Los Padres National Forest

Ideal for first-timers
Trek into the wilderness and sleep in the backcountry
A cool experience with 6 to 10 mile hikes
Perfect for families with young kiddos
Pups are welcome at camp and on hiking trails

Crisscrossing Sespe River Trail to Willett hot spring in Los Padres National Forest

Crisscrossing Sespe River Trail to Willett hot spring in Los Padres National Forest

Crisscrossing Sespe River Trail to Willett hot spring in Los Padres National Forest

Crisscrossing Sespe River Trail to Willett hot spring in Los Padres National Forest

Crisscrossing Sespe River Trail to Willett hot spring in Los Padres National Forest

Designed by Yvonne Leow

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Last updated
March 8, 2022

Trip · 3-day backpacking trip

For · Friends and first-time backpackers

Vibe · Moderate and fun

Distance  · 21 miles and 2,592 feet of elevation gain

Permits · You won't need a wilderness permit, but apply for a CA campfire permit online and buy an Adventure Pass to park at Piedra Blanca Trailhead

Drive · 2.5 hours from LA

Ideal dates · January to May (before it gets too hot!)

Pets · Welcome on trails and campgrounds!

Los Padres National Forest (LPNF) boasts a whopping ten wilderness areas: Ventana, Silver Peak, Santa Lucia, Garcia, Machesna, San Rafael, Dick Smith, Matilija, Sespe, and Chumash. In total, the forest has a mind blowing 1.75 million acres. This trek takes you through Sespe Wilderness. The trailhead is accessible by driving along highway 33, a portion of which is considered a National Forest and State Scenic Byway. So whether it's the road trip or the hike itself, you'll witness beautiful natural landscapes in LPNF.

Official National Forest Website

Official Trail Information

Hike Los Padres Sespe River Trail Description

Directions to Trailhead

Main image credit: Yvonne Leow

Stuff to know

  • Bear canisters aren't required in Los Padres National Forest, but they're highly recommended.
  • Even during the winter, ticks, mosquitoes, and deer flies like to hang out at camp. Bring yo' bug spray.
  • Campfires are allowed in the backcountry, but there are typically fire restrictions from May to December. Use established backcountry fire pits whenever you can!
  • This trek involves a lot of creek crossings! Water levels will be highest during the rainy season (October to April) so plan ahead. Trekking poles and quick-dry socks and shoes are recommended!
  • Practice Leave No Trace! That means properly poopin' in the backcountry and leaving the outdoors as you found it.

Resources

Check the weather
Sespe River Trail

Oak Flat Campground

All campsites in LPNF are first-come, first-serve, but even on the weekends (barring that it's not a holiday weekend), there are plenty of awesome backcountry campsites. Oak Flat has several established campsites, some are closer to Sespe River than others, but the one we recommend is a spacious group campsite further away from the river and closer to the mountain side.

Why? Because it has two picnic tables, plenty of shade, space for multiple tents, wooden benches, and a giant fire pit. It is an equestrian campsite so you have to deal with a bit of horse poo on the outskirts, but the picnic tables and benches are perfect for larger groups.

Learn more

Backpacking at Oak Flat Campground
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Itinerary

Day One

Aerial view of Sespe Wilderness
Sespe River Trail in Sespe Wilderness. Credit: Reddit

Leave LA as early as you can cuz' traffic

  • Last cheapish pit stop · Circle K - 11408 N Ventura Avenue in Ojai
  • Nearest grocery store · Vons - 1125 Maricopa Highway in Ojai - It's still a 45-minute drive from the trailhead so stock up on food before you arrive.

Park at Piedra Blanca Trailhead and hike to Oak Flat Campground

  • It's a 7.2 mile one-way hike, with 525 feet of elevation gain, to Oak Flat
  • Power up on some snacks, layer on sunscreen, bug spray, and fill up your water bottles (at least 1.5 L). You'll be hiking along the river so there'll be plenty of chances to refill your water.
  • If you're running out of daylight, you'll also pass Bear Creek campground around mile 4, which is a fine spot to rest your head for the night

Arrive and set up camp at Oak Flat Campground

  • Campsites are first-come, first-serve, but we recommend claiming the group equestrian campsite near the mountain, further away from the river.

Cool off in the Sespe River

Chill and cook up dinner

  • You did it! Enjoy your first night in Los Padres National Forest!

Car to camp: 7 miles - 525 feet of elevation gain - 4 to 5 hours

The name Sespe can be traced back to a Chumash Indian village, called Cepsey, Sek-pe or S'eqpe' ("Kneecap") in the Chumash language

Day Two

Willett hot spring
Willett hot spring. Credit: Hidden California

Make brekkie and day hike to Willett hot spring

  • It's a 6.4 mile round-trip hike, with 1,145 feet of elevation gain, to Willett hot spring and back to Oak Flat.
  • Download a trail map because there isn't any signage to Willett hot spring
  • Pack a daypack with water, lunch, bug spray, water filter, a small towel, and lunch

Enjoy lunch and a warm soak at Willett hot spring

  • It's a smallish tub so plan on rotating if there are other groups on the trail or if you're hiking with more than four people

Return to Oak Flat for a sunset dinner

  • Cook up your last dinner in Sespe Wilderness!

Day hike: 6.4 miles - 1,145 feet of elevation gain - 4 hours

Sespe Wilderness is also home to the Sespe Condor Sanctuary. It's not open to the public, but it was established to protect one of the most endangered animals in the world. What's a major threat to condors? Microtrash (i.e. bottle caps, broken glass).

DAY THREE

Exterior shot of Farmer and the Cook in Ojai
Farmer and the Cook in Ojai. Credit: Yelp

Pack up and leave camp around 8 AM

  • Cook up brekkie, pick up any random pieces of litter around camp and save some snacks for the return trek
  • Layer on sunscreen, bug spray, and fill up your water bottles!

Hike 7 miles back to Piedra Blanca Trailhead

  • Remember there'll be some creek crossings!

Drive to Farmer and the Cook in Ojai for lunch

  • Diners love their smoothies, vegetarian Mexican dishes, and awesome outdoor patio
  • Located at 339 W El Roblar Drive in Ojai
  • Open Mondays to Wednesdays · 8 AM to 4 PM and Thursdays to Sundays · 8 AM to 7 PM

Head home!

Camp to car: 7 miles - 4 to 5 hours

California has the second largest number of wilderness areas in the country (Alaska has the most)

Packing List

Essential Items
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Clothing
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Personal Stuff
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Camp Kitchen
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Shared Gear
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Recommended gear

Essential Items

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