In the 1800s, Montecito Hot Springs, also known as Hot Springs Canyon, was a thriving hot springs resort. Today, the aqua thermal springs nestled in the coastal mountains of San Padre, remain but there’s little trace of the resort. It’s currently run by the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County and is filled with hikers making their way through the picturesque surroundings to the canyon.
The only remnants of the original hot springs resort are the stone ruins and exotic fauna and flora, which are now landmarks along the trail. While there is no doubt the hike is scenic, the cascading, naturally heated pools are really the main attraction—especially as winter creeps in.
Montecito Hot Springs has six pools, cascading down the canyon from hottest to coolest. Each one is enclosed with circular walls made of large stones and can fit around five to ten people. There are large sandy embankments on either side of these stunning thermal pools, offering a sense of privacy—as a result, you can expect to find a fair amount of scantily clad bathers.
Santa Barbara is a paradise for thermal spring seekers. There are the Gaviota Hot Springs (although these aren’t as warm and only really qualify as warm springs with temperatures of 80°F). Then there are the Little Caliente and Big Caliente Hot Springs, which offer a piping hot soak, but you’ll probably be pretty tired of the heat by the time you’ve completed the arduous 10-mile hike to get to them. So, if you’re looking for a friendlier wander up the beautiful mountainsides and the reward of a bath in rock-walled pools with water averaging about 112°F at the source, then Montecito Hot Springs is where you want to go.
To access the trailhead at 1217 E Mountain Dr, Montecito by car, about a 15-minute drive from Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, the trail to the springs isn’t clearly demarcated, but you can follow this All Trails map—or just follow the smell of sulfur.
You’ll be rewarded with breathtaking, verdant scenery on your way up, and at least a third of your journey is shaded, so prepare accordingly. It’s roughly a 4-mile loop and once you reach the series of vivid color pools you’ll be able to get that spa treatment you deserve. Sulfurous water has tons of healing benefits and is believed to be a great treatment for skin irritations, arthritis and other internal issues. If you’re wondering about the bright blue, it’s caused by harmless bacteria.
Trailhead: 1217 E Mountain Dr, Montecito, CA 93108