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HomeHot SpringsBest Natural Hot Springs in Santa Barbara & Near It 2023

Best Natural Hot Springs in Santa Barbara & Near It 2023

Santa Barbara is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains. Its hot spot serves a menu of diverse outdoor experiences extending beyond the shoreline, right into the embrace of nature’s very own hot tubs—natural hot springs.

After spending a day reveling in ocean breezes or hiking through the diverse terrains of Santa Barbara’s mountains, what better way to unwind than by soaking in nature’s own hot tub?

Though the Golden State is a year-round tourist magnet, the hot springs near Santa Barbara particularly shine during the cooler months, from fall to spring. These natural pools offer a cozy respite from the chill, allowing you to revel in outdoor luxury amidst scenic settings. That said, the summer months also have their own unique charm, given that Santa Barbara experiences tourist inflow all year long.

So, let’s dive right in and get you ready for an unforgettable soak!

Best Santa Barbara Hot Springs? Personal Opinion & Our Favorite

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Santa Barbara Hot Springs

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If you’re asking me to pick my favorite hot spring around Santa Barbara, it’s got to be Montecito Hot Springs. Why? Well, it’s easy to get to, unlike some places where you have to hike miles. The scenery is amazing; think of clear water set against beautiful hills. Plus, it’s usually less crowded, so you get some peace and quiet while you soak. It’s like a spa day, but better because it’s all-natural. For me, Montecito just hits all the right notes.

Read Also: 14 Best Colorado Hot Spring Resorts & Hotels | Your Top Guide

Distances of Beautiful Santa Barbara Hot Springs in California CA

Pools Distance from Santa Barbara Time to Reach
Montecito Thermal Springs 10 km Approximately 22 min
Springs at Gaviota 56 km Around 40 min
Sespe Wilderness Hot Springs 80.5 km 1 hour 45 min
Big & Small Caliente Springs 60 km 1 hour 28 min
Willett Wilderness Springs 62 km About 1 hour 32 min

Montecito Hot Springs – Best Natural Hot Spring Near Santa Barbara

Montecito Hot Springs

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Nestled in the Montecito Canyon, Montecito Hot Springs (Hot Springs Canyon Santa Barbara) is a local haven filled with mineral-rich water and lush vegetation. This natural sanctuary is famous for its healing properties and has been a cherished destination for centuries.

With a water temperature reaching up to 112°F, it’s an ideal hot spring for both relaxation and therapeutic benefits.

Quick Facts Details
Temperature 112°F
Clothing Optional
Opening Season Autumn
Hiking Required (4-mile round trip)
Camping Not Allowed
Entry Fee Free

Facilities

While commercial amenities are lacking, the springs offer a raw, natural experience. This is a primitive pool setting, with no built facilities on-site. There’s limited street parking available, but restrooms and other amenities are not provided.

Price Range

The best part about Montecito Hot Springs is that it’s free to access. However, you might need a National Forest permit for parking.

Unique Features

  1. Historical Relevance: Indigenous peoples and later, 19th-century tourists, frequented this spot for its purported healing properties.
  2. Multiple Pools: The canyon houses multiple pools with varying temperatures, so you can choose according to your comfort.
  3. Natural Setting: Surrounded by exotic vegetation like avocados and bamboo trees, the location itself adds to the therapeutic experience.
  4. Water Quality: The water is rich in sulfur and is known for its health benefits, despite its pungent smell.

How to Get There

The hot springs are located at Mountain Drive, Montecito, CA 93108, approximately a 15-minute drive from downtown Santa Barbara. Limited street parking is available at 1202-1298 E Mountain Dr, Montecito, CA. The 4-mile round trip hike starts from the trailhead at Mountain Drive and requires about an hour for a round trip.

Nearby Hotels & Accommodations

Camping is not permitted at Montecito Hot Springs. However, Santa Barbara Sunrise RV Park is a few miles south of the springs. Additionally, there are various hotel options in Santa Barbara conveniently close to the parking lot and trailhead for those who prefer a more comfortable stay.

Insider Tip

The hike to Montecito Hot Springs is mostly uphill, so proper trail shoes are a must. Also, sulfur can tarnish silver jewelry, so it’s advisable to leave any silver accessories at home.

Note: The springs are maintained by The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, so it’s crucial to adhere to Leave No Trace principles to keep the area pristine for future visitors.

Gaviota Hot Springs (Las Cruces Hot Springs)

Gaviota Hot Springs

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Gaviota Hot Springs, also known as Las Cruces Hot Springs, is a secluded geothermal oasis located within the boundaries of Gaviota State Park. Offering mineral-rich pools with temperatures ranging from 90-100°F, the hot springs are enveloped by mountain vistas and are accessible via a moderate 4 km hiking trail. The hot springs are especially popular between October and April.

