Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs – Santa Barbara, California

The Santa Barbara region offers visitors a range of scenic and recreational opportunities, including a number of hot springs. The small town of Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs is home to two natural hot springs nestled in a scenic mountain valley. These smaller hot springs are perfect for those who want to relax in an uncrowded and rustic setting.

The Hot Springs are located just outside the town of El Vado on Highway 135, about 30 minutes from Santa Barbara. Both public and private access to these natural hot springs is available so you can choose the experience that’s right for you.

This guide covers everything you need to know about these two unique hot springs in the Santa Barbara area.

What is special about Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs?

Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs
Big Caliente Hot Springs – Wikipedia

A hot spring is a pool of warm water that is created when geothermally heated groundwater comes into contact with the surface of the earth. A hot spring is a very specific type of spring, distinguished from other types of springs by its source of heat, which can be attributed to the natural circulation of nearby underground geothermal fluids.

Hot springs contain varying amounts of silica that is known to have therapeutic properties. These natural springs occur worldwide, on both oceanic and continental crust. They are also very common in areas where tectonic plates are diverging, growing, and colliding.

There are many hot springs in the southwestern US, where the crust is actively expanding as the Pacific plate moves north, breaking off pieces of the plate to create new ocean. Hot springs can also be found in many places in the world, including Iceland, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, and the volcanically active Yellowstone National Park.

The Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs may be found at the end of a gravel road that is nine miles long and is located in the magnificent Los Padres National Forest. These springs are located in the mountains to the north of Santa Barbara, California. Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs are ideal for people looking for a more private hot springs experience due to the fact that they are located in more rural areas and have a more rustic appearance.

Having said that, it is a popular location; therefore, if you want your visit to be private, you should go during the week and avoid going on holidays.

Visit Both Big and Little Caliente

Because the dirt road leading out to Big and Little Caliente is bumpy and requires high ground clearance and four-wheel drive, it is suggested that cars with these features undertake the journey. The National Forest Service blocks the road leading to Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs a few days before rainstorms that are predicted to hit the area. This is done because the road becomes unusable to all vehicles when it is wet.

Before planning a trip, you should call the Forest Service to make sure that the spring and the roads are not closed.

However, for individuals who are still interested in traveling at these periods, the road is still accessible for activities such as horseback riding, biking, and hiking. Those with a daring attitude now have the opportunity for what is very certainly going to be complete isolation at the hot springs.

Natural hot spring pools

Little Caliente Hot Springs
Little Caliente Hot Springs

After making it through the rough route, you will reach an oasis with soothing hot springs. Even if the hot spring is quite basic, the geothermally heated mineral pools in Los Padres National Forest provide visitors a one-of-a-kind experience to relax and unwind in the middle of the natural environment.

There are a total of three swimming pools in the vicinity. To begin, there is a larger cement pool known as Big Caliente that is located right next to the hot spring. Little Caliente is the name given to two more, smaller pools that may be found little deeper down the canyon than the main pool. These pools are located next to a creek. Guests who take use of the geothermal mineral water can enjoy unrivaled views of the night sky on nights when the temperature is cool.

The Hot Springs are open from 6AM to 10PM, and there is no charge to enter.

Nearby Camping

Although there is no charge to visit Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs, those staying overnight are required to have an Adventure Pass. Although camping is not permitted in the immediate area of the hot springs, it is possible to reach the springs on foot from Rock Camp, which is the campground located the closest to the springs. In addition, the National Forest Service maintains a few campgrounds in the surrounding area that are accessible by foot.

The Middle Santa Ynez Campground is located approximately three miles from the springs and includes eleven campsites, all of which include a picnic table in addition to a metal fire ring. Aside from those facilities, the campsites in the area are primitive, so potential campers need to be prepared to bring everything they need with them either in their vehicles or on their backs.

Big Caliente Hot Springs

Big Caliente Hot Springs is a smaller, rustic hot springs located in a scenic mountain valley and surrounded by tall pines. The name Caliente comes from the Spanish word for “hot.” These natural hot springs are fed by a nearby spring and the pools range in temperature from around 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit.

Big Caliente Hot Springs is a small, family-run operation, offering visitors a low-key and secluded experience in a naturally rustic setting. At this hot springs, you can enjoy private and family-friendly access to both hot and warm pools.

Little Caliente Hot Springs

Little Caliente Hot Springs is a smaller, rustic hot springs located in a scenic mountain valley and surrounded by tall pines. The name Caliente comes from the Spanish word for “hot.” These natural hot springs are fed by a nearby spring and the pools range in temperature from around 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit.

