The Sespe Wilderness area in Los Padres National Forest is a truly wild place that will leave you wondering how it's possible that you're only an hour or so from the massive metropolis of Los Angeles. A backpacking adventure here is truly an amazing experience featuring quality trails, priceless views, excellent springs for swimming, and plenty of wildlife-viewing opportunities. While there are a few different trails in this area, the most popular and worthwhile is probably the Sespe Creek Trail, a roughly 18-mile route that follows the creek as it weaves through the canyon, creating a number of swimming holes and passing plenty of pleasant groves that are great for camping.
What Makes It Great
Head east from the Piedra Blanca parking lot on a fairly exposed trail that requires creek crossings, occasional rock-hopping, and only moderate climbing. After about 9 miles, you'll reach the Bear Creek Campground, which is a great half-way point to stop and spend the night if you're looking for an overnight backpacking trip, or an ideal place to turn around if all you want is a day hike in the Southern California sun.If you've opted for the overnighter, wake up in the morning and enjoy another 9 or so mile hike over chaparral-strewn hills until you reach the Willett Springs Campground. This is a fairly popular spot for weekenders who come to enjoy the warm waters of the Willett Hot Spring - a teal colored pool that is located about half a mile from the campground. Some people find this pool to be a great place to soak weary legs; others are turned off by the algae lining the man-made plastic tub. There's only one way to know whether or not you'll like it....
Who is Going to Love It
Wildlife is abundant here: mountain lions and black bear have been seen roaming these hills, and bighorn sheep and condors are also in the area. All in all, the Sepse Creek Trail is a wonderful destination for California backpacking.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The trailhead is located at the Piedra Blanca parking lot, where you're required to have an Adventure Pass.
Camping in the Sespe Wilderness is free and doesn't require a backcountry permit unless you plan on making fires, in which case you will need a fire permit. Summer is brutally hot and dry. Spring yields the best temperatures for the hot springs themselves, but fall and winter are also good times to go.