Read Also: 12 Best Hot Springs in Utah | Natural & Must Visit Utah Hot Springs 2023

Facilities

This primitive site does not offer onsite amenities such as restrooms or changing areas. However, camping is allowed within Gaviota State Park, which has modern facilities like restrooms with flushing toilets, showers, picnic tables, and fire rings.

Quick Facts Details
Temperature 90-100°F
Clothing Optional
Opening Season Year-Round
Hiking Yes
Camping Yes
Entry Fee No Entry Fee But a Parking Fee is Charged
Pet-Friendly Dogs Allowed in Campsite

Price Range

  • Entry Fee: No fee for hot springs, $2.00 per day parking fee
  • Campsite Fees:
    • High Season (March-Nov): $45.00/day
    • Low Season (Dec): $35.00/day
    • Hike & Bike site: $10.00/day

Unique Features

  • Offers two different pools, each with unique temperature settings and sizes.
  • Hiking trail to hot springs provides stunning ocean views when reaching Gaviota Peak.
  • Sulfurous water is known for its potential therapeutic benefits.

How to Get There

Located 40 minutes from Santa Barbara, the trailhead to Gaviota Hot Springs starts off Highway 101 within Gaviota State Park. After parking, follow the Gaviota Peak Fire Road for a 4 km hike leading to the hot springs.

Nearby Hotels & Accommodations

Insider Tip

To experience the hot springs without the crowds, aim to visit between January and February when the campground is closed. Also, the sulfur in the water can tarnish silver jewelry, so it’s best to leave valuables at home.

For reservations at the campground, call 1-800-444-7275 (office hours 8 am-6 pm) or directly book a reservation. Booking at least six months in advance is advisable for summer visits due to high demand.

Big & Little Caliente Hot Springs – Hot Springs Trail Near Santa Barbara

Big & Little Caliente Hot Springs

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Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs are two distinct thermal mineral springs located within Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara, California. Surrounded by stunning forest views, Big and Little Caliente Springs offer a secluded oasis ideal for relaxation and outdoor adventure. Big Caliente features a large, well-maintained cement and stone pool, while Little Caliente has three natural rock pools connected by flowing water.

Quick Facts Details
Temperature 90-110°F
Clothing Optional
Opening Season Year-round; busiest from Spring to Summer
Hiking Yes, a moderate 6 km trail
Camping Yes, but not at the hot springs itself
Entry Fee Free
Pet-Friendly Yes

Facilities at Big & Little Caliente Hot Springs

  • Big Caliente: Cement and stone pool, changing rooms, picnic table
  • Little Caliente: Three rock pools connected by flowing water
  • Camping: Four campgrounds nearby with vault toilets, stand-up BBQs, fire rings, and tables. Note: Camping is not allowed at the hot springs themselves.

Price Range

  • Entry Fee: Free
  • Camping Fees: $5.00 per day or $30.00 per year (Adventure Pass required)

To make a camping reservation, contact the Santa Barbara Ranger District Office at (805) 967-3481 during office hours (8 a.m.-6 p.m.).

Unique Features

  • Varied water temperatures between pools.
  • The road to the hot springs offers 360-degree views of Santa Barbara, Channel Islands, and Los Padres National Forest.
  • The secluded setting within a National Forest makes it ideal for nature lovers and those looking for solitude.

How to Rach Big & Little Caliente Hot Springs

  1. Take Highway 101 to Highway 154.
  2. Drive about 32 km to Armour Ranch Road.
  3. Follow the road for about 11 km to the hot springs area. The last 3 km can be rough—proceed carefully.
  4. Park in the designated area and follow the 6 km trail to the springs.

Important: Call the forest service in advance to confirm the road conditions, especially during wet weather.

Hotels & Accommodations Near Big & Little Caliente Hot Springs

Since the hot springs are located within a National Forest, nearby accommodation options mainly consist of campgrounds, including:

  • Mid Santa Ynez: Multiple and group sites
  • Rock Camp: Limited to 2 vehicles per site
  • P-Bar Flats: Multiple and group sites
  • Mono Campgrounds: Walk-in only, no reservations

Insider Tip

  1. The hot springs can get crowded during weekends, especially in Spring and Summer. Consider visiting during weekdays for a more secluded experience.
  2. Always take plenty of water as the area is remote.
  3. For the most updated road conditions, always give the forest service a call before heading out.

Willett Hot Springs – Natural Hot Springs in Santa Barbara

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Willett Hot Springs is a secluded gem located in the Sespe Wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest, north of Ojai, California. With its natural hot mineral water and breathtaking mountain views, this best hot spring destination is a hiker’s paradise and a perfect spot for some rejuvenation.

