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.
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
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.