Willett Hot Springs – Wilderness Wonder Well Worth The Hike!

If you’re looking for something more than just a soak – an adventure of sorts, then this backpacking trail to the hidden oasis of Willett Hot Springs might be just for you.

This 10-mile hike through lush Californian wilderness above and along a creek bed, with pools aplenty to bathe in or drink from, winds you up at a 100°F tub of crystal clear mineral water, ideal for a rejuvenating soak in secluded nature. Camp, grab a sunrise soak, then head back out again. What could be better? And if the Cali soaking style appeals, check out this list of California hot springs for more recommended destinations to head to.

AddressPiedra Blanca Trail, Los Padres Forest, Ojai, California
LocationLos Padres Forest, Ojai, California
Road AccessN/A. Hike-in only
Water Temperature90 – 105°F
Check out Beeswildlife’s solo hike and stay-over at the Willett Hot Springs in Sespe

What To Expect

Located in the heart of the Sespe Wilderness in Los Padres National Forest, just outside Ojai, Willett Hot Springs offers a 4-6 person 10-foot metal hot tub in the shade of a copse of trees in the stunning Californian wilderness. The hot spring water is fed into it through a pipe, but, behind it, you will also find a trickling waterfall of the magic stuff, which has stained the rocks with a multitude of mineral-deposited colors.

On average, the pool stays around 100-105°F, and, as a bonus, there is also a selection of natural pools nearby averaging 90-100°F. The tub is the most popular, and it can get busy on weekends and holidays. If, when you get there, no one else is in the tub and the water looks murky, feel free to pull the plug, drain it, then scrub off the algae (all the tools you need are kept around the back of the pool by the rangers). You’ll have an hour to kill (and where better to do it than the serene Californian wilderness?!) as it refills. Then climb in and soak all that work away to the backdrop of Sespe Creek and the rustling of the trees above you.

Willett Hot Springs boasts a variety of minerals, including sodium, calcium, and sulfates (the smell of sulfur is mild but present). These are said to be therapeutic, helping to soothe sore muscles and joints – perfect after your hike in! Generally described as “moderately challenging,” the relatively flat 10-mile trail from the Piedra Blanca Trailhead to Willett Hot Springs will take you along the Sespe River Trail (above the creek, then alongside, sometimes across it) and is well marked.

The Willet Hot Springs waters.

Along the way, you’ll get to enjoy incredible views of the Los Padres National Forest, made up of sandstone cliffs, golden hillside, seasonal wildflowers, and the soothing bubbling of Sespe Creek. You may also be lucky enough during your hike and stay-over to see deer, black bears, mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, red-tailed hawks, California condors, or golden eagles – if you do, keep your distance and keep your food to yourself.

Review by Cathy Shargay

Important Notes About This Trail

  • The trail is pet-friendly, but dogs must be kept on a leash. 
  • Cell phone service is limited- to non-existent, so you’ll need to take a GPS device. 
  • Fire bans come into effect in dry seasons. Even when conditions are fire perfect, you will need a permit for campfires and open-flame cooking.
  • There are pit toilets at the Piedra Blanca Trailhead and Willett Hot Springs campground only. 
  • Summer-fall, the area gets very dry. Take your own water. At all times of year carry a water filter with you to keep you safely hydrated on your way.
  • There are wild animals in the area, including the protected California condors, so please leave no food or trash as you hike and camp. Watch out for the rattlesnakes crossing! 
  • Also worth keeping your eyes open for are poison ivy and poison oak along the trail. 
  • One big downer of this trail is the amount of biting bugs in the air – be sure to bring your bug spray!
The Willett Hot Springs tub before a scrubbing.

The best and most popular time to visit Sespe Creek is spring, as, in summer, it can get dangerously hot and the water sources tend to dry up in the 100+ degrees heat. That dryness lasts into fall – something to bear in mind when working out how much drinking water you need to carry with you. A warm winter soak is also worth the trek, presuming no snow closes the road which accesses the trailhead.

We recommend you visit between March and early June when the grass is lush and the wildflowers are blooming. Spring temperatures average around 55°F to 70°F in the daytime, and 40°F at night. Mid-October to early December (daytime temps of 60°F to 70°F, night temps sometimes dropping to freezing), is also great. In fall, you’ll likely get wind and rain battering you! Check here before you go to be aware of any seasonal or weather-related closures or restrictions.

Willett is very popular with backpackers, especially on holidays and weekends, so if you want to avoid crowds, aim for weekdays. If it’s further solitude you seek, consider hiking an extra 6 miles further along the Sespe River Trail to the more secluded and hotter primitive Sespe Hot Springs.


Taking a dip in a hot spring ♨️🌴 I know it looks relaxing ig and it was! But I had to hike 11 miles in the exposed sun to get here! 🥾 ⛰ 🎒 #hiking #backpacking #hotspring #sespehotspring #willetthotspring #optoutside #letsgohiking #outdooradventure #womenwhohike #hotspringheaven

♬ Sunny Day – Ted Fresco

Interesting History

The hot springs are said to have been used by the Chumash Tribe for around 10,000 years before the white man showed up. The word Sespe means “kneecap” in the Chumash language. 

Sespe Creek is 61 miles long and is the last undammed river in Southern California. Its source is 5,000 feet above sea level in the Santa Ynez Mountains, from where it flows down to the Santa Clara River near Fillmore.

The Chumash people.

