Even though the west coast is known for its beaches, the hot springs near Santa Barbara, CA, are just as magical for spending some time outdoors in natural waters. Since most of these pools have higher temperatures, they are more popular during the cooler months, from fall to springtime.
However, the Golden State also attracts many tourists during the summer, making spots like these appealing. And California has many hot springs to explore.
Santa Barbara is situated right by the ocean, allowing visitors to enjoy several types of water-filled experiences. After getting your fix of sand and surf, try hiking to one of these natural pools for a unique and memorable experience.
List of the hot springs near Santa Barbara, CA, in order of proximity:
Montecito Hot Springs – Santa Barbara (5 mi)
Montecito Hot Springs used to be on private land where a health resort once sat in the 1800s, but now it’s a part of the Los Padres National Forest. Also known as “Hot Springs Canyon,” these springs are made up of seven cascading rock pools with different temperatures and depths and a source temp of 112℉.
Many people can soak in these waters at once, but remember that clothing is optional. Thanks to media outlets and social platforms, this has become an increasingly popular place and is usually heavily trafficked, even on weekdays.
Parking at the springs is free aside from any National Forest permit you might need. Reaching them requires a moderate hike of around 4 miles and takes about an hour out and back. The route to the water is scenic and ideal for visits during winter when it’s less hot, although many people visit during the summer too.
The trailhead and parking lot can be found at 1202-1298 E Mountain Dr, Montecito, CA.
Camping at the springs is not allowed, but the Santa Barbara Sunrise RV Park is just a few miles away to the south. There are also many hotel options in the Santa Barbara area that are conveniently close to the parking lot and trailhead for the hot springs.
Big & Little Caliente Springs – Santa Barbara (26 mi)
The Big and Little Caliente Springs are two semi-developed soaking areas fed by natural hot spring water. They are set up as rural recreational sites in the Los Padres National Forest, making it easier and more convenient for people to enjoy soaking in this wild atmosphere.
Outdoor enthusiasts that like being far away from metro areas will enjoy these springs as they are set out in a remote part of the national forest. Even though the two hot springs are just a few miles apart, travel time between them might vary on whether you go by foot, bike, horse, or high-clearance, four-wheel vehicles.
These springs don’t cost anything for day-use, and they are open from 6 am to 10 pm.
Getting to Big Caliente can be done as a 13.3-mile hike or drive in a four-wheel vehicle, but during rainy seasons, the roads are closed for driving due to slippery conditions. Three concrete pools are at the hot springs site, filled by two different sources.
The largest of the pools is in the Lower Caliente and is by itself along with a picnic table and has plenty of tree shade. The two other reservoirs can be located about two more miles down the Caliente Trail in the Upper Caliente area.
Big Caliente’s source is a steamy 115℉, but the valves leading into the pool can control the temperature. For a more secluded experience, visit during a weekday.
Little Caliente is about 5 miles away from Big Caliente, and the rugged road there can be dangerous during storms, so plan accordingly. If conditions are too bad, the path will be closed off for driving, but hiking is always an option as long as there aren’t storms.
This recreation site has a few rock-lined primitive pools fed by a hot spring source of 105℉. The secluded area can be incredibly relaxing and a great place to rejuvenate while reconnecting with nature.
Even though there are no fees to visit the springs for day use, campers that want to spend the night will have to purchase an Adventure Pass. Staying directly at the hot spring sites is prohibited, but the closest camp, Rock Camp, is less than half of a mile away. However, Los Padres National Forest has a few other campgrounds as alternatives if that one is full or closed.
Gaviota Hot Springs – Goleta (35 miles)
Set in the Gaviota State Park and also known as “Las Cruces Hot Springs,” this natural soaking area is a great pit-stop for anyone in the Santa Barbara area. This site is made up of two pools that have been formed with the help of some cement walls but are still considered primitive hot springs.
The air has a slight sulfur smell, and these pretty waters are a milky blue color with temperatures of a consistent 95-100℉. Each pool can hold about six people at a time, and clothing is required.
