Sespe Hot Springs – Maricopa, California (+ Great Hiking Trails)

Located deep in the wilderness of Los Padres National Forest, Sespe Hot Springs is a secluded spot for soaking and camping amid stunning natural surroundings. As one of the hottest hot springs on the California coast, these springs offer a range of water temperatures and soaking spots to suit all preferences. In this review, we’ll cover the hot springs experience, how to find and reach the springs, the best times to visit, options for hiking and camping, and other activities and features of the area.

The Hot Springs Experience

Sespe Hot Springs – Maricopa, California
Sespe Hot Springs – Maricopa, California

The natural hot springs at Sespe are a treat for the senses and offer a variety of ways to relax and unwind. The source of the springs can reach temperatures of over 190℉, so the water gradually gets hotter the further up the river you go. Some areas may be too hot to soak in, so be sure to test the temperature before getting in. There are also cooler spots downstream for those who prefer a more moderate soak.

The water flows down rocky ledges and cascades into a large pool, as well as many other sites along the river, providing plenty of options for getting in the water. The wild hot springs are a true back-to-nature experience, with remote and peaceful locations away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Whether you’re looking to soak solo or with a group, there’s a spot for you at Sespe Hot Springs.

Great Hiking Trails to Sespe Hot Springs

Sespe River Trail
Sespe River Trail

The Sespe Hot Springs are only accessible by hiking or horseback riding on one of three trails: the Sespe River Trail, the Alder Creek Trail, or the Johnson Ridge Trail. Each trail offers a different level of difficulty and scenery, so choose the one that best fits your abilities and preferences.

The Sespe River Trail is the most popular route and is a 16.8-mile hike each way. It follows along the Sespe Creek and has several camping areas along the way, making it a great option for a multi-day trip. The trail can be accessed from the Piedra Blanca Trailhead and involves crossing the river eight times. Keep in mind that the water may be shallow or dry during the summer months, so come prepared with appropriate footwear.

The Alder Creek Trail is a 7.5-mile hike each way and takes you to the Sespe Oil Fields. It’s a moderate to difficult trail on a rough, narrow road, with camping options at the Alder Camp area and the Shady Camp. The closest water source to the trailhead may be dried up near the Alder Camp area in the summer, but the Shady Camp has water year-round. From the Shady Camp, the hot springs are an additional 5.2 miles.

The Johnson Ridge Trail is a very challenging 9.5-mile hike with limited shade and no water. It begins at the Mutau Flat trailhead by Mt. Pinos Ranger District. This trail is recommended for experienced hikers only due to its steep and strenuous nature.

No matter which trail you choose, be prepared for a wilderness adventure with no amenities or services along the way. Bring plenty of water, food, and supplies for the duration of your hike, and follow Leave No Trace principles to protect the natural surroundings. Leashed dogs are allowed on the trails, but be mindful of the heat and bring water for both yourself and your pet. Enjoy the beautiful scenery and wildlife as you make your way to the hot springs!

Finding and Reaching the Springs

Hiking to Alder Creek Falls
Hiking to Alder Creek Falls

Sespe Hot Springs is located in Maricopa, California, just outside the town of Ojai in the Los Padres National Forest. The only way to access the springs is by hiking or horseback riding on one of three trails: the Sespe River Trail, the Alder Creek Trail, or the Johnson Ridge Trail. Each trail offers a different level of difficulty and scenery, so choose the one that best fits your abilities and preferences.

The Sespe River Trail is the most popular route and is a 16.8-mile hike each way. It follows along the Sespe Creek and has several camping areas along the way, making it a great option for a multi-day trip. To access this trail, start at the Piedra Blanca Trailhead. The Alder Creek Trail is a 7.5-mile hike each way and takes you to the Sespe Oil Fields. It’s a moderate to difficult trail on a rough, narrow road, with camping options at the Alder Camp area and the Shady Camp. The Johnson Ridge Trail is a very challenging 9.5-mile hike with limited shade and no water. It begins at the Mutau Flat trailhead by Mt. Pinos Ranger District.

Biking is not allowed on the trails to the hot springs, and cell phone service is limited in the area, so come prepared and be aware of your surroundings. Wild animals, including bears and mountain lions, may be present, so be sure to follow Leave No Trace principles and respect the wilderness. Clothing is optional at the hot springs, but please be mindful of others and follow the “look but don’t touch” rule.

When to Visit and What to Expect

The best seasons to visit Sespe Hot Springs are spring, fall, and winter, when the weather is more moderate and the water is most likely to be flowing. The hot summer months can get incredibly hot, with temperatures reaching over 100℉, and may cause the water in some areas to dry up. Hiking in the winter can be enjoyable as long as there are no road closures due to snow.

Keep in mind that the area is remote and has limited cell phone service, so it’s important to come prepared and self-sufficient. There are no amenities or services in the area, so bring everything you’ll need for the duration of your visit. There are also wild animals in the area, including bears and mountain lions, so follow Leave No Trace principles and respect the wilderness while enjoying the hot springs and trails.

When you visit the hot springs, be prepared for a natural and rustic experience. The hot springs are clothing optional, but please be mindful of others and follow the “look but don’t touch” rule. The hot springs are a place for relaxation and healing, not sexual activity or inappropriate behavior.

Exploring Sespe Hot Springs on Foot or Horseback

In addition to soaking in the hot springs, there are many other outdoor activities to enjoy in the Sespe Wilderness. The trails to the hot springs follow along the Sespe Creek and offer beautiful views and opportunities for birdwatching, wildlife viewing, and stargazing. The area is also known for its wildflowers and scenic vistas, making it a great place for photography and nature appreciation.

Leashed dogs are allowed on the trails, so feel free to bring your furry friend along for the adventure. However, be mindful of the heat and make sure to bring plenty of water for both yourself and your pet. There are no designated water sources on the trails, so come prepared.

Relaxing and Overnighting at the Springs

After a day of hiking, there’s nothing quite like soaking in the hot springs to soothe your muscles and help you unwind. The hot springs have several soaking spots with varying temperatures, so you can choose the one that’s just right for you. There are also several camping options in the area, including on-trail sites and the Sespe Hot Springs Palm Camp, located about 900 feet south of the springs.

Remember to follow Leave No Trace principles and respect the wilderness while camping and soaking at the hot springs. There are no amenities or services in the area, so come prepared with everything you’ll need for a self-sufficient wilderness adventure.

Additional Things to Do and See

In addition to soaking and hiking, there are many other activities and features to enjoy at Sespe Hot Springs. The natural surroundings offer opportunities for relaxation, outdoor adventure, and health benefits. The hot springs are said to have healing properties and can be a great way to rejuvenate your mind and body.

The area is also home to a variety of plant and animal life, making it a great place for birdwatching, wildlife viewing, and nature appreciation. If you’re lucky, you may even spot some rare species in the Sespe Wilderness. And at night, the clear skies provide excellent stargazing opportunities.

Overall, Sespe Hot Springs is a unique and remote destination for those seeking a wilderness retreat. With its natural hot springs, stunning surroundings, and range of outdoor activities, it’s a must-visit spot for nature lovers and adventure seekers. Just remember to come prepared, respect the wilderness, and leave no trace of your visit.

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Local information

Address: Los Padres Forest, Maricopa, California 93252
GPS: 34.594544,-118.998812
Season: Year-round, but the best times of year include spring, fall, and winter

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