Little Caliente Hot Springs is a small, family-run operation, offering visitors a low-key and secluded experience in a naturally rustic setting. At this hot springs, you can enjoy private and family-friendly access to both hot and warm pools.

Public Access to the Hot Springs

Public access to Big Caliente Hot Springs is available by $25 general admission. Access to Big Caliente Hot Springs is a Public-Private partnership managed by the Santa Barbara County Parks Department. Visit the Santa Barbara County Parks Department Big Caliente Hot Springs Page for details on pricing, hours, and more.

Public access to Little Caliente Hot Springs is free and open to the public. It is a rustic hot springs located in a scenic mountain valley and surrounded by tall pines. No reservations are required for access to this small, family-run operation.

Private Resorts at Caliente Hot Springs

Three private resorts are available at Big Caliente Hot Springs, including The Springs Resort, Big Caliente Hot Springs Resort, and Caballo Blanco at Big Caliente Hot Springs.

The Springs Resort is a rustic resort offering a range of lodging options, including a standard room, luxury suite, and yurt. The yurts offer a unique and charming experience in the beautiful forest setting.

Big Caliente Hot Springs Resort offers rustic indoor and outdoor lodging as well as a hot spring spa. This resort’s outdoor Hot Pool is open year-round and features a partial view of the Little Caliente Hot Springs.

The Caballo Blanco at Big Caliente Hot Springs Resort is a unique and secluded retreat located within the Big Caliente Hot Springs grounds. It is open year-round and offers a wide range of outdoor activities, including yoga, meditation, and hiking.

How to get there

The journey to the hot springs from Santa Barbara takes approximately an hour and a half by car.

At the peak of San Marcos Pass on Highway 154, take the turn onto East Camino Cielo heading east. Carry on for another 23 miles till you reach the Pendola station. Turn north onto Road 5 N16 just before the station, and continue on this road for another three miles until you reach the picnic spot.

The road to Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs is an unpaved road. The road is mostly level and is suitable for vehicles of all types. High-clearance vehicles, however, are strongly recommended.

The road is approximately 7 miles long and is narrow and winding. The drive is scenic and leads you through the forest and alongside rice fields. There are a few places along the road where you must stop and yield to oncoming traffic.

Tips for Visiting Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs

This is a rustic experience so you can expect some natural wear and tear. Be mindful of fellow guests and clean up after yourself. Natural hot springs are a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. Even though these hot springs are fed by springs, they are not treated or filtered in any way.

The only way to prevent yourself from contracting an illness is by practicing clean and safe water sports etiquette. Adults should be wearing swimwear while in the hot springs. Please note that alcohol is not permitted in the hot springs.

Discover more natural hot springs close to Santa Barbara:

  • Rusnak Hot Springs: Located just north of Santa Barbara, Rusnak Hot Springs is a small and secluded hot spring that offers the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. With only a few people allowed in at any given time, it’s the perfect spot to relax and take in the natural beauty of the area.
  • Painted Cave Hot Springs: Just a short drive from Santa Barbara, Painted Cave Hot Springs is a popular spot for locals and visitors alike. This hot spring features two pools – one that’s perfect for soaking in the warm waters and another that’s great for taking a dip in cooler temperatures.
  • Jalama Beach County Park: If you’re looking for an active hot spring experience, Jalama Beach County Park is a great option. This park offers plenty of hiking and biking trails to explore, as well as a number of beaches for swimming and sunbathing. And if that wasn’t enough, there are also two hot springs located within the park boundaries!

Bottom line

The Santa Barbara region offers visitors a range of scenic and recreational opportunities, including a number of hot springs. The small town of Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs is home to two natural hot springs nestled in a scenic mountain valley. These smaller hot springs are perfect for those who want to relax in an uncrowded and rustic setting.

The hot springs are fed by underground springs and are a breeding ground for bacteria. Visitors should practice clean and safe water sports etiquette, such as wearing swimwear while in the water, to prevent the spread of germs. The road to Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs is an unpaved road.

Visitors should use a high-clearance vehicle for the 7-mile drive and be mindful of other vehicles.

Weather forecast for next 5 days

The weather in Santa Barbara can be unpredictable, so it’s always best to check the forecast before heading out to any of the hot springs. In general, the spring and summer months are the best times to visit as the temperatures are more moderate. However, if you’re looking to avoid the crowds, winter can be a great time to visit as well.

Local information

Address: Forest Road 5N16 Santa Barbara, California 93105
GPS: 34.539078,-119.564631
Season: Year-round (Best seasons are Spring, Summer, and Fall)
Hours of Operation: 6 am – 10 pm daily; check National Forest Service for closures
Website: fs.usda.gov/

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