Located 26 miles north of Santa Barbara, CA, Little Caliente & Big Caliente are two separate natural hot spring areas within the Los Padres National Forest.
On a recent trip through Montecito and Santa Barbara, I decided to head into the rugged Los Padres National Forest in search of two hot springs I had never been to before. The views of Santa Barbara as I wound my way up Gibralter Rd were spectacular, even on a rather hazy afternoon day.
I soon found myself driving along East Camino Cielo road, which travels along the ridge of the Santa Ynez mountains and offers up amazing 360 degree views of the coastline and Channel Islands to the West….
…and Los Padres National Forest to the East.
At the junction of where East Camino Cielo Rd turns into Romero Camuesa Rd (aka the Romero Saddle), I came across this large cement water tower.
Of course I had to stop and have a look around.
Parking is available across from the water tower and an adventure pass is not required to park here.
You can’t beat the views from this perch that rises over 3000 feet above the sea below.
Constructed to prevent runoff from silting Gibraltar Reservoir, this and Agua Caliente Dam a couple further miles up now stand as both sad and funny relics to more watery times.
Speaking of water, you’ll soon be driving through about 5 inches of it as you make your way closer towards Big Caliente Hot Springs.
The lower section of Big Caliente has a picnic table, open air changing rooms, and even some shaded areas to protect you from the sun as you soak in the tub.
The concrete tub is about 7 feet by 4 feet and 3 feet deep.
For those who want to take a little adventure hike, Upper Caliente Camp is located approx. 2.1 miles up Aqua Caliente Canyon along the Caliente Trail. The camp is hard to find but has a table and a few unique benches cemented around a fire ring. There’s also a swimming hole known as the Oasis and two more pools that make up Big Caliente’s Upper Hot Springs. I didn’t have time for the hike, so I headed back towards Pendola Ranger Station and took a right to continue along Romero-Camuesa Road.
After passing three separate campgrounds, I came across a sign pointing the way to my next destination, Little Caliente Hot Springs.
The hot springs are only a half mile away down this dirt road. This section of road has been closed in the past due to washouts from heavy storms but it was open when I visited the hot springs back in February. Even though it was open, you shouldn’t attempt to take it unless you have a high clearance vehicle. There are some pullouts along the way, so you can always park and hike the rest of the way up if you don’t think your car will make it. This area is extremely isolated, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Fortunately, my 2WD Jeep Cherokee was able make it to the upper parking area.
The springs are hidden around a rise not too far from the upper parking lot.
Little Caliente Hot Springs has three small developed pools…
…situated in a small grassy canyon.
The three pools are all fed by the same spring which is piped into the upper pool.
Three benches are also available to make changing in and out of your clothes easier and to help keep your stuff from getting dirty and/or wet.
The temperatures vary with the upper pool being the hottest of the three.
After a quick dip, I said farewell to Little Caliente and headed back to Santa Barbara. The magnificent sunset that greeted me as I made my way back down to town was the perfect way to end an awesome day of exploration.
Protecting and preserving historic, sacred, and sensitive sites should be practiced by all. Locations, directions, and names to some of the places found on this site are not listed, please don’t ask for them. Tread lightly, leave no trace and always respect the wonder that surrounds you.