Little Caliente Hot Springs
Begin this hike on the Cold Spring Trail on East Camino Cielo Rd., at 3425 ft. elevation, across the road from the cement water tank. You will be heading away from the city of Santa Barbara toward the north. There is a rusty metal sign marking the trail. The trail begins at this sign, the Cold Spring Trail. The sign says "Forbush Flat".
You can drive to to the Hot Springs along Camino Cielo Rd. and Juncal Rd, but it is a long, bumpy and dusty drive, incredibly making the hike to Little Caliente seems almost faster and easier than the drive! In fact, the drive saves only about 40 minutes on the hike if you are a good hiker. (If you do opt to drive there, make sure it's in a very sturdy car or truck.)
Begin the hike just like the Forbush Flat hike. At about 1/2 mile down there is a bench and a square concrete water trough for horses. Often it is dry.
At about the 1 mile mark you find yourself on a ridge with sweeping views into Blue Canyon to the right. In the distance you can make out Jameson Resevoir which provides water for Montecito.
At the bottom of the canyon you reach a rusty metal sign and a trail junction. This is actually under 2 miles, but close enough. The sign marks the junction to the Blue Canyon trial.
Continue straight. You should quickly see a sign that says MONO.
Continue up and over the ridge. You will continue the descent toward the Santa Ynez River.
Along the way down you will soon be following a really pretty creek. There is a wonderful waterfall we call "the grotto". It is a 15ft high mossy, calcified wall at the top of which are a couple of really inviting deep pools. These pools are a destination themselves in warmer months because they are so cool and refreshing.
Soon you come to the bottom. You know you have reached the Santa Ynez River when you come to a large gravel bar with many boulders and cobbles. This is at about 2 miles past when you saw the MONO sign previously.
Follow footprints in the sand if you see them. You will be aiming down the sand toward your left. Stay on the look out for a narrow plastic brown sign that says "Designated Route" or "Trail." The trail is marked by these signs periodically, but they may wash away in heavy rains. The first one might be a little hard to see because it's in a thicket of tangled brambles. That's actually where the trail is. Go into the thicket when you see the sign. If you didn't see the sign, it's the wrong thicket.
Emerging from the brambles on a fairly clear trail you will come right to the river. In wetter months the river can be quite wide, and even swift. Other times it can be wide and only an inch or two deep, or even completely dry. You will have to cross the rive here. The trail is in the raspberry bushes on the other side.
Cross the river and follow the trail as it meanders along the brambly, viney stream. Alder trees creek in the wind and wild roses and raspberries claw at you with their vines and thorns. In some places the your feet are hidden under fronds of grass, but you can still see the way. It's level down here, which is a welcome break for your knees. From the crossing of the Santa Ynez, it's about another 2.5 miles until you will reach Mono Camp, and another mile further than that, Little Caliente Hot Springs.
Eventually you will walk through a meadow of bunch grass. You are getting close to Mono. You arrive when you see a fenced-in spot that might have some cars or campers. There is a large, fallen oak tree with a lot of its bark removed. There is a sign on the fence, too, probably telling you not to start a fire or something. At this spot it's easiest to just find a way up to the road which is just a short bit above you straight ahead. There's a pretty good way if you turn left and head down the trail a wee bit, then climb the hill where you can find a metal gate-like thing parallelling the road. Watch for poison oak as you do this.
Once on the road, turn left. Follow the road until you see a fork in the road. There is a small sign that says "Little Caliente" pointing to the right fork.
You are about a mile away now. Follow this road. There are always a couple of muddy spots on the road, except maybe in the summer. Eventually the road will cross a dry creek, then a wet creek, then climb a bit to where there might be some cars parked. It's at this spot on the road that you can see why you have to have a sturdy vehicle with a lot of clearance to get here!
Just at the top of the road there will be a little trail through some grass heading to your right. You are just a few feet away from the springs now. You will see the springs shortly. There is a bench and the pools are lined with concrete and rocks, but it's still quite natural.
The water is very nice and hot. Heavy rains might fill the pools with cold water, though, so don't blame me if it isn't hot enough right after a storm.
Come to think of it, this hike might be better as a camping trip or a backpack trip. It is a heavy burden on your thoughts thinking about how long the climb ahead will be while you are trying to relax. How much nicer it would be if you could gaze at stars, maybe have some wine or something, and then crawl into a warm sleeping bag!
To return to your car, turn back and head back the way you came.