Caspers Wilderness Park – Hike San Juan Hot Springs

Caspers Wilderness Park – Hike San Juan Hot Springs

In This Guide
  • How to Get to Caspers Wilderness Park
  • Can You Go in the San Juan Hot Springs
  • Caspers Wilderness Park Trail Maps
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions
  • What You Need To Do the Hike
Distance10.5 miles (16.9 km)
Time5 Hours (Total Time)
DifficultyModerate
Total Climbing2,030 feet (619m)
Dog FriendlyNo
ParkCaspers Wilderness Park
Park Phone949-923-2210

This is a a fun hike to San Juan Hot Springs, which is located in Caspers Wilderness Park, a lightly-visited, 8,000 acre, protected wilderness preserve in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains.  The San Juan Hot Springs were first opened in the late 1800s as a full blown resort, complete with cabins, soaking tubs, and pools. Over the years they’ve closed and opened again, with the latest version being closed down in 1992. Today you can hike to San Juan Hot Springs, but whether you can go in them is up for debate (see the article for more). This hike to the hot springs can be done as an 10.5 mile out-and-back trip, or you can do a longer 14 mile loop that circles through the ridges in Caspers Wilderness Park, offering incredible views.

Getting to Caspers Wilderness Park

Use this as the trailhead address: 33401 Ortega Hwy, San Juan Capistrano, CA, 92675, USA.

There’s a small fee to enter the park (see the park site for details). You can camp at the park if you want to extend this to an overnight excursion. You can even camp with your horse here.

Pick up a free trail map when you enter the park.

 San Juan Meadow Group Area
The hike starts at the end of San Juan Meadow Group Area. When you pull into the group area, keep driving until the end of the lot where the trail starts.
 San Juan Meadow Group Area map
When you pick up a map at the entrance, it has a zoomed section for the park entrance. This is where the San Juan Meadow Group Area is.
 San Juan Meadow Group Area bathrooms
The San Juan Meadow Group Area has bathrooms and water fountains to fill your hydration pack. Bring more water than you need, it can get very hot here.

Gear for the Hike

This is a tough hike that you should have the right gear for. Here’s what I bring:

Caspers Wilderness Park is I often see more wildlife than people here (I didn’t see any on the day I did this trip report). I’ve spotted deer, coyotes, bobcats, red-tailed hawks, and rattlesnakes on the trails at Caspers. Keep your eyes open and camera ready.

Garmin inreach review

If you want hiking gear recommendations, check out my full gear list. I only recommend and review gear that I actually use. No company pays me to push their product. Everything on my gear list is battle tested on the trails, and should work well for you too.

See The Gear I Use

Caspers Wilderness Park Trail Maps

The hike to the hot springs is an out and back effort, but I’ve also included an option to return on the ridge above. It adds some climbing and about 3 miles of distance, but it’s really beautiful, gives you a good taste of Caspers Wilderness Park, and is worth it if you have the energy.

Fenix 5x Hiking Review

I highly recommend bringing some form of paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

san juan hot springs 3d map
The hike follows the San Juan creek valley and Route 74 until you get to San Juan Hot Springs.
San juan hot springs hike elevation
The graph is deceiving, it’s not too tough and feels mainly flat with some little ups and downs toward the end.

Alternate Way Back on Oso Trail

After visiting the hot springs, you can simply retrace your steps and go back the way you came. If you have the energy, I recommend doing this detour that adds about 3 miles and 1,200 feet of climbing onto the hike, but offers some incredible views. Here’s the GPX file for the hike with this extension: capsers-park-san-juan-hot-springs-extra

san juan hot springs hike extension elevation
Here’s the elevation profile with the extension. It’s about 1200 feet of extra climbing but worth it.

Can You Go in the San Juan Hot Springs?

Historic San Juan Hot Sprints
Here’s how San Juan Hot Springs used to look when it was a resort. It doesn’t look anything like that now. Photo Tobin Fricke

The original San Juan Hot Springs resort which was opened in the 1800s was abandoned in the 1940s. In the 1960s and 1970s is was a popular spot for locals to party and get high. The old-time comedian Red Skelton was evidently a regular along with every hippy in the area. From 1980 to 1992 the springs re-opened, but have been closed and in disrepair since. You can see the old entrance and sign (good for photos) if you hike a few minutes past the hot springs (directions below).

