Montecito Hot Springs is a beautiful cascade of turquoise, rock-walled pools of different temperatures in a narrow, party-shaded canyon, a gentle 3-mile round trip from the town of Montecito.
Follow your nose to get there – these sulfur waters are curative and draw big crowds!
If crowds are not your thing, have a look at some of these other top California hot springs for soaking ideas.
|Address||Trailhead: 1217 E Mountain Dr, Montecito, CA 93108|
|Location||Los Padres Forest, Montecito, California|
|Open||8 am – Sunset|
|Road Access||N/A. Hike-in only|
|Water Temperature||60°F -112°F|
What To Expect
The Montecito Hot Springs (also known as Hot Springs Canyon) pools range in temperature from 60°F to 112°F, with the pool at the top, nearest the source, the hottest. Each pool can comfortably seat 6 to 8 people – and you’ll smell the pools before you see them, as they are rich in sulfur, though this shouldn’t put you off as it does wonders for your skin and aching bones! The water in each pool is a murky blue due to the natural and perfectly safe bacteria living there.
Montecito Hot Springs is actually an abandoned hot springs resort from the 1800s, and people like to walk up there to see the burnt-out ruins, as well as the exotic plant life. Read more on the history of the place below.
Considering the Californian climate, the best months to visit Montecito Hot Springs are April, May, October, and November. Winter may be cool and the risks of flooding are higher (often seeing the pools submerged or damaged by flood water or debris), and in summer the humidity can be overwhelming. Check here before you go because there may be seasonal or weather-related closures or restrictions.
It is a short and steady 1.3 miles from the trailhead to the hot springs canyon, an approximate 3-mile round trip on a partly shaded river trail, promising stunning views and plenty of beautiful plant life. The trail is wide in parts, rocky in others, and not well marked, but we’ve written up a guide for you to follow (see below), which takes you across the creek (bear that in mind when choosing which shoes to wear!), and up and around a hill to the well-hidden hot springs.
This is a very busy location, even at opening time at 8 am, and parking continues to be a problem for visitors and residents alike. We’ve shared some tips below for those driving up, but we recommend an Uber to make it less stressful! Give weekends and holidays a miss if you want to avoid the crowds!
Important Notes About This Trail
- The trail is pet-friendly, but dogs must be kept on a leash and are not allowed in the pools.
- Cell phone service is limited near the pools.
- There are no bathrooms on the trail.
- Clothing is optional and you will see bathers going nude!
- Keep your eyes open for poison oak along the trail.
- Parking can be tricky. Here’s a recommendation from Nikko Gandia: “The small, free parking lot was full at 8 am on a Friday. Waited about 30 min to get a spot. More free parking along Riven Rock Road, park over a curb in the dirt. Low cars may not make it over some of the curbs. If you park on the street, you will be towed!”
The Santa Barbara region is among the most popular vacation spots in California. Way before the Europeans came, though, the native Chumash tribes would use the hot springs for bathing, healing, and ritual purposes. The Chumash call this area “Shalawa.” After colonizing Southern California, the Spanish named the area “Montecito,” meaning “little mountain.”
Wilbur Curtiss was the first to develop Montecito Hot Springs as a resort. Arriving in Santa Barbara in the late 1850s, in bad health, he spent the next six months bathing in and drinking the mineral water. Six months later, he claimed he was cured of his ills. He made plans to build a 46-room hotel with a saloon and two bathhouses. Sadly, due to the location on a steep hillside, which often suffered weather damage, he had trouble finding investors, and so at the initial stage, he set up simple wooden huts for the 19th century’s first eager soakers. These were destroyed in a fire in 1871. Not one to give up easily, Curtiss managed to build a three-story hotel with a dining room, where a full-board room cost $2 a day, and included unlimited use of the springs. Even so, the custom was low, and in 1877 the county sheriff sold the property out from under him.
How To Get There
Montecito Hot Springs is in the town of Montecito, beside Santa Barbara, just 1.5 hours from Los Angeles.
From Santa Barbara, California, it’s a 15-minute drive. Take US-101 S to Hot Springs Road in Montecito. Turn left onto this and follow it all the way up to the end. Turn left onto E Mountain Drive, and within 1.5 miles, you’ll be at the trailhead and parking lot.
Parking, as mentioned above, continues to be an issue for both visitors and residents. Ideally, you’ll grab a space in the small dirt parking lot on Mountain Road. There may be a wait, though, even early in the morning! You can look around for a space in the nearby streets, but be careful to park in a legal spot because the local Sheriff is always on the prowl for a car to tow- and it will cost some $500 to get your car back!
