Caspers Wilderness Park – Hike San Juan Hot Springs
Caspers Wilderness Park is home to the San Juan Hot Springs hike, which is long but very doable. The hike can be done as an out-and-back trip, or you can do a longer 14 mile loop that circles Caspers Wilderness Park and offers incredible views.
Caspers Wilderness Park is a lightly-visited, 8,000 acre, protected wilderness preserve in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains. 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.
The land here was originally occupied by the Juaneños, a hunting and gathering tribe of Native Americans. It’s easy to imagine how the Juaneños lived off the land along San Juan Creek before the gringos came along.
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 map when you enter the park.
The San Juan Hot Springs have an interesting history. First opened in the late 1800s, then abandoned in the 1940s, the area was a full resort with cabins, soaking tubs, and pools. From 1980 to 1992 the springs re-opened, but have been closed and in disrepair since. Tobin Fricke has a great page with some historic photos and a deeper story of San Juan Hot Springs. Be sure to read the comments, they’re pretty interesting.
You are not officially allowed to go into the hot spring pools, although you are allowed to hike to and visit them. According to a local source, only one pool is cool enough to go in and is sometimes frequented by old local hippies. People certainly go in, but be aware that there are (hidden) video cameras used by the Caspers Wilderness Park rangers.
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.
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.
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. Here’s the GPX file for the hike with this extension: capsers-park-san-juan-hot-springs-extra
Pick these directions up from the end of the Hot Springs hike directions.
A quick note. These directions are meant as a guide for the hike, and not a definitive source. Conditions change, and the information here can be different based on time of day, weather, season, etc. There can be small side trails that you might see but I missed. I have made every effort to include all the information you need to complete the hike successfully. I recommend using this guide in conjunction with a map, GPX file, common sense, and call to the ranger station or park office. If you do the hike and notice something has changed, please contact me and I will update the guide.