Fish Creek to Iva Bell Hot Springs
This is a backpacking gem: world class sites (Devil's Postpile and Rainbow Falls) with the best hot springs I've ever encountered. Best, the hot springs are far enough from a trailhead so that only backpackers can get to them. Depending on your stamina, it can be a single night backpack trip, or, better, a multinight trip. There are camping spots along the way, so one doesn't have to do the whole 12 miles in one day.
The trail starts at the the Rainbow Falls Trailhead in the Devils Postpile area of Mammoth. See below for access notes to the trailhead. Then face the quandry: to explore Devil's Postpile and Rainbow first, or head to Iva Bell Hotsprings. Your choice.
Don your pack and start on the busy trail to Rainbow Falls. Enjoy the awed looks of the the drive and snap crowd as you slog on the trail past the side trails leading down to Rainbow Falls. The trail quickly moves past the madding crowd and passes into the Ansel Adam Wilderness through the meadow of blowdown from the 2011 wind storm. The trail continues down the east side of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River along Crater Creek and enters the John Muir Wilderness. The trail then moves onto exposed granite with amazing views and crossing small creeks with their own waterfalls dropping into the river far below at about 3 miles from the trailhead. Enjoy the great views and explore the swirling granite pools above the water falls and rest and water up. It gets warmer from here for awhile.
The trail moves up and away from the river, crossing Cold Creek at mile 5 which has a nice campsite to the left among the redwoods within about 100 yards of the crossing. The trail then switchbacks up the hill and contours around the ridge through magical Aspen groves before bending to the east and taking your breath away with the views across the Fish Creek canyon. The trail then switchbacks down to the bridge crossing Fish Creek at 8 miles. There's nice campsites to the right after crossing the bridge. The trail moves away from the creek, but then bends left (east). A side trail leaves the main trail here leading off to high mountain lakes 5 miles and more beyond. Your destlnation, however, is left only 4 miles away.
The remainder of the trail follows along Fish Creek and then Sharktooth creek through the dense forest interspersed with blowdown meadows. When the trail reaches a crossing of the creek, you are nearly there. Cross the creek and then move uphill along the trails until you reach the springs.
The springs consist of several pools are various locations rising on the hillside from the dense meadow at the bottom. The pools range from single person tubs on the steep hillside to a 10 person bath at the bottom. Explore and choose on of the many pools and campsites available and be respectful of your neighbors.
Return via the same route you entered.
This trail starts at the Rainbow Falls Trailhead in the Devils Postpile National Monument. Permits are required for entry and overnight use in order to preserve the area for future users. Permits are obtained from Inyo National Forest through Recreation.gov for the Rainbow Falls Trailhead. Access to the trailhead is limited during daytime with the Shuttles at operate in the Monument. Parking is located outside the monument. Users then board shuttles which transport you to the various trailheads in the area.
Rainbow Falls and Devils Postpile are amazing, child-friendly locations. The length and backpacking element likely precludes most younger children from getting to the hot springs, but the first five miles of trail are well worth visiting all by themselves with plenty of granite knobs to sate the wanderlust of the most active child.