More recently, some visitors have come across a homeless, allegedly schizophrenic man who has been living in Sespe Creek for some years. People call him Pan. While we haven’t heard of any dangerous incidents, he has been known to chat with and occasionally expose himself to hikers/soakers. While we know the local authorities tried several times to find and remove him, we’re not sure if they succeeded. Just in case, keep your food and personal belongings with you at all times.

How To Get There

The Willett Hot Springs is approximately 50 miles east of Santa Barbara and 21 miles north of Ojai, California.

A $5 Adventure Pass is needed to park your car at the Piedra Blanca Trailhead. This goes up to $10 if you plan on staying overnight. As the visitor center closes at around 4 pm, it’s best to buy this pass online. Also, consider investing in an annual forest adventure pass for $25.00 more. 

From Ojai, follow Highway 33 for approximately 15 miles north. Turn right at the junction for Rose Valley / Piedra Blanca Trailhead. Five miles along that paved road, you’ll see a turn to that trailhead and parking area. Signs from the Piedra Blanca Trailhead will guide you on your 10-mile, 5-7 hour hike to Willett Hot Springs. 

When Highway 33 is closed, the fastest route will be 1 hour 22 minutes from Ojai. Take the CA-150 E / N Ojai Road 7.7 miles (14 minutes) to Sisar Canyon Road. Turn left onto this. The next hour or so of your journey will involve a lot of twists and turns but some great scenery! The Sisar Canyon Road splits into two at the 9-mile mark. Take the left fork onto the “Forest Service Only” road, which soon becomes Nordhoff Ridge Rd heading northwest, then Rose Valley Lake Rd. At the Lower Rose Valley Lake junction, hang a right onto Rose Valley Road. Not much further on, this will split into two. Take the right fork (Forest Rte 6N31) heading north-northeast to the Piedra Blanca Trailhead.

Hiking through the Sespe Wilderness.

The 20-mile round-trip trail to Willett Springs is clear and well-marked. Note that the last 0.5 miles to the springs will see you climbing uphill for a steep 300 feet. When you’re around 50 feet away from that long-hiked-for hot tub, you’ll cross a handy campsite with a fire ring. You can set up here or scout around for a more desirable spot before or after your soak. 

Can I Stay There?

Yes. There are numerous primitive sites along the Sespe River  – Los Padres Forest has some 32 campgrounds in all. Use a GPS device to help you find them, and check here before you go because there may be seasonal or weather-related closures or restrictions. 

All camping is free in the Sespe Wilderness.

The nearest campsite to Willett Hot Springs is just 50 feet away and offers a fire ring. The next nearest on the Sespe River Trail are Bear Creek and Oak Flat. The Bear Creek campsite marks the 5-mile mid-way point on the trail and boasts tempting swimming holes and shaded areas to pitch your tent. Oak Flat is two miles further on and also offers water to bathe in and trees to shelter under.

Camping by Sespe Creek while visiting Willett Hot Springs.

What Else Can I Do In The Area?

The Los Padres National Forest has plenty of other hiking, horseback riding, and camping opportunities beyond Sespe Creek. Check here for alerts and notices before you set off to avoid closures and safety hazards.

Close by Los Padres National Park is the sheltered and dramatically rocky Sand Dollar Beach, ideal for swimming, surfing, and picnicking with family and friends.

Salmon Creek Waterfall.

Check out the dark green of an oak forest as you clamber over giant boulders to discover the Salmon Creek waterfall, just under 3 miles from Los Padres National Forest. Uphill from the waterfall is the great panorama point of Silver Peak. 

Another spot for unforgettable views is the 1.6-mile loop at Pacific Valley Bluff Trail.

Limekiln State Park also offers a cool, deep forest, and it comes with a history of its historical lime kilns. Alternatively, if you fancy trying out some more incredible Californian hot springs, try the very hot mineral pools at Travertine Hot Springs (115-156°F!) or the Deep Creek Hot Springs in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. You’ll enjoy the views of the cooler Buckeye Hot Springs, or those of the calm and orderly Benton Hot Springs, which offers a rejuvenating soak in your own corner of a well-kept family-run site. For more Californian hot springs, type “California” into the search bar.

To make finding your ideal California hot spring soak easier, check out these listings:




The Dos And Don’ts Of Visiting A Hot Springs

Every hot springs has its own quirks. Visitors to Willett Hot Springs, for example, should be ready to give a turn to others at peak times, respect the vibe and volume when camping (especially when in a group), and take plenty of bug spray with them! 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

How hot is Willett Hot Springs?

The biggest and deepest sulfur water at Willett Hot Springs (the tub) comes in at a max of 105°F. Other natural pools are cooler.

How far is Willett Hot Springs from Los Angeles?

It’s 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles and the drive takes about 2 hours.

How far is Willett Hot Springs from San Francisco?

It’s 350 miles south of San Francisco and the drive takes about 6 hours.

Can I fill up on water on the trail?

Any time of year except mid-summer-late fall, you should take enough water to last you the full 20 miles in and out. At other times of the year, the water sources tend to be abundant. Be sure to take a water filter with you for safe drinking!

Is Willett Hot Springs pet friendly?

Yes, but dogs should be kept on a leash and shouldn’t be allowed near the hot springs water as it can burn them.

Is Willett Hot Springs child friendly?

Yes, if your kid is strong and happy to walk the distance. The Sespe Wilderness is not ideal for total beginners and is better for hikers and backpackers who have some experience. Take the right precautions, keeping in mind sun exposure, heat, and comfortable, dry feet!


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!

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