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Sespe River Trail to Willett Hot Springs

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Sespe Wilderness

Sespe River Trail to Willett Hot Springs is a 20.2 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Ojai, California that features hot springs and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

Length20.2 miElevation gain2522 ftRoute typeOut & Back
Dogs on leashBackpackingCampingHikingNature tripsRunningHot springsRiverViewsWildflowersWildlifeOver grownRockyNo shade
Description
Waypoints (3)
Contact
Tips
Getting There

The best time to hike this trail is in the Spring or Fall. In the summer it is too hot and there may not be water in the river for parts of the year as well. Choose your timing wisely based on the time of year and weather and be aware of heat and flash flood potential. You need an Adventure Pass for overnight parking.

California Travel and Tourism Commision, P.O. Box 1499 , Sacramento, CA, 95812-1499, Phone: 800-862-2543

Parking pass needed for overnight parking

Directions from Ventura: Travel north on Highway 33 for about 25 miles. The highway is under restrictive use once it enters the forest. Located 7 miles off Highway 33 on Forest Road 6N31.3. Take Rose Valley Road to Lion Campground. Cross the river bed and head downstream (east) on the old road.

Weather
UV Index
Daylight
Reviews (342)
Photos (477)
Recordings (291)
Completed (509)
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Lourdes Enriquez
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarNovember 26, 2020
Backpacking

There’s no water until about mile 9 close to willett hot spring. We had our 3L reservoirs along with a water bottle each. When we made camp I had about a Liter left. It wasn’t so hot that day. We got lucky and made camp close to the hot spring and had an amazing view. We made some deer and frog friends there. The next day we off-trailed to an old ranch and filled up at a horse trough. We used our sawyer water filter and had breakfast on the way out. For my first backpacking trip it was amazing. The views were spectacular. And everyone was so kind. I’m happy to answer questions: IG: @lulu_and_nature

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Karley Rodriguez
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarNovember 23, 2020
BackpackingGreat!

amazing this time of year. the pool at bear creek has plenty of water (tastes a little pondy... but with a filter it's totally drinkable). there was also a small trickle at kerr spring (the spur trail is just beyond where the main trails is wet, if you're hiking in). two or three tribs were also flowing (one close to the trailhead and one beyond bear - 34.559692°, -119.072522° ). there was also ponded water in the creek at willet, as well as in the horse trough by the old cabin had water with a small trickle flowing in. totally doable without too much of a water carry, don't let other's assessments of "no water" keep you from heading out! trail is in great condition.

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Trevor Barrow
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Hiking
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Melissa French
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarNovember 14, 2020
Hiking

Trail was lovely! almost zero water left though. Bear creek is stagnant, drink if you dare. Otherwise no water until a very small trickle at the base of willit spring at mile 9.5.

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Forest Lurz
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Hiking
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Forest Lurz
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarNovember 12, 2020
BackpackingNo shadeRocky

Just completed a 4 day/3 night solo backpacking trip out on this trail. The trail is well maintained but a little rocky, with lots of ups and downs, although the overall elevation change is minimal. There are dozens of unofficial camp sites and spur trails, and it can be easy to get lost especially when crossing the creek bed. Highly recommend downloading the map before you go! There is plenty of water at Bear Creek and a few smaller spots along the way. Only one small campsite at the hot spring, so if you go on a busy day you'll have to camp a short hike down the hill at Willett Camp. The hot spring itself is incredible, and makes the 20 miles round trip absolutely worth it. Big shout out to whoever built and maintains it! There are some cool semi-abandoned buildings near Willett camp, and of course you can continue your hike out to Sespe (and beyond), where there was also water in the stream. Overall this is a fun backpacking trip, although I'd say it's on the hard side of moderate and would not be great for a beginner due to the length of the hike.

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Forest Lurz
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Hiking
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Mitchell Kauffman
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Hiking
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Samuel Bland
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Backpacking

Edit: Just completed a weekend backpacking trip to Willet Camp and the Hot Springs. A really great hike despite it being so dry! As others have said, there is no water for 5 miles until you get to Bear Creak, and then no water for 5 miles again until you get to Willet. The water at Bear Creak is a huge stagnant pond, and the water at Willet is a small trickle but still flowing a good amount.

