Saline Valley Hot Springs

Nude beach / natural hot springs
Lower Warm Springs, California, USA

The Saline Valley springs are located within the immense area of Death Valley National Park, 120 driving miles northwest of the park visitor center in Furnace Creek and nearly 70 miles southeast of Bishop, which is the closest major town. The springs form a unique desert oasis where nudity is an intrinsic part of the culture. Despite its extremely remote location in the middle of the desert, this site is very popular and sometimes crowded, especially on holiday weekends. Natural hot springs water is piped to multiple soaking pools in the area, all of which can accommodate five or more bathers. The pools have been maintained for years by devoted volunteers.

As you approach the springs, you will see a palm oasis in the middle of the stark desert. The palm oasis, known as the lower springs, contains two large soaking pools (one with a canopy for shade), a small green lawn, a covered lounge area, a sink and an outdoor bathtub and shower. The area around the oasis is the most popular area for camping, and a primitive toilet is nearby. About 3/4 mile farther up the road, there are two more soaking pools called the upper springs that have great 360° views of the desert. The best times to visit are spring and autumn since summertime temperatures are often 110°F or higher. Wintertime visitation is limited by road conditions. Even though the springs are in a desert valley about 1,400 feet above sea level, getting to that valley requires driving through mountainous areas where the elevation of the road is as high as 6,000 feet (approaching from the south) or 7,600 feet (approaching from the north), and the road can be snowed in during winter.

The springs have a very well-established tradition of nude use. Many visitors go nude all the time throughout the general area (not just while soaking), and it is common to see naked people at campsites and walking along the road between the lower and upper springs. The springs area draws a mix of all kinds of people and is a gathering place for free spirits and counterculture types; you'll find some colorful characters here. Why do so many people make the trek to this extremely remote place? The scenery is amazing. Saline Valley, an oasis in the desert floor, is surrounded by snow-capped mountains which rise from near sea level to over 11,000 feet. The springs—with names like Sunrise Pool, Crystal Pool, Wizard Pool and Volcano Pool—are just as enchanting as their names.

Prior to 1995, this area was under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and BLM officials were so cooperative with nudists that they even placed an official sign announcing "clothing-optional use area." However, since 1995—when Death Valley National Park annexed Saline Valley—the springs have been under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service (NPS). The NPS imposed some new regulations on camping at the springs (much to the chagrin of long-time users who were happy with self-regulation), and in 2003 it removed the clothing-optional signage. Thus far the NPS has not interfered with the springs' long-established tradition of unrestricted nudity and seems unlikely to attempt any such regulation in the future, and the NPS does not promote the springs as an attraction of the park, which probably has less to do with nudity and more with not encouraging casual tourists to undertake an excursion for which they are unprepared. Getting to (and from) the springs is no casual pursuit.

To get to the Saline Valley springs, you will start at one end or the other of a gravel road called Saline Valley Road, which is a through road about 80 miles long. Whichever end you start from, you will have to go over a long mountain pass before you reach the valley floor. The part of the road through Saline Valley stays toward the western edge of the valley, and there is a road about 7 miles long that connects Saline Valley Road to the springs, which are toward the eastern edge of the valley. Both Saline Valley Road and the spur road to the springs are quite rough, with limited maintenance, and occasional rainstorms may render the roads temporarily impassable. If you approach from the north, you will be on gravel about 40 miles. If you approach from the south, you will be on gravel or deteriorating pavement about 52 miles. Either way, the going will be slow, and you should expect to cover only 15 to 20 miles an hour when you are on gravel. Although a four-wheel-drive vehicle is best for handling the terrain, plenty of visitors manage to get to the springs in two-wheel-drive vehicles. (A particularly pertinent hazard of the unpaved roads is the possibility of puncturing a tire on a sharp rock. You can lessen the risk if you deflate your tires a bit.)

Day-tripping is possible if you get an early start from one of the nearest towns (Bishop, Big Pine or Lone Pine), but almost everyone who visits the springs stays overnight due to the amount of driving involved. When you leave the springs, you will want to allow ample time to get back to pavement before nightfall. (Leave a minimum of three hours before dusk.) Remember that there are no commercial services at all at the springs. You especially need to bring ample water along with plenty of food as well as camping gear. Tent camping is most common, but some visitors arrive in a camper van or a pickup truck with a mounted camper, but trying to drive an RV or tow a trailer is highly inadvisable. If you stay overnight, it is customary to give the campground host a small donation to help maintain the area (at least $15 per night suggested). Be prepared to pack out all your trash.

Before you visit the springs, it is worthwhile to do internet searches to find trip reports and get more travel advice, especially if you are a novice to back-country travel. Among the common things visitors advise to bring along are: at least one and maybe two full-size spare tires; an extra car battery; jumper cables; an air compressor for inflating and deflating tires; more food and water than you think you'll need; toilet paper just in case the outhouses aren't well stocked; a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen; and a container with extra gas for your car. Speaking of gas, be sure your tank is full or close to full when you leave U.S. Highway 395 at Big Pine, Olancha or Lone Pine. (Gas is available in all three places, but there is no available gas between US-395 and the springs.) If you start in Big Pine, go to the springs, then return to Big Pine, the round trip distance will be about 110 miles. If you start in Olancha or Lone Pine, go to the springs, then return to either one of those places, the round trip distance will be about 170 miles. If you start in Big Pine, go to the springs, then continue to the opposite end of the valley and go to Olancha or Lone Pine, the total distance will be about 140 miles. Although most visitors are likely to start at one of those three locations along US-395, it is also possible to reach one end or the other of Saline Valley Road by coming from the east through Death Valley, via State Highway 190 or via Death Valley Road (part of which is not paved). Either way, the last available gas in Death Valley is at Stove Pipe Wells, which is along SH-190 about 44 miles east of the southern end of Saline Valley Road. If you go north through Death Valley via Scotty's Castle Road and Death Valley Road, it is 100 miles from Stovepipe Wells to the northern end of Saline Valley Road, which may pose a problem in terms of having enough gas. However, by the time you get to the start of Saline Valley Road, you will be 16 miles from Big Pine, so your best bet is to take a long detour through Big Pine.

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GPS: 36.8058N, 117.7729W

city, county, state, country  (remote), Inyo, California, U.S.A.

classification  1 (freely nude)

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