Read Also: Best Hot Springs in Arkansas | Natural Hot Springs to Soak in AR

Quick Facts Details
Temperature 99-102°F
Clothing Optional
Opening Season Year-round
Hiking Distance 15.3 km one-way from Piedra Blanca Trailhead
Camping Free Backcountry Camping in Los Padres National Forest

Facilities

  • Pools: One large man-made tub
  • Camping: Free backcountry camping spots near the hot springs. Note that you’ll need a permit for stoves and campfires.

Price Range

  • Entry Fee: Free
  • Camping: Free

Unique Features

  • Located amidst stunning wilderness, offering solitude and spectacular mountain vistas.
  • The tub can be drained and cleaned by visitors, refilling naturally in about an hour.
  • Best visited in the spring and fall when the Sespe River’s flow is strongest.

How to Get There

  1. From Ojai, drive 24 km north on Hwy 33.
  2. Turn right to reach the Piedra Blanca Trailhead or Rose Valley, which is 8 km from the turning.
  3. Follow the signs to reach the Sespe River Trail or Piedra Blanca Trailhead and park in the designated lot.
  4. Hike 16 km via Sespe River Trail to reach the hot springs.

Note: The hike is considered strenuous and it’s crucial to be prepared for a 20-mile out-and-back trek.

Nearby Hotels & Accommodations

Given its remote location, nearby accommodations are primarily backcountry camping spots within Los Padres National Forest. Remember, these are basic sites without amenities.

Insider Tip

  • Plan your visit for the spring or fall for the strongest water flow.
  • Always check the condition of the Sespe River and trail before planning your trip.
  • Although the pool can be cleaned, carrying a small scrub brush can be beneficial.

Sespe Hot Springs – Hot Springs Trail Santa Barbara

Sespe Hot Springs

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Located in the heart of the Los Padres National Forest, Sespe Hot Springs offers a one-of-a-kind, remote experience near Fillmore, California. Accessible only via an 18-mile hiking trail, it promises a tranquil soaking experience with warm temperatures and the untouched beauty of Sespe Wilderness as your backdrop.

Quick Facts Details
Temperature 100-120°F
Clothing Optional
Opening Season Fall Season
Hiking Required
Camping Available

Facilities

  • Pools: Multiple natural pools of varying sizes, with some accommodating groups.
  • Camping: Four designated campgrounds along the Sespe River Trail and numerous unofficial spots.

Price Range

  • Entry Fee: Free
  • Camping: Free, but backcountry conditions mean few amenities.

Unique Features

  • High water temperatures with a source boiling at 194°F.
  • Elevated at 2,600 feet, it offers stunning vistas.
  • Multiple trail options for accessing the springs, suitable for various skill levels.
  • Best visited in cooler months (October-May) for a comfortable hike and soak.

How to Get There

  1. Head north on State Route 33 towards Ojai.
  2. Turn right onto Rose Valley Road.
  3. Continue until you reach the Piedra Blanca Trailhead parking area.
  4. Choose your trail: Sespe River Trail (16.8 miles), Johnson Ridge Trail (9.5 miles), or Alder Creek Trail (7.5 miles).

Note: Plan your hike according to weather and daylight, as the trip may require an overnight stay.

Nearby Hotels & Accommodations

Given the springs’ remote location, the primary accommodation is backcountry camping. Four designated campgrounds are along the Sespe River Trail, or you can opt for off-the-beaten-path spots.

Insider Tip

  • While camping is available, plan your supplies carefully, especially water and food, as you’re in a remote wilderness area.
  • Always check trail conditions and water levels before embarking, as the hike is demanding.
  • Make sure you’re adequately prepared for the specific trail you choose, as they range from moderately complex to challenging.

Experience the wilderness like never before by making a trek to Sespe Hot Springs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the longest trail with hot springs in Santa Barbara?

The longest trail with hot springs in the Santa Barbara area is the Sespe River Trail leading to Sespe Hot Springs. The trail is approximately 16.8 miles each way, making it a demanding but rewarding journey. The hot spring is located in the Los Padres National Forest near Fillmore, rather than directly in Santa Barbara, but is often considered a destination for those in the area.

Are the hot springs open year-round?

The availability of hot springs can vary. For example, Sespe Hot Springs in Los Padres National Forest is best visited during the fall season. Some commercial hot springs may be open year-round but could have maintenance periods. Always check the specific hot spring you’re interested in for current information.

Do you need a reservation for commercial hot springs?

Yes, reservations are generally required for commercial hot springs, especially those that offer additional amenities like spa treatments or lodging. Due to limited capacity and high demand, it’s advisable to book well in advance to secure your spot.

What to carry on Hot Springs trail Santa Barbara?

When hiking to hot springs in the Santa Barbara area, it’s essential to be prepared. Carry plenty of water, high-energy snacks, a map, and a compass. Also bring a swimsuit (unless clothing is optional at your destination), a towel, and biodegradable soap. Proper hiking shoes are crucial for challenging terrains. A first-aid kit and emergency whistle are also recommended. Check weather conditions and pack accordingly.

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