Welcome to our 2,370 mile Hot Springs Trail Journey
that begins at the wharf in Santa Barbara and ends at the border of Canada in Idaho.
This elaborate route takes us through the coastal mountains of California, across the Mojave desert,
into the High Sierra's, through the desert and mountains of Nevada,
and finally into Idaho in and around the established Idaho Centennial Trail.
It's May 4th, 2016 and we just arrived at five in the morning on a greyhound bus. We would have rather taken Amtrak into town, but it arrives in the late afternoon to early evening and we would have had to get a motel to stay the night. Instead, we scoped out some breakfast and entered our conduit of intent to hike and soak in hot springs as we immersed ourselves into constantly morphing environments, conditions, and terrain.
The Hot Springs Trail was and continues to be creatively designed by Aria Zoner
who was to begin his own personal thru hike only a few days later.
Our first resupply was only 3 miles into our trek after some scenic beach walking where we bought 53 miles worth of food at the local Von's Supermarket that would take us next into the iconic town of Ojai. We also took into consideration that we would be putting in less miles since we were to stop and explore several hot springs along the way.
From Sand squishing between our toes to pavement walking on the aptly named Hot Springs Road we soon arrived at the trailhead up high in the hills amidst million dollar homes that would take us to Montecito Hot Springs.
Banana Trees, Date Palms, and Figs surrounded small seeps of hot water trickling up from the ground. We managed to soak our feet in our first Hot Spring of the trail. It felt as if we were in Central America somewhere instead of an oasis surrounded by Live Oaks.
Every Hot Spring is a pleasant surprise waiting to reveal its self since there is generally little description, if any at all, in the official guide book. Each Hot Spring has a completely different and unique personality unto its self. Not one closely resembles another, and each creates a unique habitat as if a bubble universe secretly emerged from the inner earth to reveal its subconscious wonders into our conscious minds.
Fog obscured our views of the coastline and Channel Islands on our way up to the coastal ridgeline. However, just over the ridge, a new and expansive world magically opened up to us.
Flowers of all shapes and colors greeted our open eyes each and every day. Bush Monkeyflowers, poppies, mariposa lillies, phacelia's, buckwheats, borages, and lupines were just a few of the gems that sparkled in our eyes. This is coastal chaparral country with its variety of Ca coastal sagebrush, toyon, mountain mahogany, chamise, silk tassel and manzanita interspersed with live oaks, sycamores, and the occasional grey pines. We spent our first night on the trail at Cottam Camp beneath some impressive oak trees. Water could be found just down stream from the camp where it came to the surface seemingly out of nowhere.
After an night of Spotted Owl hoots and excitable poorwills flying about, we found our first true hot soak at the Little Caliente Hot Spring. Yellow monkeyflower lined the pool where we spent the morning and afternoon having the place all to ourselves. Little Caliente was well worth the 8 mile round trip to arrive at it's seemingly remote location. 0.2 miles further there was supposed to be fresh water down in the creek basin, but we only found non flowing pools of water heavily used by animals. We were not carrying a filter so we bypassed this water source and were happy to acquire a recently dropped and unopened bottle of water that gave us enough water to satisfy our thirst once again on a creek in Agua Caliente Canyon on our way up to Big Caliente Hot Spring.
About 0.2 miles away from Big Caliente Hot Springs there is a free car campground with two spaces available. Both campgrounds were taken, but we friended a lone guitar player who allowed us to share his space with him. At the end of the road, there is literally a hot concrete pool of water to soak in. However, if one ventures on the trail system .1 miles up from the end of the road you will find two artistic pools to soak in on the other side of the creek. We had these Hot Springs all to our selves for the early evening. Frogs croaked all around us amidst a willow jungle and a hummingbird came often to take a shower while we took our long bath.
We got up early in the morning and took an uninterrupted soak in the concrete pool as swifts and warblers and scrub jays darted in and out of our perception.
Intermittent rain showers filled up our day as we continued our walk towards Ojai where Stellar Jays screeched and a black bear tore through some mud ahead of us and down towards the off limits Jameson Lake.
In the Hot Springs Trail guidebook, Zoner lists the water sources by bolding the text where the water is located on route. For Stacey and I, his assessment of water availability was right on and perfect for this time of year for both California and Nevada. Idaho was another story... but not a problem. However, Rockin recently walked this section of trail in the autumn of 2016 and found that many of the water sources were not running at that time of the year.
Stacey and I camped at the Murietta Camp just before reaching a stretch of paved road and a seven mile stretch of private property. Along this road route, there is a resort not mentioned in the guide called Ecotopia which was not open till 9am when we walked by it early in the morning. Rockin, however, visited this hot springs resort and said it was the highlight of her section hike. She suggests that you reserve a pool in advance... It looked great and inviting from the road as well.
Link to Ecotopia Website near Ojai, CA
Link to Ecotopia Website near Ojai, CA
The views of Ojai and its valley from the Cozy Dell Trail were fantastic. There is some debate about the description of the names of the trail to take before descending on the Pratt Trail into Ojai. The book says to just stay on the Cozy Dell Trail... but the signs and this map appears to indicate otherwise and shows one taking the Foothill Trail instead after the Cozy Dell Trail diverges up a dirt road. Let me know what any of you find out for your selves so that i can include it here. Either way.. it's not too hard to figure out one's way. Below is a map of the region.
Cozy Dell and Foothill Trail Map
Tap Here for Part 2