Overnight Backpacking: Piedra Blanca Trailhead to Willett Hot Springs, 1/28 - 1/29, 2019

Posted by adventure 16 | 02.11.2019

by Laura Munsil
A16 Sales Associate, West Los Angeles Store

The Los Padres Range

Sespe River Valley View


We got to the La Piedra trailhead in the Los Padres National Forest around 11pm - we only had one day off of work - which meant getting a late start out of LA! We night hiked for three miles, then stopped and made camp about 12:30am. The sky cleared up about halfway through the nighthike and we followed a winding river canyon under the stars. The trail was well-maintained and easy to travel, except the four or five river crossings. Not so easy to rock hop in the dark!

mid crossing of the sespe
Mid-crossing of the Sespe River

The next morning we woke up around 7am and got going by 8. We stopped for a nice breakfast (Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy) on a big, beautiful outcrop around 9am with a sweeping view of the Sespe River Valley. 

Sespe River Valley view

Sespe River Valley view

on the trail to the springs

En route to the springs

It was warm, windy and clear when we reached our destination -- the Willett Hot Spring. Some enterprising individual hauled a massive plastic tub up the side of the mountain, and you can use plastic, lightweight pipes piled next to the tub to divert the naturally flowing hot spring into the tub. It takes about 45 minutes to fill all the way - but it's worth it for a soak in a beautiful, serene, solitary tub away from the world.

hot tub in the mountains

Hot tub in the mountains!


The hike back out meant an upward trend out of the canyon, but it was gently graded and the weather was perfect.

Post-soak, pre-hike out!

Post-soak, pre-hike out!

snack break
Taking a quick snack break

Tips for the Sespe River Trail: wear sandals if you're comfortable in them! At least in the winter, there are about ten water crossings, and most of them aren't crossable without getting your feet wet. If you want to wear shoes - I'd recommend a lightweight, quick-dry trail runners and an extra pair of socks.


Be prepared to wait awhile for the tub to fill up.


Even on a Tuesday, we saw several other parties on the trail. Don't expect a solitary hike!


There are great campsites about 6-7 miles into the 9.5 mile trail. I'd recommend getting in at least that far to the springs on day one, if you're just doing an overnight - in order to really utilize your time at the springs.


The trail has almost zero natural shade. It's probably best hiked in the spring, fall or winter. The exposed ridge would NOT be fun on a hot summer day. Even on a mild January day, bring a hat and sunscreen.

Laura Munsil

A16'ers enjoying the sunshine and a day off!