Gaviota (Las Cruces) Hot Springs – Goleta, California

One of the most sought-after destinations in the Los Padres National Forest is Gaviota Hot Springs—a place where nature enthusiasts, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts come together to experience the magic of Mother Nature. Located at a high elevation of 3,910 feet in the Gaviota Coastal Wilderness area, the hot springs is a must go for those seeking to get off the beaten path.

The road leading to this magical place is known for being bumpy, filled with potholes, and requires a considerable amount of patience (and time) to navigate. But once you see those hot springs, you know the trip was worth it. Here’s everything you need to know about Gaviota Hot Springs so you can make your way to paradise.

What Are Gaviota Hot Springs?

Gaviota Hot Springs
Gaviota Hot Springs

Gaviota Hot Springs are a series of naturally occurring hot water pools situated in a small canyon that is surrounded by the Santa Lucia Mountains. These springs are formed when water from the Gaviota Coast region meets the colder water flowing down from the Santa Lucia Mountains. The mixture of both creates a warm water pool that is ideal for soaking and relaxing.

Also known as Las Cruces Hot Springs, Gaviota Hot Springs’ temperature changes by season, however it is commonly referred to as a warm spring rather than a hot spring. The water is murky blue in hue and smells strongly of sulfur, but it is surrounded by ferns and has a pleasant natural ambiance.

The pools can seat six to eight people, and the state park rules indicate that clothing is required on the property, though you may encounter those who do not comply. Because this region is popular, avoiding crowds is easy in the early hours of weekdays.

The waters at Gaviota are between 94 to 98 degrees Fahrenheit, and the pools themselves measure about three feet deep. There is also an incredible view of the Pacific Ocean from the springs, which makes it even more amazing to soak there.

The pools are separated into two sections. The first section has three pools (one large pool and two small pools), and the second section has four pools (two large pools, one medium pool, and one small pool). These sections are separated by a nearby creek where you can swim or soak in its natural pools.

The overall area encompasses 8 acres and has a campsite area with fire rings and picnic tables available for use by campers. There is also an outhouse located near the camping areas—a great convenience when you’re spending time at Gaviota Hot Springs.

Parking and Charges

The parking lot for the hot springs is located near the trailhead in Gaviota State Park, along Highway 101. Unless you already have a state park day pass, there is a nominal fee for day use. The parking lot shuts and is guarded at dusk, so all soaking activities must be completed by then.

Camping and lodging

In terms of hotel accommodations, Santa Barbara to the east and Solvang to the north have much to offer.

Camping is not permitted at the hot springs site because it is solely for day use; however, there are a few campgrounds nearby that are popular for overnight stays. Gaviota State Park, El Capital State Beach, Refugio State Beach, and Arroyo Honda Vista Point are the closest camping spots.

The Gaviota Hot Spring Trail

Gaviota Hot Spring Trail
Gaviota Hot Spring Trail

There are two separate trails that lead to Gaviota Hot Springs—one is an easier hike and the other is a more difficult hike. Here’s a quick breakdown of each one so you can choose which trail is right for you.

The “easier” hike is known as the Las Cruces Trail, while the more difficult hike is known as the Las Varas Trail. The Las Cruces Trail is roughly 2.5 miles long and can be hiked in about two hours. The trail leads up to the hot springs from Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1) where there’s a large sign pointing you to the trailhead. This trail starts off pretty easy, but it does get more difficult as you continue along the path, so be prepared for that climb towards the end.

The Las Varas Trail, on the other hand, starts from Las Cruces Campground and goes up to Gaviota Hot Springs along a rocky and steep incline with some switchbacks (it’s about 4 miles long with some elevation gain). This trail does require some rock climbing skills, but if you have hiking boots with good traction, then you should be good to go for this one.

And if you are interested in hiking both trails, then it’s recommended that you start your journey at Las Cruces Campground (Las Varas Trail) and work your way down to Gaviota State Beach (Las Cruces Trail).

Getting to Gaviota Hot Springs

The directions to Gaviota Hot Springs are simple: head up Highway 154 (and its bumpy road) and turn onto Las Cruces Road. Make your way up the dirt road until you see a sign that reads “Gaviota Beach Trailhead.”

After you pass the Gaviota Beach Trailhead, you will see a small, gravel road on your right that branches off of the main dirt road. This gravel road leads you to the hot springs, but it’s also private property—so pay attention to any “no trespassing” signs or fences.

Take this short, little section of gravel road to the end (it will be very short) and park at one of the small pullouts. If you want to hike to the hot springs, it’s about a 1.4-mile round-trip hike with about 500 feet in elevation gain along the way.

If you are lucky and find that there is parking at the trailhead, then it’s only an 0.8-mile round-trip hike with about 100 feet in elevation gain along the way.

What to Bring to Gaviota Hot Springs

Gaviota Peak Trail and Hot Springs
Gaviota Peak Trail and Hot Springs

While there are no official campgrounds or designated areas for people to set up camp, you can still pitch a tent in the Gaviota Coastal Wilderness area. Camping in the area is definitely recommended if you want to spend more time relaxing and soaking in the hot springs.