According to a local source, the water flows in at about 122F, and has a pH of 8. People remark that unlike other hot springs, San Juan Hot Springs don’t leave a bad sulfur smell on you. Today, only one pool is cool enough to go in.

You are not officially allowed to go into the hot spring pools, although you are allowed to hike to and visit them.  People certainly still go in illegally, but be aware that there are (hidden) video cameras used by the Caspers Wilderness Park rangers.

And before there were any hot spring resorts, the land here was occupied by the Juaneños, a hunting and gathering tribe of Native Americans. It’s easy to imagine how the Juaneños lived off the fertile land along San Juan Creek before the gringos came along.

San Juan Hot Springs Hike Directions

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Turn by Turn Directions

Juaneno Trail start
The Juaneno Trail start is at the end of the parking lot and well marked. Read any notices and start here.
Juaneno Trail
The Juaneno Trail is well defined and easy to follow.
hike on the Juaneno Trail
Hike straight through the first intersection and stay on the Juaneno Trail.
san juan creek
The hike goes along the banks of San Juan Creek. You can imagine what this looks like after it rains for a few days in the Santa Ana mountains.
Juaneno Trail
When the Juaneno Trail goes into the wash, it’s well marked with rocks.
Juaneno Trail marker
When the Juaneno Trail leaves the wash, there’s a trail marker to confirm you’re on the right path.
Juaneno Trail intersection
Continue straight on the Juaneno Trail.
Juaneno Trail marker
If you’re not sure where you are, the trail makers are all generally accurate on this hike, and can be cross-referenced with the park map.
ridge line at caspers wilderness park
If you opt for the optional extension on the return trip, you hike along the ridge to the left.
views of Cleveland National Forest
The views of Cleveland National Forest come into view as you gently climb up the valley.
San Juan Creek Trail
A little after 3 miles, the Juaneno Trail will dead end into the San Juan Creek Trail. Hike to the left along the San Juan Creek Trail.
park map
Double check your position using the free park map as you hit trail junctions.
San Juan Creek Trail
The San Juan Creek Trail is more like a dirt road. It also follows Route 74, so expect some traffic noise.
Badger Pass trail
Continue straight on the San Juan Creek Trail as the Badger Pass trail intersects to the left.
San Juan Creek trail
Keep straight on the San Juan Creek trail avoiding any trails to the left.
San Juan Creek trail
The trail becomes primitive but easy to follow. Some other blog posts talk about this stretch being impassable, but it was clear for me.
San Juan Creek trail marker
A San Juan Creek trail marker alerts you to a hard left turn. Head up the hill.
San Juan Creek trail
At the top of the hill, another marker points you right, continuing along the San Juan Creek trail.
San Juan Creek trail marker
Here’s a closeup of the San Juan Creek trail marker at the top of the hill.
San Juan Creek trail
The San Juan Creek trail gets narrow and follows above the valley floor.
San Juan Creek trail
After the ridge, the trail goes through a lush section by a small stream. The trail is harder to follow here so keep your eyes open.
Hot Springs Trail
Eventually the trail emerges in a clearing. Stay right on the Hot Springs Trail.
Hot Springs Trail marker
Here’s a closeup of the trail marker at the last intersection. It’s set back in brush and easy to miss.
Hot Springs Trail
The Hot Springs Trail turns into a dirt road and climbs a steep little hill.
Hot Springs Trail
Okay, this part is easy to miss. As soon as you descend from the last hill, keep your eyes open for a small trail to the right.
palm trees
There are a few palm trees that mark the hot springs. After the turn go straight towards them.
San Juan Hot Springs
Here you are, the San Juan Hot Springs! They were smaller than I imagined them, but still cool. Walk around and explore.
San Juan Hot Springs
There are four pools, only one of which is supposed to be cool enough to go in. Again, you’re not allowed to go in the water. OC Parks has video cameras monitoring the pools.
San Juan Hot Springs
The water is crystal clear with gas bubbling up. It’s easy to imagine how this water filled pools in the resort below. Keep your eyes open for pipes heading down to the resort area.
San Juan Hot Springs
If you want to explore more, head down the hill on the paths by the pools for more ruins. Respect the areas marked no trespassing.
hot springs trail
After you’re finished exploring the San Juan Hot Springs, simply head back the way you came.