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Micah Van Hove
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarOctober 24, 2020
BackpackingGreat!

Made it to Willet in 4 hours 45 minutes of hiking with a group (some first time backpackers, some experienced). Perfect weather this weekend with highs in the 70s. Swimmable water at Bear Creek and filterable water at Willett. Beautiful!

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Elizabeth Shdo
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Hiking

According to the forest service, this is not actually closed, but there is a no-burn order in place (that means to camp stoves, either). There's plenty of water at Bear Creek but it's very dry for the first 5 miles. Be careful, the trail gets pretty sketchy/easy to lose around mile 6-7.

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Trevor Barrow
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Hiking
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Samone Nigam
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Backpacking

There's very little water out there right now. It's not impossible, but filter when you can. There's enough water to filter at the Bear Creek crossing, and at Willet. There's a solid 5 miles with no water in sight.

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Ana Monzon
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Hiking
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Paul Mccarty
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Hiking
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Lex Sisney
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Hiking
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Dustin Martin
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Hiking
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Sophia Denison-Johnston
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarJuly 27, 2020
HikingNo shadeOver grownWashed out

Did this yesterday as an overnight. It is very hot and dry and I suspect in a month or less there will be such little water that attempting this route would be dangerous. I got a late start (4pm) on Saturday and managed to get sidetracked on a faux trail as I approached Willett that pushed me between the woody creek, lots of poison oak, and the south hill in the valley as the sun was nearing sunset. I managed to reach a suitable camping spot near what I suspect was Hartman campground before it got dark. In the morning I set off looking for the hot springs, finding groups of other backpackers who had been looking for it for days. Almost nobody I ran into actually managed to find it. Finally after some wandering I found an clear trail that hugged the north wall of the valley and passed the cabin others had described. Heading west from there I found the side trail that leads up to the hot springs T-ing off next to a rusted fence post and pile of old stones. The side trail wound up the side of the mountain in switchbacks. I passed an old camp site nestled close to the top, but just beyond it the trail seems like it was washed down in a landslide. I could smell the sulfur of the hot springs but ended up bailing on getting there due to the sketchy trail (fallen trees, poison oak, loose dusty footing, etc.) and my falling-apart boots. The views from the side trail to the hot springs were stunning, and the general landscape was absolutely beautiful so definitely still worth the trip. I would recommend hiking in morning and evening if only because I was able to avoid hiking during the heat of the day. Saw some gnarly wildlife, too!

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Scott Harvey
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarJuly 3, 2020
Backpacking

I want to echo a few things, this trail is mostly exposed with very, VERY little parts that are shaded. Also note that we followed Alltrails and could not reach the campsites following that . There is a marker that points to the right at the end and when we headed straight from there we were able to find the Willet campsites. You will need to carry at least 2 liters of water and filter a few times both directions. There are several water crossing including one that we had to just forge through on knee deep water. Plan accordingly. We saw 1 California King Snake and 2 Horny Toads and a bunch of other lizards. Lastly, please for the love of all in nature, practice Leave No Trace. Trash left in fire rings and loose toilet paper and areas that had a lot of people poop around one of the campsites. Bring a trowel, dig a cat hole and pack out your trash (and TP).

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Buddy Thomas
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarJuly 2, 2020
HikingBugsNo shade