If you’re planning to camp, be prepared with all of your camping essentials, like a tent (make sure it’s big enough for everyone), sleeping bags and pads, a lantern or flashlight, any kind of snacks you want to munch on, and plenty of water (it is recommended that you pack at least 2 gallons of water per person).

For those who want to go straight to the hot springs without setting up camp, grab your swimsuits, towels, toiletries (leave the shampoo and soap at home—the springs are surrounded by poison oak), sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, and any other type of protective gear before leaving for your journey. Oh—and don’t forget about water bottles!

The Gaviota Hot Spring Experience

It’s easy to understand why Gaviota Hot Springs is a popular destination. The water is hot and the area is pleasant. All you have to do is find some space large enough for your tent and fire pit (don’t forget to bring firewood!) and you’re set.

There are two pools formed in the river rocks, one large and one small. The larger pool is big enough for six adults to comfortably soak in without bumping elbows. The smaller pool is more intimate, great for a couple or small group of friends.

The water temperature of the pools can range from lukewarm to warm, depending on the time of year you visit. In winter and early spring, the pools are cooler but still enjoyable as the water retains heat from summer months. During the peak summer months, however, there is not much point in visiting as the pools are too hot to enjoy.

If you have never been to Gaviota Hot Springs before, don’t forget the essentials—such as towels and sunscreen—so you can fully enjoy your time at this natural paradise. Also, be sure you have plenty of food and water so you don’t have to leave your campsite just to get supplies. And finally, be mindful of your surroundings. This is a wilderness area after all, so be prepared for wildlife encounters—and don’t forget your bear spray!

What NOT to Do at Gaviota Hot Springs

It’s important to note that local residents, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, do not appreciate any sort of vandalism in Gaviota Hot Springs. This means that you should absolutely not vandalize the area by carving, painting, or doing anything else to the landscape.

Additionally, those who camp within the area are expected to use the bear-proof food containers in order to make sure that no one steals their food or belongings. As mentioned above, Gaviota Hot Springs is a popular destination with locals and out-of-towners alike. That being said, you should also be aware that it is illegal to camp within the hot springs area without a permit.

And lastly, you should never build a new fire ring or modify an existing fire ring because this can prevent wildfires from occurring naturally, which is an important part of the ecosystem within the Gaviota Hot Springs area.

When to Visit Gaviota Hot Springs

Gaviota Hot Springs is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It’s a place that welcomes all comers with open arms.

However, the road leading to this magical place can get tricky when it’s wet and rainy. During these times, the road is slippery, and you need to drive slowly so that you don’t end up getting stuck in the mud or sliding off into the ditch. The good news is that the road dries out quickly after a rainfall.

That being said, if you’re planning on going to Gaviota during springtime or fall, you need to be prepared for potentially snowy conditions—or mudslides—due to the high elevation the springs are located in. But even during these times, you can still access the hot springs—you’ll just need to be prepared for potentially harsh conditions.

During summertime, days are long and hot and nights are short and cool at Gaviota Hot Springs because of its elevation. With temperatures averaging between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s an ideal destination for swimming during summertime.

How Long Does it Take to Visit?

While you can definitely make a quick trip to the hot springs, you’ll want to set aside a bit more time to truly enjoy the place. The hike to the hot springs is roughly 3.5 miles and can take up to 3 hours, depending on your pace and how much time you want to spend soaking in the pools.

The most popular route to the springs is along a hiking trail known as the Gaviota Coast Trail or Gaviota Trail that starts at Highway 101 and leads hikers along a dirt road for about .5 miles before arriving at Las Cruces Campground. From here, you’ll have to hike another 2.5 miles up hill through various terrains until you reach the hot springs.

While it’s certainly possible to visit for just a few hours, we recommend spending the night so you can truly experience all that Gaviota Hot Springs has to offer.

How Far Is It?

If you are taking the 101 Freeway, exit at Las Cruces Road in the Gaviota State Beach area. You will then travel about 17 miles to Gaviota Peak Road. From there, you will travel about 20 miles to the intersection of Gaviota Peak Road and El Capitan Campground Road. And it’s another two miles to the hot springs.

Total estimated driving time is approximately one hour and 40 minutes from Santa Barbara and one hour and 15 minutes from Ventura.

While many people like to take the scenic route along Highway 154 through Solvang and Buellton, that will add another 20-30 minutes to your trip. If you want to take the scenic route, take Highway 154 east until it meets Highway 101 in Buellton. Then, follow Highway 101 north to Las Cruces Road (exit 69) in Goleta.

Many people also like to bike their way to Gaviota Hot Springs, but it’s a pretty long journey—about 70 miles round trip from Santa Barbara.

Final thoughts

The Gaviota (Las Cruces) Hot Springs offer a unique and beautiful experience for those looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With its natural beauty, therapeutic waters, and incredible sunsets, this is a destination that should not be missed.

With the help of this comprehensive guide, you can now make your journey to the Gaviota Hot Springs an easy and enjoyable one. So grab your swimsuit, some snacks, and a few friends and set out on an adventure you won’t soon forget. If you’re ready to relax and explore, the Gaviota Hot Springs have plenty of fun waiting for you!

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Local information

Address: Gaviota Park Boundary Road, Goleta, California 93117
GPS: 34.489274,-120.230451
Season: Year-round
Website: parks.ca.gov/?page_id=606

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