Caspers Wilderness Park – Hike San Juan Hot Springs
|In This Guide|
|Distance||10.5 miles (16.9 km)|
|Time||5 Hours (Total Time)|
|Total Climbing||2,030 feet (619m)|
|Park Name||Caspers Wilderness Park|
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.
Gear for the Hike
This is a tough hike that you should have the right gear for. Here’s what I bring:
- Good hiking boots
- A great daypack with 3L of water (it can get hot in the summer)
- A camera
- Maybe a bathing suit and quick dry towel
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.
My Top Gear Picks
Do you have the right hiking gear? Will it stand up to the test? I waste lots of money testing hiking gear every year so that you don’t have to. My gear picks are solid choices that will serve you well on the trail. I don’t do sponsored or paid reviews, I just the share actual gear that I use all the time that’s made the cut. Here are my top picks:
- Garmin InReach Mini Emergency Beacon – Hiking out of cell phone range? Make sure you have one of these two-way satellite texting devices in case your hike doesn’t go as planned. You can read my full review here.
- Injinji Sock Liners With Darn Tough Hiking Socks – This combo is a great way to avoid blisters out on the trail. I have some insider-hiking tips for avoiding blisters here. Pair them with modern, high-tech hiking boots (for women and men) and your feet with thank you.
- Garmin Fenix 5x Plus – It’s a little pricey, but man do I love this thing. Not only does it have all the topo maps and navigation tools on my wrist, but it also acts as a long battery life, rugged, outdoors version of an Apple Watch. Track your workouts, sleep, heart rate, all that stuff.
I have lots of other great, sponsor-free, trail tested gear picks on my “best gear” page.
See My Full Gear List
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.
I highly recommend bringing a good 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 Plus and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.
Many people also print out this web page for the turn-by-turn images. And if you really want to get tricky, YouTube Premium lets you download videos for offline use, so you can download the hike video and save it.
Download the Hike GPX File
View a Printable PDF Hike Map
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
Can You Go in the San Juan Hot Springs?
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
Subscribe to HikingGuy on YouTube
Turn by Turn Directions
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.
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.
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.
Was This Guide Helpful?
It’s easy to help support this site (which I use to offset website hosting costs, etc.). Simply click on a link below to buy anything from REI or Amazon. I get a small percentage and you don’t pay anything extra.
Support With REI
Support With Amazon
You can also make a donation if you’d like, but please don’t feel obligated to do so.
The content on this site will always be free for everyone to enjoy.
And you can help other hikers as well. If you do this hike and something has changed, snap a few photos and send me the details. I’ll update the guide so that others can do the hike safely.
You May Also Enjoy
Orange County Hiking