The upper part of the Agua Caliente drainage contains a very relaxing hot springs, beautiful sandstone formations, and a huge debris dam. Beyond the dam the country has a wild and romantic feel to it. This is one of my favorite hikes.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Points of Interests: Canyons, Creeks, Out & Back, Backcountry Camp
User Types: Backpackers, Hikers, Equestrians, Mountain Bikers, Dog Walker, Trail Runners
Locations: Upper Santa Ynez River
Download Directions: Download PDF Map Directions
Agua Caliente is the name of this canyon—the place of the warm water. For me the water temperature is about perfect—105 degrees at the hottest. But while many people know about the Big Caliente Hot Springs, very few know that one of Santa Barbara’s nicest day hikes is to be found above them.
The canyon is composed of two major drainages—Devil’s Canyon and Agua Caliente proper. Both have exquisite sandstone formations in them, with narrow, steep-walled sections that are almost like works of art. To reach these you will need to do some scrambling up the creek.
The trail (a dirt road at first) begins at the upper end of the hot springs parking lot just beyond a locked gate. This road leads along the left side of the canyon for a half mile then crosses the creek and climbs up the right side of Big Caliente Debris Dam, built to help keep sediment from spilling down into Gibraltar Reservoir.
As you start the hike look across the creek and about 150’ up the side of the mountainside. This is actually where the hot springs are located. The water is piped down to the cement pool where people bathe.
A half mile beyond the debris dam look for Devil’s Canyon, which comes in from the right. I like hiking up into this drainage though you will have to scramble up the creek to do so. The main trail continues up Agua Caliente Canyon. At one time this route continued up to La Carpa Potrero, a small meadow with a perennial spring, and eventually to the Pine Mountain area, but it is now almost completely overgrown.
You can follow this old pack trail for 3-4 miles above the dam. The canyon is relatively narrow and has a wilderness quality to it that I appreciate. The sandstone is beautiful and best of all, when you get back to your car a hot tub awaits you.