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Backpacker Magazine – April 2008

Hot Springs: The Perfect Pool

Here are the top wilderness soaks on the continent. Can you keep a secret?

by: Doug Schnitzspahn

Hotspring Island | Sespe | Yellowstone | Turkey Creek | Skillern/Big Smoky
Soak Here Now

Sespe Hot Springs
Sespe Wilderness, California
Not far from the skate parks in Ventura sits a lonely, boulder-strewn valley patrolled by circling condors and peppered with bubbling springs. Put aside your Tinseltown stereotypes: This is raw, unspoiled country. The Sespe is the last free-flowing river in Southern California. The 219,700-acre wilderness, which also encompasses the 53,000-acre Sespe Condor Sanctuary, is the heart of the largest core of roadless land abutting a U.S. metropolis.


The 18-mile hike to Sespe Hot Springs starts at the Piedra Blanca Trailhead and climbs over smooth river stones, past numerous cool-water swimming holes (sometimes filled with steelhead trout), and shapely sandstone cliffs. Do it in one long day or two shorter ones, stopping to camp at 8.5 miles near 108°F Willett Hot Springs (which can be crowded on weekends). Claim the first-come, first-served cabin or one of a dozen free tent spots, and tackle the next 10 miles the next day. By the time you reach Sespe's pools you'll be ready for another soak. Just remember that these waters top out at 190°F: It takes buckets of runoff to cool them, but once they're bearable you can float until you prune, watching resident bighorn sheep that often graze nearby.

Getting There
From Ojai, go 25 miles north on CA 33 to the Rose Valley turnoff. Turn right, and drive until you reach the Piedra Blanca Trailhead. Sespe Hot Springs UTM: 11S 0316774E 3830569N

Ojai Ranger District, Los Padres National Forest. (805) 646-4348; For the best route, consult the Sespe Wilderness Trail Map ($9;

Spring, when streams are running and fairy dusters bloom on the hillsides. Winter's good too, as long as the road isn't closed due to snowfall. Fall can be perfect: crisp or beautifully balmy. Summer's just too hot.

Hotspring Island | Sespe | Yellowstone | Turkey Creek | Skillern/Big Smoky
Soak Here Now

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star


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Steve Snyder
Jul 11, 2013

Couple of comments.

1. There's several other springs in the Gila besides Turkey, many of them decent, and a couple of them a bit easier hikes. Some of Gila's springs get hot enough to need side-pool cooling.
2. There's other places in Yellowstone where springs and creeks mingle to get nearer right soaking temperature.
3. Can't believe you left off the hot springs at Big Bend. Late fall-early winter is perfect.

Jul 11, 2013

Unless something has changed since January (2013) the Gwaii hot springs are still dry after an earthquake cut off their water supply back in October 2012. The photo of them in the email caught my attention and I wondered if this had been added as an update.

Mar 10, 2012

In the eastern united states, don't forget Hot Springs, NC. The AT runs through town. Lots of great hiking in the area such as Max Patch Bald.

Double Cabin; John B
Mar 10, 2012

Unless something dramtic has happened since 2006 the Springs at Dunanda are not "110 degrees," close to their source they're scalding.Extreme caution is warranted IMO.

I think MR. bubbles is awesome. I reccomend soled footwear for all the springs, especially the shifting/rumbling crust of Mr.Bubbles.

Mar 08, 2012

I miss the west! any hotsprings near New Hampshire!?

Mar 08, 2012

Last I checked Idaho was on the west side of Yellowstone. Making for a quite a long trip if you are trying to get to the southeast corner of the park. But then if you're going to the southeast corner you won't really be looking to hike/backpack in the Bechler Area anyway.

Mar 08, 2012

You missed 2 beauties in Southeast Alaska. White Sulphur Hotsprings on Chichagoff Island. The pool is right on the edge of the Pacific. Incredibly vistas as you soak. There is a US Forest Service Cabin that can be reserved and paid for online. The Forest Service cabins are rustic but wonderful.
The other hotsprings is just a bit south of Sitka-capital of Russian America, Paris of the Pacific. There are 2 separate tubs maintained by Sitkans.The tubs are in separate Panabode shelters. Well loved by the local fishing fleet. Across the bay there is a cabin that can be rented through the city offices.
Oops-there's one more. It's in the small village of Tenakee. Tenakee is a non-motorized town with a great little harbor. The hotsprings is a bathhouse in the middle of town with alternating mens and women's hours for soaking. Beware, if you're soaking when the Alaska Ferry arrives, you might be part of the local attractions as curious ferry riders disembark to take a peek.

Give ItARest
Jun 04, 2011

Zack: You're just trying to discourage people from visiting this place because you want it to be your own private little spot. Give it a rest. There's plenty of nature to go around.

Mar 16, 2011

Im with Eric, stay away hippies!

Jan 14, 2011

It's for the better that the coordinates are wrong. Please stop writing about our backcountry thermal areas - they're incredibly dangerous, and encouraging people to venture off-trail is not a great idea. For the record, the "hot spring" that backpacker is encouraging you to swim in at the ferris fork is actually a semi-active geyser. When it erupts with someone in there, the death will be attributable to poor editorship on the part of backpacker.

Jan 13, 2011

Thanks for the article! A hot springs hiking trip sounds fantastic during this cold winter. If youre in the area Umpqua Hot Springs in Oregon is also a fantastic place to go!

Sep 26, 2008

I don't know if you can still get there from here but the 1 time I made it to Sespe I went in from Mutau Flat. From the Frazier Park and Gorman side. Be in good shape. Harder to hike out then hike in. Bring lots of water. Awesome place and the only encounter I had was with a mad wild possum. Remember though this place is infamous because Charlie Manson (yes, that Charlie Manson) had his hippie lawyer killed here. But that was in the days when you could drive to the Sespe Hot Springs. And when there was a road (from Rose Valley).

Jeff Barnes
May 20, 2008

I believe thatthe coordinates are wrong for Ferris Fork....IF you plot Ferris Fork UTM: 12T 0590482E 4903815N you are about 7 miles OUTSIDE of the park boundries to the east. I think the right coordinates are 12T 05090482E 4903815N The 0 & 9 are transposed on the Easting


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