Hiking in the Sespe Wilderness

Notes by piero scaruffi | Travel resources | California hikes

The Sespe Wilderness is located 100 kms northwest of Los Angeles and is one of the most remote areas in California. The only touristy areas are the condor sanctuary (near Fillmore) and the hot springs near Ojay, but even those can be reached only via dirt roads that are impassable when wet.

Recommended hikes:

  • Reyes Creek campground to Piedra Blanca parking lot.
  • From Reyes Creek Campground in Maricopa to Piedra Blanca (30 kms one way): this requires park one car at each end or having friends pick you up at the other end. Reyes Creek Campground technically lies in the Mt Pinos Ranger District. Take the Frazier Park exit of hwy 5 and go east fo 30 minutes. If you reach the dead end, go back about 5 minutes. To get to the Piedra Blanca trailhead, go to that dead end, turn left and drive about 15 minutes to Rose Valley Road, turn right into it and drive to the dead end.

    There is water along the way (you will be crossing creeks an incredible number of times) but it is also usually very very hot. There are a couple of places where the trail disappears: just continue south. The trail goes up and down a few times until Pine Mt Lodge campground. It then plunges down a very steep descent towards Piedra Blanca. When (about 20 minutes into that descent) you reach the Piedra Springs (hard to miss because they make noise), you will enjoy them. There is no sign announcing them: just fresh cold water coming out of nowhere. You then reach two campgrounds (Twin Forks is well advertised whereas there is no sign for Piedra Blanca Camp but you will see structures) and then you have one more hour or less to the parking lot (you have to cross three wide creeks and walk uphill 100 meters to reach the parking lot proper).

    Reyes Creek Campground is popular with party people. If full, you can try the trailhead (a huge parking lot) or just hike a bit into the trail and see if you can camp illegally along the trail.

    • Reyes Creek campground
    • First pas: 1h
    • Camp with giant tree: 1h20'
    • Second pass 1h50'
    • Third pass and campground 2h
    • Unnamed campground in rocky canyon 3h 30'
    • Fourth pass 3h 45'
    • Junction with Reyes Pk trail (14km from start) 4h 15'
    • Three mile campground (17km) 5h
    • Pine Mt Lodge (20km) 6h15'
    • Steep downhill
    • Piedra Springs 7h30'
    • Piedra Blanca campground (25km) 8h15'
    • Piedra Blanca parking lot (end of Rose Valley Rd) 29km 9h
  • Dough Flat to Sespe Gorge. Drive to Fillmore, that lies at the junction of highway 126 and highway 23. Take 23 north through town (it changes name to Goodenough Rd) and follow it to the very end. Turn right into Squaw Flat Forest Rd/ 6N16 (you can't turn left anyway). This is a steep country road. In about 4 kms you reach the oil wells and 6 kms to the Oak Flat Guard Station (GPS 34.48019, -118.91685). If in doubt, follow signs for Oak Flat and Dough Flat. The first trailhead is the Tar Creek trailhead. About 20 minutes later you reach another parking lot, the Dough Flat trailhead and also the Alder Creek trailhead. The Alder Creek trail takes you down to the Sespe Creek. The drive to Dough Flat is possible only in the driest weather and the hike down the gorge to Tar Creek Camp requires swimming skills.
  • Piedra Blanca to Sespe Hot Springs. There are two options for hiking in the Sespe River area. The only option in winter is to park at the Piedra Blanca trailhead in the Rose Valley and hike along the Sespe River Trail. This is a easy to moderate trail that takes you to Willet Hot Springs, about 15 kms in and then additional 10 kms up the Sespe Gorge to the Sespe Hot Springs. Piedra Blanca trailhead: from Ojai take highway 33 north to the Rose Valley Recreation Area, turn right and follow this road to the end. For more detailed info about the trailhead in the Rose Valley area, you can call the Ojai station @ 805-646-4348 (as of 2010). You will need an Adventure Pass to park at the Piedra Blanca Trialhead.
  • When the Grade Valley Road (south of Lockwood Valley off Lockwood Valley Rd which runs between hwy 33 and hwy 5 in Frazier Park) is open (usually from late April or May), you can take it to Mutau Flat, Johnson Ridge Trailhead to reach the Sespe Hot Springs. For more information you can call the Mt. Pinos Ranger Station (34580 Lockwood Valley Rd, Frazier Park, CA 93225) to find out about the Mutau Flat access @ 661-245-3731 (as of 2010). No Adventure Pass is needed at the Mutau Flat/Johnson Ridge Trail.
  • Loop from the Mutau Flat trailhead along the Johnson Ridge Trail to Hot Springs Canyon to Sespe Creek to Alder Creek to McDonald Camp to Little Mutau Camp along the Little Mutau Creek to Mutau Flat: 44 kms.
Pictures of my hikes
A description of the hike to Sespe Gorge
Directions to Dough Flat (as of 2010)
Weather in Sespe Wilderness
Weather in Fillmore

Ojai trails
USGS Topo Map: Devils Heart Peak, Fillmore
Rangers of the Forest Service: (805) 683-6711 (as of 2010)
Ojai Rangers: 805-646-4348 (as of 2010)
Los Padres National Forest (805) 968-6640 (as of 2010)
Feb 2011: "I checked with the Ojai Ranger Station and they said that driving on Goodenough Rd that takes you up to the Tar Creek and Dough Flat Trailheads is not passable/drivable with the wet rainy weather. Also, be advised that the gate can be closed at anytime. The road requires a high clearance vehicle. You can call the station @ 805-646-4348 to check on the changing conditions and road/gate closures. Open weekdays, 8-4:30 "