A $5 Adventure Pass is needed to park your car at the trailhead. You can buy a pass at three locations in Santa Barbara: the REI store, Big 5, or at the Santa Barbara Ranger District office, although it’s perhaps easier to buy the pass online. Adventurous types might consider investing in an annual forest adventure pass for $30.
At the Mountain Road trailhead, you’ll see a small sign and a path heading toward “Hot Springs Canyon” (Montecito Hot Springs).
The trail is clear and easy to follow up to a point and will take you on a scenic route past those old bathhouse ruins, through tree tunnels, and into the beautiful, lush green hills. At the first and second forks in the trail, stay to your left. At the third fork, go to the right. After you pass the hotel ruins, some 1.3 miles in, you’ll see a sign that says “Montecito Creek Water Co.” There, you need to come off the trail and cross the stream on the left and hike uphill for 0.1 miles, at which point you’ll either smell the springs before you see them, or you’ll hear the water flow and the chatter of the soakers who got there before you. Watch this excellently informative video for tips and tricks to help you get to the hot springs.
Can I Stay There?
In Montecito, we like the 4-star Montecito Inn, which is less than 10 minute walk from the beach. Built-in 1928 by Charlie Chaplin, the Inn boasts peaceful grounds and an onsite spa and wellness center. The outdoor heated pool and hot tub are what caught our eye! If it’s camping you’re looking for, you can’t do better than most of the options on this list. Our personal favorite is Harmony’s Glamping in Santa Barbara, where you can stay in a beautifully designed cozy yurt, teepee, or geodome. Each has its own private space with a shower, fire pit, kitchen, and queen bed.
What Else Can I Do In The Area?
If you’re in it for nature, the Los Padres National Forest has tons to offer – hiking, camping, and horseback riding opportunities. Check here for alerts and notices before you go, because the area is particularly affected by the weather, and closures can be enforced for your safety.
In Montecito, a popular must-see is Lotusland, among the top 10 botanic gardens in the world and home to more than 3,000 different types of plants from all around the globe, some extremely rare or even close to extinction. The gardens were created by Madame Ganna Walska, who owned the property from 1941 until her death in 1984. The Lotusland philosophy is to be organic – they use no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Book here before you go.
The beaches are also a must. Check out the bright yellow sand and calm waves of Butterfly Beach, or head over to Miramar Beach.
If you fancy trying out some more Californian hot springs, try Travertine Hot Springs (a steaming 115-156°F!) or Deep Creek Hot Springs in the San Bernardino Mountains. You’ll enjoy the magical views of the cooler Buckeye Hot Springs, and the calm and orderly Benton Hot Springs, which offers a rejuvenating soak with impressive views on a well-kept family-run site. We’ll soon be adding more Californian hot springs to our list, so come back and type “California” into the search bar.
Montecito Hot Springs is definitely worth a visit – you just have to time it right to avoid the crowds. The water will leave you feeling like new, and the depths of lush nature you’ll experience around you as you soak will soothe away the stress you had trying to find a parking spot!
Want to do more hot-springing in California? Check out our favorite destinations below.
The Dos And Don’ts Of Visiting A Hot Springs
Every hot springs has its own quirks. Visitors to Montecito Hot Springs, for example, need to be prepared for a bit of nudity and heavy crowds bustling for space. For more general and very important “hot springs etiquette,” we highly recommend you take a moment to check out our carefully compiled easy-to-read list of “dos and don’ts” here. And always, always respect our nature – pack out what you pack in and LEAVE NO TRACE.
Frequently Asked Questions
The walk to Montecito Hot Springs is an uphill but easily doable 3-mile round trip.
Yes, the hot springs pools in Montecito go by both names – “Montecito Hot Springs” and “Hot Springs Canyon.”
There was a resort in the 19th century, but it was never particularly popular due to access issues, and it eventually burned to the ground. You can still see the stone ruins on the trail today.
From Santa Barbara, California, it’s a 15-minute drive. Take US-101 S to Hot Springs Rd in Montecito. Turn left onto this and follow it all the way up to the end. Turn left onto E Mountain Drive, and within 1.5 miles, you’ll be at the trailhead and parking lot.
Today, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County manages the property. Once you cross into the forest where the hot springs are located, it is under Forest Service jurisdiction.
While we at Traxplorio do our very best to give you the latest information about these hot springs sites, life happens, weather happens, and property owners happen. We always recommend you go to the official hot springs’ web page and/or the relevant state authority page to check conditions, times, and prices (where relevant) before you head out. Thanks for understanding, and enjoy your soak!