Montecito Hot Springs is a delightful set of hot spring pools tucked into a leafy canyon. The hot springs are a historical site and now sit on protected National Forest land. They are increasingly popular on social media and are likely crowded even on weekdays. However, these hot pools are deserving of popularity: you can reach them after a one-hour hike, and each pool can fit several people.
You cannot stay overnight at the hot springs, but travelers from other parts of California may choose to stay in the nearby towns of Montecito, Carpinteria, or Santa Barbara.
Montecito Hot Springs Near Montecito
Montecito Hot Springs is a lovely cascade of seven rock-walled pools of varying temperatures. The pools are tucked between canyon walls and require a moderate 3-mile roundtrip hike. You will encounter ruins from a health resort built in the 1800s, but now the land is protected as part of the Los Padres National Forest.
The pools range in temperature from 60°F to 112°F (the pool near the top is the hottest). The water in each pool is a murky grey-blue and smells of sulfur, which can be a bit off-putting. However, that smell is due to the natural minerals bubbling up from the earth and can be excellent for your health. Each pool fits four or more people comfortably.
A few notes:
- Parking fills by early morning most days
- People bring their dogs here
- Expect nudity
Travelers should be prepared for all of the above, such as arriving as soon as sunrise.
Seasonal Access Information
The coastal region of Central California is foggy and temperate. Nearby Santa Barbara has a year-round average temperature of mid-60°F. The best time to visit these hot springs is between November and April, with ideal daytime temperatures. The winter may be cool and wet, while May and June may be moody and overcast, but colder months are also good times to hike to the hot springs.
Visiting the hot springs in the late summer months of August through early October is not recommended, as these can be uncomfortably warm and humid, with daytime temperatures at or over 80°F. Regardless, check the daily weather forecast before hiking.
The four best months to visit Montecito Hot Springs are April, May, October, and November. These months have the clearest days with the most comfortable temperatures. They are also months with fewer tourists. And in the autumn, if you’re planning to take an ocean dip, the water is at its warmest. October would be an excellent month to hike, soak in the hot springs, and dip in the Pacific Ocean.
Access and Usage Fees
The parking lot is free, but you will need to display your Adventure Pass in your car because this is National Forest land. Daily and annual passes can be purchased in three locations in Santa Barbara: the REI store, Big 5, or Santa Barbara Ranger District office. Additionally, the pass can be ordered online at least a week before your trip on MyScenicDrives.com.
Note: if you already have a valid National Parks pass, you can use that instead, just make sure it is displayed on your dashboard.
Montecito Hot Springs History
The Santa Barbara region has been known as a therapeutic place, and it is still one of the most popular vacation spots in California. The Chumash, Native people in this region of California, lived on the coast and hiked in to relish the hot springs. The Chumash call this area “Shalawa.” After colonizing Southern California, Spanish people renamed this area “Montecito,” meaning “little mountain,” due to the many hills. Then in the 1800s, early U.S. settlers claimed this land and built resorts next to the hot springs. Fires destroyed the buildings, and in 2013, a land trust bought this area to be included in Los Padres National Forest. Read more about the history of the hot springs at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.
Hot Springs Canyon Video
Directions to Montecito Hot Springs Trailhead
Driving Directions to Trailhead
Montecito Hot Springs is in Montecito, an unincorporated community beside Santa Barbara. The 1.5-hour drive from Los Angeles and a relatively short hike to the hot springs make this the perfect day trip for LA residents. If you’re in Northern California, you’ll want to fly into the Los Angeles or Santa Barbara airport and rent a car to get here.
If you’re traveling west from Los Angeles, drive the 101 North towards Santa Barbara for over 100 miles, one hour if traffic is smooth. Take exit 94A for Olive Mill Road, then turn right. Follow Olive Mill Road, which turns into Hot Springs Road, for 1.8 miles through a residential area. When you get to Mountain Drive, turn left. In 0.2 miles, you’ll see a small dirt parking lot on your right. The parking lot fits 8-10 cars (here is a Google Street View image of the lot).
If you’re traveling south from San Francisco, drive the 101 South via Salinas for 328 miles, approximately five hours of driving without a break. Take exit 94A for Olive Mill Road, then turn left. Follow Olive Mill Road, which turns into Hot Springs Road, for two miles through a residential area. When you get to Mountain Drive, turn left. In 0.2 miles, you’ll see a small dirt parking lot on your right (here is the same Google Street View image of the parking lot).
Google Maps Directions
- Northeast from Santa Barbara, California (10 minutes and 5 miles)
- West from Los Angeles (1.5 to 2 hours and 107 miles)
- South from San Francisco (5.5 hours and 331 miles)
To get to the hot springs, park in the small dirt parking lot on Mountain Road in Montecito, California. However, you may have to walk longer if you arrive later. Parking fills quickly, but there is street parking further away in the neighborhood (pay attention to the signs to make sure you’re parking in a legal spot).
Once you’re in the parking lot, you’ll see a small wooden sign and a well-walked path into Hot Springs Canyon. The sign says 1.3 miles to the hot springs.
The trail is clear to follow and will take you past ruins, under tree tunnels, and into the hills. At 1.3 miles in, you’ll see a white sign that says “Montecito Creek Water Co.” There, you’ll cross the stream on the left and hike up for about 0.1 miles to the cascade of hot springs. Unfortunately, this trail is not handicap-accessible, and parts of the rocky trail may be challenging for those with mobility issues.
Montecito Hot Springs Soak Stats:
Best Seasons: Spring, Fall
Trailhead Address: 1202-1298 E Mountain Dr, Montecito, CA
Elevation: 1,421 feet
Hiking: 1.3 miles to the hot springs, approximately 3 miles round trip
Parking: Limited space; requires Adventure Pass or National Parks pass
Hot Springs Temperature: 112°F
Area Features: Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Ojai, Malibu
Nearby Hot Springs: Gaviota, Willett, Sespe, Avila, Sycamore, Ecotopia
Closest Gas and Food: 1.5 miles away in Montecito
Dogs: Yes, on a leash
Clothing Optional: Yes
Hot Springs Toolkit➡️ California and Nevada Guidebook
➡️ California Gazetteer Map
➡️ Quick-Drying Large Towel
➡️ Emergency Roadside Kit
➡️ Point and Shoot Thermometer
➡️ Backpack Cooler
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