If you’re looking for an adventurous backpacking trail to a hidden hot springs tub, drive into the Los Padres National Forest and trek to Willett Hot Springs. These are some of the most remarkable and accessible hot springs for hikers and backpackers in Southern California.
Willett Hot Springs Information Near Santa Barbara
Tucked into the hills of Los Padres National Forest is Willett Hot Springs, one fabricated tub where hot mineral waters are piped for the pleasure of visiting hikers. The springs are approximately 50 miles east of Santa Barbara and 21 miles north of Ojai, California. This hot springs tub averages 100°F.
You’ll drive on a forest road to the Piedra Blanca trailhead to hike this somewhat well-visited trail. Willett is ideal for a fall, spring, or winter visit when the weather is mild. People may also enjoy camping in one of the many free campsites and swimming in Sespe Creek. There are also other naturally-occurring hot spots where water streams into the creek from the earth.
Seasonal Access Information
Due to the exposed wilderness, the best season to visit Willett Hot Springs is in the spring and early summer. Fall is also good, though it will be the driest season and riskiest for wildfires. Winter may be rainy, and summer is quite hot. Always check the daily forecast before hiking to the hot springs.
The optimal time to visit Willett Hot Springs is between March and early June in the spring. Wildflowers are blooming and the grass is greener. Expect higher water crossings and flash flood risks depending on the rains. Spring and early summer are nearly perfect for soaking in the hot springs.
Fall is also a good time to visit Willett Hot Springs, ideally between mid-October and early December, when the daytime temperatures still go up to 70°F. These months are the driest, so watch for wildfire notices on Inciweb. However, there won’t be any challenging water crossings.
If the summer or winter is the only season to hike to Willett Hot Springs, plan your route, bring a satellite communication device, and tell others about your plan.
There are several excellent camping options for visitors to Willett Hot Springs. Additionally, all camping is free in the Sespe Wilderness.
As you hike from the Piedra Blanca trailhead to the hot springs, you’ll encounter three wilderness campsites: Bear Creek, Oak Flat, and Willett. All camps are first-come, first-serve. The Willett campground is conveniently located close to the hot springs, making it a popular weekend backpacking trip for local Californians.
About five miles down the trail, the midway point is the Bear Creek campsite, which has swimming holes and shaded campsites. Oak Flat is the second campsite at the seven-mile mark. Oak Flat has a swimming hole and tree-covered grounds. Finally, you’ll reach Willett at the ten-mile spot. Here, you can enjoy the natural hot springs.
As this is the wilderness, you’ll need to get a fire permit to use your camp stove, and you won’t be permitted to light a campfire during the hottest, driest months. Additionally, it’s essential to bring a water filter and know how to poop in the wilderness and take out your trash.
Access Usage Fees
All visitors to Willett Hot Springs will need to buy one recreation pass per vehicle to park at the Piedra Blanca trailhead. You can buy a $5 daily National Forest Adventure Pass ($10 if you’re staying overnight) or a $30 annual pass. If you have a National Parks annual pass, you can also hang this in your car for overnight parking.
Though you’re allowed to park overnight, you are not permitted to camp at the Piedra Blanca trailhead. Instead, you’ll need to camp on the trail at one of the three campsites mentioned in the section above. You may also camp in nearby Middle Lion, Rose Valley, or Wheeler Gorge campground for $20 per night, first-come, first-served. Trail campsites are free.
Video of Willett Hot Springs
Directions to Willett Hot Springs
Southern California visitors will have an easier drive – just two hours – to get to the trailhead for Willett Hot Springs. Northern California visitors will have a six-hour drive.
The trail takes at least five hours of hiking to and from Willett Hot Springs, but there will be more time to enjoy the hot springs if you camp overnight on the trail.
Trailhead Driving Directions
This trailhead is 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles and will take about two hours of driving. Go on the 101 North freeway from LA until you reach Ventura, then take the 33 North freeway towards Ojai. After driving approximately 26 miles on the 33 North, turn right on Forest Route 6N31/Rose Valley Road/Sespe River Road. Follow that road for about five miles before arriving at the Piedra Blanca trailhead.
Willett Hot Springs Google Maps Directions
The most accessible hike to Willett Hot Springs is the Sespe River Trail, which begins at the Piedra Blanca trailhead. The trail will take about 5-7 hours of hiking round trip, as the elevation gain is moderate.
This trail is called the Sespe River Trail, and it is the most-traveled trail due to its campsites and water sources. Experienced backpackers will be more easily prepared for this hike, but this will be a doable trek for regular hikers. A good map like this one by Tom Harrison (ad) $13 or this one by National Geographic (ad) $15 is a worthwhile investment for a visit.
The Sespe River Trail follows its namesake, Sespe Creek, for approximately 20 miles round trip to the hot springs. Start hiking at the Piedra Blanca trailhead and walk four miles along the river to the first campground, Bear Creek. The first dependable water source is at nearby Kerr Springs, so filter water here. From there, it’s another two miles to the Oak Flat campground. Finally, from Oak Flat, hike to Willett campground.
There is a trail sign near one of the main crossings at Willett campground. Follow the trail through the river, then take a left through the campsites. There is a rock tower with the path climbing upwards. Hike up the hill, and then you’ll find Willett Hot Springs.
For a more challenging backpacking experience, hike to Sespe Hot Springs, 32 miles out and back.
Map of Willett Hot Springs
Nudity and Hot Springs
Like other wilderness hot springs, there may be nudity at Willett Hot Springs. There is no need for swimsuits unless you’d prefer to wear one. Expect to see nude soak seekers.
Willett Hot Springs Soak Stats:
Seasons: Spring, Fall, Winter
Type: Backpack, Hiking
GPS (Hot Springs): 34.57594431, -119.0512201
Federal Land: Los Padres National Forest; Sespe Wilderness
Elevation: 2,851 feet (869 meters)
Hot Spring Temperatures: 99°F (37°C) to 102°F (39°C)
Parking Fees: $5/day entry or $30 annual Adventure Pass per car
Hot Spring Temperatures: 85°F (29°C) to 104°F (40°C), depending on the pool
Area Features: Ojai, Mt Pinos, Hungry Valley State Recreation
Nearby Hot Springs: Ecotopia, Gaviota, Sespe, Hot Springs Canyon, Avila, Sycamore
Closest Gas and Food: Ojai, CA
Backcountry Camping: Bear Creek, Harman, Oak Flat, Thacher and Willett Camp
Dogs: Yes, on leash
Clothing Optional: Yes
Pit Toilet: Yes, at the Piedra Blanca trailhead and Willett campsite