a female hiker sits in the santa barbara hot springs

Expert Hiking Guide to the Santa Barbara Hot Springs

Santa Barbara, a picturesque coastal city in California, is not only known for its stunning beaches and charming downtown area but also for its hidden gems nestled within its scenic landscapes. One such hidden gem is the Santa Barbara Hot Springs hike, an incredible adventure that combines breathtaking views with the therapeutic benefits of natural hot springs.

This unique hiking trail offers nature enthusiasts and relaxation seekers the perfect opportunity to immerse themselves in nature while rejuvenating their senses in soothing warm waters.

If this sounds like the most wonderful hike, keep reading for my full hiking guide and plenty of pictures below. 

Hiking Guide to Santa Barbara Hot Springs

Hike Stats

  • Distance: 2.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 950 feet
  • Hike Difficulty: Moderate
  • Estimated Time on Trail: 2-4 hours
a female hiker stands in the lower pool of the hot springs surrounded by rocks and trees
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Trail Report for the Santa Barbara Hot Springs

Heading In

I’ve had the luxury of hiking to the hot springs twice while living in Santa Barbara. The first time was with my girlfriend, and the second was for my birthday in April. If you want the least crowds, visit in the middle of the week or aim to be here before sunset. 

The trail is a gradual climb the entire way. Consistent, but not tiresome enough that you will be breathing hard. 

For most of the hike, you’ll walk next to a stream/creek, varying in how heavy the flow is.

Around the one-mile mark, you’ll come to an old foundation that is man-made. It’s also where you’ll cross a small creek and have some taller bushes. Pass the foundation and then veer to your left. 

You’ll head up a semi-steep trail for 20 feet. Once at the top, you’re minutes from the Santa Barbara Hot Springs. 

Here, drop your stuff and get changed. The lower water will be the coolest, while the pools at the top are the warmest. 

We enjoyed bouncing between pools and relaxing in the soothing water. 

Return Trip

Once you’ve enjoyed the hot springs, return the way you came. I’m unsure why AllTrails has it as a loop towards the top. I’ve never done that part; it will only give you more miles. (But, the views will be great up top.)

It should be a pretty brisk walk down, and you’ll be in the car in no time. 

sunset views on the way down from the santa barbara hot springs
Sunset views hiking down Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

What you need to know for hiking to the Santa Barbara Hot Springs

Where is Santa Barbara Hot Springs Located

The Santa Barbara Hot Springs (aka Montecito Hot Springs, aka Hot Springs Canyon Trai) is in the Montecito hills, just outside Santa Barbara. You’ll be a few hundred yards from the Royal Couple’s house, and Oprah’s place is right around here, too. I recommend enjoying the scenic drive and oohing and ahhing at the massive houses. 

Finding the Trailhead

The trailhead is easy to find as it is right at the main parking lot. However, finding parking is the issue. It is a tiny lot, maybe 5-8 cars, which fills up quickly. 

There are more parking spots across the bridge where you can get another 3-5 cars to fit in. Otherwise, there are not a lot of options. The first time I tried to do this, we couldn’t find any and left. 

The trailhead is here.

looking up at the multiple pools at the hot springs
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Tips for hiking to the Santa Barbara Hot Springs

  • Go on a weekday to minimize crowds.
  • Get there early in the morning or for sunset if you’re looking for easy parking and less crowds. (I highly recommend it right before sunset. The views coming down are gorgeous.)
  • The Santa Barbara Hot Springs are tiered. The top pools are the warmest, and then they get gradually cooler. 
  • You might see some naked older adults.
  • Bring a couple of towels to change within if you’re not going to hike in your bathing suits.
  • You can hike in sandals if you don’t want to carry multiple shoes to the hot springs.

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How Hard is the hike to the Santa Barbara Hot Springs

To me, it’s a moderate. At less than three miles round trip and around 950 feet of elevation gain, you’ll definitely be tired when you get to the Santa Babara Hot Springs, but you won’t be utterly exhausted or otherwise wiped. 

My parents did it with me, and they are in their 60s.

What is the hiking time to the hot springs?

I think it took us around 45 minutes to hike up the Hot Springs Canyon trail. It’s a pretty gradual ascent, though you will get the heart beating. It shouldn’t take you too long, at just over a mile, regardless of how active and in shape you are. 

views of the santa barbara hot springs
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Are there any bathrooms? 

No. There are no bathrooms at the trailhead or the hot springs. If you have to go, please do it far enough away from the water so it will not trickle in. You can go up and behind the hot springs to find some privacy. 

Are dogs allowed on the trail?

Do not bring your dog to the Santa Barbara Hot Springs. At best, they will cause chaos in a peaceful area, and at worst, they will contaminate the water. Please respect others and the area and leave the pupper at home.

When is the best time of year for Santa Barbara Hot Springs

This is the beauty of this idyllic area. You can hike year-round in Santa Barbara as temperatures hover between 65-80. 

I’ve done it in February and April, so even in “winter” and spring, it is still a perfect place to spend some time. 

a female looks out at the other pools
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

How hot are the pools?

The last time I went in 2022, the top pool was a bit too hot and crowded, so I opted not to go there. I hung out in the second pool, and it was absolutely perfect, albeit warm. We also moved around a bunch, so we tried them all out. 

The water nearest the trail at the bottom is lukewarm, though, on a hot day, it might feel the best. 

Lastly, I saw 112 degrees listed online, but I can’t substantiate that, so take it for what it’s worth. 

More Photos of the Hot Springs

Staying Around Santa Barbara

Lodging is not cheap in Santa Barbara. If you’re trying to keep the costs down, look to stay in Ventura or Carpenteria.

🏨Budget Stay – Motel 6 Carpenteria; Casa Del Sol Carpenteria; Rose Garden Inn Santa Barbara

🏨Mid-level Stay – Inn by the Harbor; Brisas Del Mar; Hotel Santa Barbara

See more mid-tier options

🏨Luxury Stay – Rosewood Miramar Beach; El Encanto; Ritz-Carlton Santa Barbara

See all luxury options

Leave No Trace

Please do your best to keep this area clean for those who come after you. The Santa Barbara Hot Springs are only as clean and pristine as those who visit allow it to be. There’s no one coming up here daily or weekly to clean it up. 

It is on all of us to make it a hospitable environment. 

FAQ: Hiking the Hot Springs Canyon Trail

Will I have cell service? 

Yes, you should have cell service on the hike and at the hot springs. It might be a little slow as you’re tucked away, but you’re not far from civilization. Ideally, you won’t need your phone while hiking or soaking. 

What other hikes should I do in the Santa Barbara area? 

After living here for a year, these are a few of my favorite hikes:

  • Cold Springs Loop
  • Montecito Peak
  • Lizard Head
  • Inspiration Point
  • Rattlesnake Canyon
  • Jesusita Trail
soaking in the santa barbara hot springs
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Do I need a permit to hike here?

No permit or parking pass is needed to hike and enjoy the Santa Barbara Hot Springs. 

What gear to pack for your Santa Barbara Hot Springs Hike

Just bring your standard hiking attire and gear, and you’ll be great for the Hot Springs Canyon trail. 

Wrapping Up Santa Barbara Hot Springs Hike

This is a must-do for anyone visiting the Santa Barbara area. The Santa Barbara Hot Springs offers a great hike, views, and the ability to relax out in nature.

Fingers crossed, you get a parking spot and can hike in. 

If so, you will have a fantastic time and connect more with the natural scenery. Here’s to a wonderful time along the Central Coast of California! 

Until next time adventurers, stay safe.


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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Bio:

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on ExploreWithAlec.com. Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside