Los Padres National Forest

An adventurous journey with 10+ mile hikes
Trek into the wilderness and sleep in the backcountry
Pups are welcome at camp and on hiking trails

Soaking in Willett and Sespe hot springs in Los Padres National Forest

Soaking in Willett and Sespe hot springs in Los Padres National Forest

Soaking in Willett and Sespe hot springs in Los Padres National Forest

Soaking in Willett and Sespe hot springs in Los Padres National Forest

Soaking in Willett and Sespe hot springs 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 advanced backpackers

Vibe · Challenging and hard

Distance  · 32.4 miles and 4,012 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: Mary Hikes

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), but plan on getting wet either way. 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 Hot Springs in Los Padres National Forest

Willett and Sespe Hot Spring Camp

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. Willett Camp is located nearest to Willett hot spring and is about 7 miles away from the Piedra Blanca trailhead.

Another five miles down Sespe River Trail is Sespe Hot Spring Camp and Sespe Hot Spring Palm Camp. Both of which are great overnight options near Sespe hot springs. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep! They like to hang out around Sespe hot spring.

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 in Los Padres National Forest. 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 Willett hot spring

  • It's about a 10 mile one-way hike, with 1,261 feet of elevation gain, to Willett hot spring
  • Download a trail map because there isn't any signage to Willett hot spring
  • 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 Oak Flat campground around mile 7, which is a fine spot to rest your head for the night.

Arrive and set up camp at Willett Camp

  • Campsites are first-come, first-serve

Soak in 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

Relax and cook up dinner

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

Car to camp: 10 miles - 1,261 feet of elevation gain - 5 to 6 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

Sespe Hot Spring in Sespe Wilderness
Sespe Hot Spring in Sespe Wilderness. Credit: Mary Hikes

Make brekkie, pack up, and hike to Sespe hot spring

  • It's about a 6 mile one-way hike, with about 250 feet of elevation gain, to Sespe hot spring
  • You'll be walking along the river so there'll be opportunities to filter water

Enjoy lunch and a warm soak at Sespe hot spring

Set up camp at Sespe Hot Spring Camp

  • Read, relax, watch the sunset
  • Cook up your last dinner in Sespe Wilderness!

Camp to camp: ~6 miles - 250 feet of elevation gain - 3 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

The exterior of Topa Topa Brewery
Little Sama is located inside Topa Topa Brewery. Credit: Topa Topa Brewing Company

Pack up and leave camp around 7 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 16 miles back to Piedra Blanca Trailhead

  • Remember there'll be some creek crossings!

Drive to Little Sama in Ojai for lunch and beers at Topa Topa Brewery

  • Little Sama is an asian fusion eatery tucked inside Topa Topa Brewery. Diners love their burgers, Okonomiyaki tater tots, and delicious beers.
  • Located at 345 E Ojai Avenue, Suite 2 in Ojai
  • Open Mondays to Fridays · Noon to 8 PM or 9 PM and Saturdays and Sundays · 11 AM to 8 PM or 9 PM

Head home!

Camp to car: 16 miles - 2,006 feet of elevation gain - 7 to 8 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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