If you want to mix it up, I have two optional extensions below. One continues on to the old San Juan Capistrano Hot Springs rest area, which is pretty unremarkable but has a cool sign that is great for photo ops. The other extension returns up along the ridge line, offering great views, but a bit of climbing. Or just go back the way you came.

San Juan Capistrano Hot Springs Rest Area Extension

Instead of making the left back the way you came on the Hot Springs Trail, make the right and continue down the hill.

intersection of the Sitton Peak trail
You will come to the intersection of the Sitton Peak trail. Stay to the left.

If you want to hike to Sitton Peak, it’s a good one. I have full hike directions for Sitton Peak on the site here.

intersection of the Sitton Peak trail
Here’s a closeup of that last trail marker for Sitton Peak. If you missed the turnoff to the hot springs and see this trail marker, you’ve gone too far.
San Juan Hot Springs rest area
The trail opens up to the old San Juan Springs rest area. There are picnic benches and some old porta-potties.
San Juan Hot Springs rest area sign
The sign is what everyone wants a photo with. Grab your shot and head back the way you came.

Alternate Return Hike on Oso Trail

Again, after visiting the hot springs, you can simply retrace your steps and go back the way you came. If you have the energy, I recommend doing this detour that adds about 3 miles and 1,200 feet of climbing onto the hike, but offers some incredible views.

Pick these directions up from the end of the Hot Springs hike directions.

Cold Springs Trail
When you get back to the Cold Springs Trail and Hot Springs Trail intersection, make the right onto Cold Springs Trail.
cold springs trail
The trail climbs along the stream.
wildlife camera
Keep your eyes open for the wildlife cameras. They’re motion activated and have IR night vision.
cold springs trail
The hike gets tougher as it climbs to the ridge line.
Cold Springs Trail
Eventually the Cold Springs Trail dead ends at the Oso Trail.
Oso Trail
Make the right on the Oso Trail. This will seem counterintuitive, but go ahead and do it anyway.
views of Saddleback Mountain and Cleveland National Forest
The views of Saddleback Mountain and Cleveland National Forest are great from this part of the Oso Trail.
Oso Trail
The Oso Trail follows the arcing ridge line, offering great views the entire way.
Oso Trail
Stay on the Oso Trail, ignoring the spur to the right.
Oso Trail
The Oso Trail gently descends down the ridge.
Oso Trail
The Oso Trail is well defined here, nothing tricky thanks to the OC Parks folks.
Badger Pass
At the intersection with Badger Pass, make the quick left to stop at the picnic bench.
trail junction
Take a break at this trail junction and enjoy the view.
Oso Trail
After stopping, continue back on the Oso Trail.
Oso Trail
Continue on the Oso Trail as it descends.
Oso Trail
At this big junction, head left. It’s a little confusing here because it’s the only place where the map doesn’t match the markers. The map shows Oso Trail to the right, but the marker shows Bell Canyon.
bench on trail
Take advantage of the shady bench if you need a break.
East Ridge Trail
The trail comes to a junction. Head left up the steep climb (last one!) on the East Ridge Trail.
East Ridge Trail
At the top of the climb, make the hard right to continue on the East Ridge Trail.
East Ridge Trail
The East Ridge Trail is marked and offers great views to the right and left.
East Ridge Trail
Stay left on the East Ridge Trail, passing the Sun Rise Trail.
views from East Ridge Trail
This is the last stretch, so enjoy the views. You earned it on the climb.
East Ridge Trail
Stay straight on the East Ridge Trail as it passes Quail Run.
East Ridge Trail
Go straight through the water tank area.
East Flats Trail
Make the left on the East Flats Trail.
East Flats Trail
There’s a marker for the East Flats Trail if you’re in doubt.
East Flats Trail
Descend on the smaller East Flats Trail.
East Flats Trail
Stay left at the spur to the road.
San Juan Meadows
And you’re back at San Juan Meadows! Pat yourself on the back, that was a long hike!

You can help other hikers. If you do this hike and something has changed, snap a few photos and email me the details. I’ll update the guide so that others can do the hike safely.

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