Deep Creek Hot Springs In San Bernardino

  • Updated: January 28, 2018
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

January 28th, 2018
4.1 miles, 970'

Deep Creek Hot Springs is located out near Apple Valley and is one of those places I've heard talked about for years and always wanted to check out.  It's only accessible via a hike involving a short and steep two mile descent or a longer route from the PCT and is known for its unique setting and prevalence of naked folks of a hippie inclination or otherwise.

And of course there are the usual warnings about amoebic meningoencephalitis and fecal coliform.  But hey, if that really bothers you you're probably not the sort that should be looking at backcountry hot springs to begin with.

We went in via the standard Bowen Ranch route where you pay for the privilege of parking.  We were coming from Joshua Tree via the 18 but from the 15 north of Cajon Pass just exit at Bear Valley Road and make a right on Central Road after about 10 miles.  Drive 3 miles on Central cross a railway and then make a left on Ocotillo Way.  2.2 miles -ish later make a right turn on Bowen Ranch Road and take that to the end where you'll see plentiful signs laying out the rules.

There you'll come to a gate instructing you to stop and pay.  When we pulled up it triggered an audible alarm and a pleasant enough lady came out.

The woman said it was $5 a person unless we wanted to camp or stay out after dark in which case we owed $10 a person.  When we said we were really just looking to do a quick run to the pools and back she insisted we wouldn't have time since we'd need to leave the pools by 4:30 pm to make it out early enough.

Sensing this was going to be a sticking point I didn't try to argue and offered to just pay the $20.  That seemed to mollify her and she told us if we did make it out before dark to just stop back by and they're refund us the extra $10.

Not arguing seems to have been a good call considering the stories floating around about encounters with the owners.

There are ways to park so you don't have to pay.  I included a track leading to the Freedom lot which puts you a little closer to the hot springs but requires a burlier vehicle.  (I haven't driven the road but from the section I saw crossing the Bowen trail it looked like something I'd want the Jeep for vs Kristen's Subaru Forester.)

A warning: If you look online ( for example) you'll find a number of stories about the owner of Bowen Ranch allegedly damaging vehicles or threatened folks.

For our $20 we were allowed to drive through the ranch and park at the end of the road where there's a dirt area with a few scattered trees and park benches.  As near as I could see there were no porta potties which kind of surprised me considering the traffic that much come through.

They have hand drawn maps at the gate which are kind of impressive.

I'm not sure but I think you're not allowed to camp at Deep Creek...

We pulled into the parking lot right before 3 pm and we saw a few people meander back in from the trail as we got ready.

The hike in to Deep Creek involves dropping down about 900' along a trail that is rather loose at times.  I wouldn't recommend trying in barefoot or in flip flops especially in some of the washout sections.

The trail crosses a jeep road partway down and there were vehicles who had driven that far in though the road was really hairy immediatly to the west.

We ran across our first naked person after we passed the jeep road.  He was wearing a hat, a backpack, sandals, and a sunny disposition.  And hopefully a lot of sunscreen.

Get naked indeed

We arrived just after the shade had reached the pools which seemed to be causing a fair number of folks to leave.  The main hot pools are in front of the rocks on the right while there was another one by the beach in the back.  In order to get over there from the Bowen trail you have to either wade across the stream or we heard it was possible to make it across using some rocks further up.  We waded having brought crocs along for that purpose and I thought it was pleasant though some people were complaining loudly about how cold it was.

When we got there all of the pools were occupied and we hopped into open spaces next to 5 or 6 people.  Most everyone was quite friendly and we ended up starting up conversations in every pool.

Most people had on swimsuits though there were a few nudists.  One rather confident couple was wandering butt nekkid from pool to pool and scrambling around on the rocks and there were a few topless women here and there.  As a result I didn't get any pictures until later when it started to clear out.

There was a slackline across the stream which looked like it had been there for a while.  Two people made motions to try it while we were there but none of them committed.

The hot pools are on the stream side of the rocks.  (There was a lukewarm pool behind the rocks but no one was using it this late in the day)

The lowest pool was super hot being small and directly fed from the spring.  It was too hot for me to sit in or even stand for long.

(I don't know if that copper pipe is the one mentioned on the hand drawn map as being "safe"  We brought our own water)

The water from the hot pool fed into this one which was quite a bit larger.  Because of that the seats at the bottom left part of the picture were the warmest since the water coming in via a waterfall from above had had more time to cool.

Above that was a deeper pool.  I'm 6 ft and there were places I couldn't have touched the bottom without putting my head underwater (which is something I generally avoid at hot springs due to that whole minor brain melting amoeba issue)

Moving between the pools was non trivial due to the slick rocks and we saw more than one person slip while we were there.  Fortunately someone had places cement patches around that provided decent traction which was really needed on the ramp leading up to the top pool.

This one was hotter than the one below since it was also being fed directly from the spring via that blue hose.  It wasn't as deep but had ample sitting room and could have fit a lot more people.

When we got to this one there was a guy playing a hang drum and explaining it to an enthusiastic if slightly chemically enhanced topless woman.  The low tones set off by the drum were audible across the pools and made for a really nice background noise.

There was a younger couple there with a puppy in tow that both seemed very cold and not thrilled by the entire hot spring experience.  When someone cannonballed without warning off the rocks into the deep middle pool the puppy completely flipped out.

There was an older gentleman smoking a joint up on the rocks and generally standing around staring off into space occasionally remarking to people he was going to camp right *there*.  He kept wandering off to the beach and coming back with filled bottles of water until he stuck over there and started up an (illegal) campfire.

The pool down by the beach was packed and seemed to be the party pool.  The topless women who kept stopping by were all coming from there and so was the majority of the alcohol that was floating around.  (Later on one of them lugged a platypus filled with booze up on the rock, took a giant swig for courage, and then jumped into the stream after an extended selection of jeers from that lower pool.)

I wandered over to the beach briefly but since there were a lot of people around I didn't take pictures or stay for long.  The no camping signs everywhere obviously didn't deter anyone since I counted at least 3 or 4 tents some being occupied while some seemed to be abandoned.

Here there be naked people

We enjoyed a nice long soak and for a time we even had the pools to ourselves right before dark.  We kept saying we should really go as the sun went down and the moon came out until finally around 5:45 pm we reluctantly got up and dried off.  We made our way back to the stream crossing taking care to avoid one of the lower pools where two people were copulating relatively discreetly (well, at least until their drunk friends from the party pool wandered over yelling it was time to go and started making crude comments)

We hiked via headlamps which was quite pleasant.  There are spray painted arrows on the rock that generally direct you back to Bowen Ranch but there are also a number of side trails that would be easy to get lost on unless you had a GPS or knew the area.

We made it back to the cars around 6:45 and had the parking lot to ourselves except for a group camping off in one of the far corners.

We drove out well before the 9 pm curfew but found the pay gate blocked with a cable.   We ended up sitting there maybe 5 minutes until we were able to catch someones attention inside and were let out.

Overall our half day at Deep Creek was a great experience and I can't wait to go back.  I'd be tempted to go again later in the day like we did just to avoid crowds.

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