Situated in the mountains north of Santa Barbara, Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs are located at the end of a nine-mile long dirt road in the beautiful Los Padres National Forest. Due to its primitive and remote nature, Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs are perfect for those hoping for a more secluded hot springs experience.
With that being said, it is a popular location, so visit during the week, and avoid holidays, to ensure privacy.
Visiting Big and Little Caliente
The dirt road out to Big and Little Caliente is rough, so high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended to make the drive. A few days before forecasted rainstorms, the National Forest Service closes the road to Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs because it becomes impassable to all vehicles when wet. Make sure to check the Forest Service before visiting to ensure that the spring and roads are open.
However, for those still hoping to visit during these times, the road remains open for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. This provides those with an adventurous spirit the opportunity for almost guaranteed seclusion at the hot springs.
Hot Spring Pools
After braving the bumpy road, a relaxing hot spring oasis awaits. Although the hot spring is primitive, the geothermally heated mineral pools provide a unique opportunity for soaking amidst nature in Los Padres National Forest.
There are three pools in the area. First, a larger cement pool, or Big Caliente, sits directly beside the hot spring. Slightly further into the canyon where the first pool is located, two additional, smaller pools, called Little Caliente, sit by a creek. On cool nights, visitors have unparalleled views of the night sky while soaking in the geothermal mineral water.
Note: The Hot Springs are open from 6 AM – 10 PM, and there are no entry fees.
While visiting Big and Little Caliente Hot Springs is free, an Adventure Pass is required for overnight stays. Camping is not allowed in the direct vicinity of the hot springs, but the walk from Rock Camp, the closest campground, is less than one-third of a mile. Additionally, there are a few nearby campgrounds provided by the National Forest Service.
Middle Santa Ynez Campground is around three miles from the springs and has eleven campsites, each containing a picnic table and a metal fire ring. Besides those amenities provided, the campgrounds in the area are primitive, and prospective campers must be prepared to carry all they need with them in their cars or on their backs.
- From Highway 154 at the San Marcos Pass summit, turn east on East Camino Cielo.
- Continue for 23 miles to Pendola station.
- Just beyond the station, turn north on Rd. 5
- N16 and follow for 3 miles to the picnic area.
Address: Forest Road 5N16 Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Season: Year-Round (Best seasons are Spring, Summer, and Fall)
Hours of Operation: 6 AM – 10 PM Daily (Check Forest Service for Closures)