Sespe Wilderness, California
Escape suburbia in this surprise-a-mile wilderness.
Fifty miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, the Sespe Wilderness harbors a 219,700-acre refuge of unusual attractions: natural hot springs, a condor sanctuary, multihued sandstone formations stretching from chaparral hillsides to pine-covered mountains, and centuries-old Chumash Native American rock art. (The latter are concealed in trailside caves, but Forest Service officials don’t advertise the precise locations in order to protect the paintings.)
The ideal 27-mile loop begins at Mutau Flat trailhead. Hike through the pines along the Johnson Ridge Trail, and then down to a palm-shaded campsite in Hot Springs Canyon, eight miles from the road (and well past the dayhiker crowds). Continue to Sespe Creek, the last undammed river in SoCal, and follow it downstream to Alder Creek. A faint, unmaintained trail climbs past an old miners’ cabin at McDonald Camp, then over a saddle at nearly 6,000 feet, to reach the Little Mutau campsite. Descend five miles along Little Mutau Creek to finish the loop.