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” My wife and I found the perfect place to practice what John Muir preached—at Mono Hot Springs, tucked in the wilderness between Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks, about three and half hour’s drive northeast of Fresno.
We happened upon this unique locale while looking for trips not too far from our base in Fresno. I noticed a spot on our California map labeled “Mono Hot Springs”, located so far from civilization that the tiny road lines stopped there, and since hot springs are one of my wife’s obsessions, we decided to check it out. And I’m so glad we did—this trip proved to be one of the most unique nature getaways that we’ve done in California.
What’s the appeal? For those of us who crave being out in unspoiled nature, this is the place to be. Many visitors come to experience natural hot springs; others seek the fine trout fishing in the area; some want to enjoy the horseback riding at nearby Edison Lake. On each clear, moonless night, the stars filled the sky and we climbed the boulders behind our cabin to gaze in awe at the dazzling display. For us, the main focus was on hiking to nearby lakes and exploring as many of the nearby hot springs as possible.
As much as we loved this trip, the hot springs proved to be less appealing than we had hoped. The early June rain and extra-high San Joaquin River produced a marshy, muddy walk to reach the cluster of hot springs and mud baths, and we found only one truly hot bath, Old Pedro, that consists of a small, rectangular, concrete basin that remains from an early 20th century bath house. The lukewarm temperatures of the other hot springs we found made us better appreciate our own resort’s outdoor hot bath, which was clean, accessible, hot, and also fed from natural hot springs water.
Getting there. Soon after we left Huntington Lake, our smooth, wide road was replaced by a bumpy, single lane road that snaked down the mountains for the next fourteen miles. We passed over Kaiser Pass (elevation 9184 feet), and felt a mixture of elation looking at the spectacular views of the snow-topped Sierra Mountains—aptly named “the Range of Light”—and apprehension as we approached each blind curve in the road which obscured oncoming vehicles.
Doug Hansen is a travel writer and photographer in Carlsbad, CA. You can find more photos and articles at www.HansenTravel.org