To reach the Gaviota Hot Springs, visitors need to take a one-mile hike from the trailhead that starts at a designated parking lot. There is a small parking fee in addition to regular state park fees for day use. Even though lots of trees provide shade along the way, this is a trek that is still recommended to do during the fall through springtime.
Gaviota State Park is a popular place to camp, thanks to its scenic ocean views, stunning layers of beautiful rocks, and proximity to the hot springs. Camping is not allowed at the site of the springs.
There are only 40 campsites available in this state park, so booking in advance online is recommended if you know you’d like to spend the night. If this location is completely booked or closed, check out Refugio State Beach and El Capitan State Beach, which are 10-13 miles away.
Ecotopia – Ojai (38 miles)
Also known as “Ojai Hot Springs,” Ecotopia is located in the Los Padres National Forest and was once a hidden gem of the region. After social media came around, the area got too popular to leave as a completely public space. The landowners manage the springs by requiring advance reservations and a donation to use the water; no walk-ins are allowed.
There are five rock-bottom pools in Ecotopia with water temperatures that range from 100-106℉. The largest pool can fit many people and has a diameter of 20 feet, while others feature beautiful waterfalls around them.
Clothing is optional at these pools, but thankfully crowds are managed with the reservation system. To maintain a peaceful environment, the property asks that people don’t bring alcohol, drugs, technology devices, or anything else that might disturb others.
Visiting Ecotopia is possible as a day trip. However, people who want to spend the night can camp at the nearby Wheeler Gorge Campground, about six miles away. Since these hot springs are privatized, camping right on-site is not permitted.
Sespe Hot Springs – Ojai (approx. 60 mi via Ojai)
Sespe Hot Springs is located in the thick of the Sespe Wilderness and is not easy to get to. However, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts will love taking the challenging journey to the hot springs and are rewarded with isolated soaking time in paradise.
The water is set in a man-made rock pool that holds water at 105℉ but has a source of a boiling 194℉. These hot springs have an elevation of 2,600 feet.
There are three ways to access the springs on different trails. Sespe River Trail is 16.8 miles each way and is rated as moderately complex. The Johnson Ridge Trail is also challenging and 9.5 miles each way. The last track is via the moderately difficult Alder Creek Trail, which runs 7.5 miles one way.
Hiking to Sespe Hot Springs should be thought out and planned according to weather, as it takes many hours and might be best done as an overnight adventure.
There are many places to camp along the way to the hot springs. Since this is considered wilderness, several campers like to choose their own spots. However, there are at least four designated campgrounds along the Sespe River Trail since this path is the most popular.
Willett Hot Springs – Ojai (approx. 60 mi via Ojai)
The Willett Hot Springs is located in a rural area within the Sespe Wilderness and Los Padres National Forest, so be prepared to do some hiking or camping before having your soak. The reward after the journey is worth the effort- getting to bathe in natural hot mineral water while surrounded by mountain vistas in solitude.
The 100℉ geothermal water is captured in a round manufactured tub. If the water looks murky upon arrival, visitors have the option to drain and scrub it before allowing it to refill, which takes about an hour naturally.
Getting to the hot springs is the biggest challenge. It’s a 20-mile hike out-and-back trek from the trailhead that begins in the parking lot and is considered a strenuous hike.
Other than standard state park permits, there is no additional fee to use these springs. The best time of year to visit is during the spring or fall when the water flow is the strongest, although it’s said to have at least some water all year long. Clothing is optional for soaking.
Backcountry camping in Los Padres National Forest is free, and there is even a place that visitors can use nearby the hot springs pool. There are also many other spots within the national forest, but since these are rural conditions, don’t expect many amenities.
Whether you’re in Santa Barbara for a week or a year, these hot springs are fantastic ways to get some fresh air and relaxation simultaneously. Keep this list on hand for the next time you’re looking for some outdoor excitement.