Caspers Wilderness Park – Hike San Juan Hot Springs
|In This Guide|
|Distance||10.5 miles (16.9 km)|
|Hike Time||5 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||830 feet (253m)|
|Highest Elevation||820 feet (250m)|
|Fees & Permits||Park Fee|
|Park Contact||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
Although it’s not a mountain hike, it’s still a tough one with some ups and downs, and I recommend hiking gear for it. You could get away with fitness clothes in a pinch.
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.
Here’s the gear that I personally use, have tested, and recommend for this hike*.
My best lightweight pack for hikes between 3-10+ hours. I use mine with the 3L water bladder from Osprey.
You can text, SOS, and get weather in the backcountry where your cell phone doesn’t work. Literally a life-saver.
Modern materials mean you get the protection of a traditional hiking boot (waterproof, etc.) with feel of a sneaker.
If you’re not using poles yet, you should be. This model takes a beating, is light, and is super comfortable.
I use a light inner toe sock and then a top-quality outer sock to prevent blisters.
Probars are great: no preservatives, vegan, low-GI, compact, and tasty. Put good fuel in your body.
If you’re hiking in the backcountry it makes sense to have a decent emergency kit and some basic gear to spend the night in a pinch.Full HikingGuy Gear List
* No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an REI link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.
Also → Big Sale at REI On Now:
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.
Caspers Wilderness Park – Hike San Juan Hot Springs Map Downloads
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
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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.
Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.