If you are not a southern CA resident, this article probably doesn’t interest you.
I understand that Bowen Ranch is reducing the time they are open and considering eliminating the camping option on their property. (The info is on Deepcreekhotsprings.net but my browser says the site is unsafe to visit.) Fortunately there are several other ways to get there.
The Forest Service doesn’t want people camping overnight within a mile of the hot springs or anywhere close to the river. They are hoping to reduce the local pollution from large numbers of people pooping in the same place. Personally I think a couple of composting toilets well away from the river would do the job better since the rule is rarely enforced. Lets assume you want to follow Forest Service rules as well.
The easiest alternative is to drive around Bowen Ranch. If you have a serious 4WD rig you can do it. It shortens the hike to the springs by a fair amount and eliminates a major hill that is excessively steep – and because it has no switchbacks sees major erosion. Also saves you from paying $5 per day or $10 per night.
This is the route. Do not use automotive GPS to try to get there. Do you notice the section in green heading straight west into a mine? That is the route my GPS gave me until it told me to make a right turn where no road existed. Don’t go there unless you simply like off-roading and would like to see an open pit mine. Follow the blue route from the first flag.
Alternatively, you can try turning right off Bowen Ranch Road just before Bowen Ranch and follow the black dotted line. If you end up going under a lot of poweline towers, you turned too quick. It is a rough road and calls for high ground clearance.
I have placed flags and distance estimates between flags to assist you. An ordinary SUV should have no problem on the blue section unless you turn onto the wrong place and this might happen:
Instead, go 3 blocks beyond Jaratul Road to Bowen Ranch Road. This is a much better road that any street vehicle can handle with care. Have your money ready and follow the changing time limits.
So the brave (or foolish) among us will go straight on the blue section. The trail stops being blue and becomes red. Here is where much more care needs to be taken. The road starts getting iffy here. And the final section of .40 miles is where you really must have 4WD with lots of clearance and some experience driving off road on this kind of terrain. (4WD LOC. APPROX.) If you don’t, park at the top of the hill and walk. It is still easier and shorter than Bowen Ranch. If you do, the risk is all on you.
The next stretch of road is a real adventure. You must carefully look for the line or risk bottoming out or tipping over. At the bottom, the road intersects with the hot springs trail. There are no established campgrounds down here but it is always legal to camp without a fire. Let me suggest you park as far in as your vehicle will safely go and backpack the rest of the way. (You probaly need the excercise as much as I. Fire season out here stretches later in the winter and earlier in the spring every year. Contact the Forest Service for current fire restrictions. One random spark here and you could burn thousands of acres. I would probably just sleep in my car instead if it were cold enough to need a fire.
There is another daytrip option. The Bradford Ridge Path approaches from the south. The road is easy. The trail is a bit longer. This map shows the approximate location of the trailhead.
Contrary to what the map says, Hwy 173 does not go thru. It is gated at both ends. If you are coming up Hwy 173, the trip is easy. Follow 173 until it dead ends near the marker on the map. Coming up the west side of Arrowhead goes thru a bunch of minor city streets. Use your auto GPS to get to Hwy 173.
Bradford Ridge is a shorter drive time for many people but is is a longer hike. There are a couple of different ways to hike it and I have a detailed discussion of the route in Bradford Ridge Path to Deep Creek.
If you are into backpacking, the springs are located right on the Pacific Crest Trail. You can come in from the Mojave Narrows Dam to the west (7 miles) or from Splinter’s Cabin (near Arrowhead) to the southeast (14 miles one way). I have freehiked all these various routes. The local rangers only ask that you not be “nakie” in the first mile or so from the trailhead and not around any established campgrounds.
Click the link for information on the route from Splinter’s Cabin near Arrowhead. It is a spectacular all day trip. One is not supposed to camp within a mile of the hot springs, a rule I find honored more in the breach than the fulfillment. They do sometimes come down on weekends to write tickets, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. I haven’t gone in from Mohave Forks in a decade. I will have to fix that someday.