Dirty Sock Hot Spring is located on the southeast side of Owens Lake near Olancha California. The spring consists of a large concrete-lined pool that is fed by an underground spring. The natural hot springs water gives off a distinct odor that smells like dirty socks.
While it is not certain how the springs got its name. Legend has it that miners from Cero Gordo mine along with prospectors used the thermal pool for their annual bath and to wash their dirty clothes. Socks were always lost in the pool giving off the unpleasant odor. The smell actually comes from the volcanic sulfur earth surrounding the pool.
Dirty Sock Hot Spring
Dirty Sock Hot Spring is 78 feet in diameter and has a constant water temperature of 94 degrees. The pool is fed by an artesian well that flows at about 200 gallons per minute. Minerals found in the water are mostly calcium, magnesium, and sulfates. No dirty socks have been found in the pool.
The hot spring was created in 1917 when a well was dug looking for fresh water. At 12,000 feet warm water was struck ending the search for water. The well was left to bubble and created a shallow warm lake. In 1927 a cement pool and some buildings were constructed with the intention of starting a health spa. Within ten years the spa was abandoned and all of the buildings removed. The spring still remained a secluded camping spot and eventually became a county park.
Dirty Sock Hot Spring County Park
In 1965 the Hot Spring and the surrounding 45 acres became an Inyo County Park named Dirty Sock Hot Spring. The lease on the land was for 50 years unless terminated. Restrooms and a picnic area were built, trees were planted and the entrance road paved. The Hot Spring became a popular destination for locals and tourists with their campers and trailers.
Unfortunately, maintenance for the park proved to be more of a challenge than the county expected. Due to the lack of firewood signs were burned and needed to be constantly replaced, The growth of green algae was never ending and had to be removed weekly in order to keep the pool clear. Trash cans were shot full of bullet holes and vandalism became a huge problem. On October 17, 1978, Inyo County closed Dirty Sock Hot Spring Park for good.
Dirty Sock Hot Spring Today
All that is left of the county park are the foundations of the buildings. The concrete pool is still there along with a few of the metal railings around the outside. The pool is covered with a thick growth of green algae and only the bravest of soles actually take a dip in the water. A few travelers still camp at the Hot Spring but most pass by without even knowing the hot spring is there.
We don’t recommend soaking in Dirty Sock Hot Spring. But if you’re taking a trip along Highway 395 near the mostly dry Owens Lake its well worth a look. Especially now that you know the history of the place.
Directions from the junction of Highway 395 and CA-190. Head east on 190 just under five miles until you pass under some power lines Turn left on paved single lane road until you see the concrete pool. Enjoy amazing views of the mountains, and the not so amazing odor. One final note the correct name for this hot spring is Dirty Sock, even though most people call it Dirty Socks hot spring.
Nearby things to do and see include taking a drive through the almost a semi-ghost town of Keeler. Visiting the Owens Lake Trails Plaza. Take a trip up to the ghost town of Cerro Gordo or visit the Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns that used to provide charcoal for local mines.