Incredible. 4 days, 3 nights w/ wife, pup, and friend who had completed this section on a thru-hike. This is 100% not a midday summer hike. 5a start was our start plan, but ended up 6a, which made the last 1hr/2 miles tough with little shade. Threw ourselves under a lonely tree off trail just before the final ridge at high noon. Best tree ever. Camped at the farthest site in Willett, just before the trail up to the springs. Was a good spot for us to help others, since no one knew how to get up there, lol. I only saw one map on this trip - ours (smh). One exhausted couple reached the spring and crossed it instead of following the source 25 steps up to the tub. We explained, but given their itinerary and condition, they never made it back up. Not sure why drain pipe in tub was pulled between Fri night and Sat morn? With it empty, my friend took the opportunity to scrub the algae off the bottom while we made coffee/breakfast. We also had it to ourselves most of the time, nearly 2-3 hours at 5a Sunday, the best time. I’m not giving details about the importances of water filtration, the right clothes, rattlesnake awareness (wife almost pooped on one), and absolutely not doing this in a single day (y’all crazy), there are plenty of reviews for all that. Instead, I’ll address some Nature 101 and backpacking peeves: -DO NOT go into the wilderness if you cannot pack out your own trash. This is the first rule of nature, come onnnnn... -DO NOT go into the wilderness without a trail map and the knowledge of using one. Out of 10 groups we came across only ONE group that knew how to get to the springs. There are so many river crossings and sections where groups would lose the trail, many wandering by our campsite looking dehydrated and lost, and we helped direct them. Many even get to the spring, and can’t find the tub. Don’t be that group. -DO NOT go into the wilderness and pretend to be a dubstep DJ with your Bluetooth speaker as loud as possible. Sure, we listen to music in my backpacking groups when hanging at camp (usually chill, ambient, and low volume), but blasting your beats across a canyon for all to hear or even disturbing the next campsite is just lame. -DO NOT go into the wilderness if you cannot pack out your own trash. It’s the most basic rule in nature, damnit. -DO NOT leave leftover food (it’s trash, pack it out). -DO NOT go into the wilderness if you cannot pack out your own trash! Extremely upsetting to come upon the campsite of 2 people we gave generous directions to, and see that they left all of their half-eaten backpacking meals and other trash stuffed into the fire ring. We were really hoping to see them again so we could give them their pound of trash back. -DO research first. Reviews are fine, but not enough. Talk to your local ranger district (Ojai). Read about the Sespe Wilderness. BUY A MAP. -DO believe that it can be pretty easy like some say or extremely difficult both for beginners or avid backpackers; the sun and your preparation are the key factors. -DO avoid the high sun. Again, this is not a midday summer hike. If doing the full 9.5 mi hike in, try leaving the trailhead at 430a if possible. We left at 6a, was so nice, but still caught an hour of ruthless heat and minimal shade. For the return hike, we made it easier; left Willett for Bear Creek campground at 5p in the evening mountain shadows, got there at 8p, then hiked out at 6a the following morning, all verrrry pleasant compared to that single hour in heat. -DO keep your dog on a leash when hiking. Rattlesnakes, duh. Rangers aren’t sending heli-evac for your dog. -DO constantly check the ground heat if you bring your dog. My little 23lb pit/lab pup has been putting in miles this year, loves backpacking, but for this trip I still had expectations to carry her on top of my pack if needed, and I did exactly that for that last hour during the hike in. She was rewarded with two days of fetching/swimming in the river, unlimited sticks, playing in the dirt, and sleeping between us in her personal camp blanket.

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Jessica Prinsloo
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No shadeOver grownRocky

This hike was amazing! Unfortunately, we hiked all the way to the hot springs and due to the over growth could not find the spring. I recommend paying attention to where you are going. There are many trails going off of the main trail to camp sites and they can be confusing. Also the main map provided must have been done before the fires because the trail has slightly changed. This is a very difficult hike. If you are not an experienced hiker DO NOT do this in a day. There is zero shade and you will need a water filter; if you don’t, you aren’t drinking enough water.

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Gina Kelly
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarJune 21, 2020
HikingGreat!No shadeOff trail

Love this whole area! Did this as a shakedown for my JMT hike, noticed a few things worth mentioning. With pack weight, this trail will be harder because it is topped off with sand for large sections. Easy to injure your toes with weight on your back as a result of feet slipping around on the sandy trail. You MUST explore the Sespe River and swim every chance you get, some spots are great for kids, others are really deep. The important crossing can be hard to find, just after you pass close to tent sites that are under some trees right on the bank of the river you have to find a trail marker, cross the river, and then goo all the way up a large embankment to find the rest of the trail. Not totally invisible but the marker is just a pole with brown paint and the word 'trail' on it...veer to the right there. No overage on the trail but the destinations along the way make it really worth it. Super pretty area.

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