Sespe River Trail (Old Sespe River Road)

Los Padres National Forest


Highlights: The Sespe River Trail (20W14) is a long, but easy to moderate backpack of 17 miles (one-way) on an old road that eventually leads to Sespe Hot Springs, the hottest natural springs in California. From the Hot Springs, most people retrace their steps back to the trail head. A more elegant finish, and certainly one of the best treks in the wilderness, continues downriver to Alder Creek and then to Dough Flat for a 27-mile trek. An alternate finish follows Johnson Ridge 8 miles north to Mutau Flat. Because the car shuttles on these variations are horrendous, it is best to make arrangements to be dropped off and picked up.

Directions: The drive takes about 2 hours from Bakersfield. From Highway 33 between Cuyama and Ojai take Rose Valley Road (6N31.3) and drive 6 miles to Lion Campground at the end of the road.

Trailhead: From the campground, cross the stream bed and head downstream (east) on the Old Sespe River Road. The next river crossing is at Bear Canyon after 4 miles, with six more crossings before reaching the Sespe Hot Springs at 17 miles. There are several campsites with deep pools along the river. However, the pools may be dry during summer.

  • To finish this trek by going out through Dough Flat (27 miles one-way from trailhead), continue 5 miles from the springs to Alder Creek Camp (see trail description for Sespe Hot Springs). The next stretch continues to the signed trail junction for McDonald Cabin, then switchbacks 7 miles up to Dough Flat (see trail description for the Indian Cave).
  • To finish this trek by going out Mutau Flat (25 miles one-way from trailhead), follow the trail that switchbacks north up the Johnson Ridge (reverse Day 1 of the trail description for Sespe Hot Springs).

Maps: Devils Heart Peak, Lion Canyon, and Topatopa Mountain 7 minute topographic quadrangle are needed.


  • Cars used to be able to drive to Sespe Hot Springs, as late as 1970, until floods washed put parts of the road. It then became popular with motorcycles and mountain bikes. However these were banned in 1992 when the river became part of the Sespe Wilderness Area. Today, access is by foot or horseback only.
  • Best done in the winter or spring, as it is much too hot to hike in summer when portions of the river may be dry.
  • All the usual. In other words, bears, ticks, giardia, and poison oak.



Copyright 1999-2011 - Southern Sierra High Adventure Team