Saturday, May 18, 2013

San Juan Hot Springs Hike (Caspers Wilderness Park)

The San Juan Hot Springs Hike, in Caspers Wilderness Park, utilizes a hiking trail to travel to a natural hot springs deep within Caspers Wilderness Park. The hike to the San Juan Hot Springs is long, but well worth the hike because you are rewarded with  the hot springs and beautiful scenery along the hiking trail. For more pictures of our hike to the San Juan Hot Springs in Caspers Wilderness Park, make sure to check out our Facebook Page.

Directions to Trailhead: Going to the San Juan Hot Springs in Caspers Wilderness Park from Orange County, take the Ortega Highway heading toward Riverside. A couple of miles past Antonio Parkway is Caspers Wilderness Park. There are signs alerting drivers as to where to turn to enter Caspers Wilderness Park. The turn to enter into Caspers Wilderness Park is on your left side. The address for Caspers Wilderness Park is 33401 Ortega Hwy.( P. O. Box 395) San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675. The parks phone number is (949) 923-2210. There is a cost to enter Caspers Wilderness Park, day use costs 3 dollars, Monday through Friday, and 5 dollars Saturday and Sunday. Once past the ranger gate, proceed straight on the main park road until the San Juan Meadow group camping area, which will be on your right, after you cross the stream-bed for San Juan Creek.  The Juaneno Trail is at the farthest point of the San Juan Meadow group camping area, so make sure to drive all the way to the trail.

Description of Hike: This is an out and back hike to the San Juan Hot Springs along a (mostly) maintained dirt hiking trail. You begin your hike on the Juaneno Trail in Caspers Wilderness Park.  The Juaneno Trail is 2.68 miles long one way.  There are plenty of great views along the Jueneno Trail as well as a great opportunity to see wildlife in this section of Caspers Wilderness Park. The Juaneno Trail is mostly flat and is a well maintained dirt hiking trail.  It intersects with the San Juan Creek Trail, where you will make a left and continue to head toward the hills.  In just under one mile you will hit the Oso Trail. Make a left onto the Oso Trail and head uphill.  This is where a significant portion of the elevation gain for this hike is. In approximately 1.5 miles you will hit the turn for the Cold Springs Trail.  Take this trail down into Cold Springs Canyon. The trail ends in about 1 mile when you hit the San Juan Creek Trail again.  At this point make a left and head up a steep hill on the San Juan Creek Trail. You will pass two heavy posts driven into the ground. At this point you are getting close to the San Juan Hot Springs. Pay attention for several Palm Trees on the right side of the trail. (Note: They can be easily missed)  At that point there is a path on the right side of the trail which takes you directly to the San Juan Hot Springs. (Note: if you hit another major trail intersection, you have gone too far).

I am sure some of our readers have asked why use the Oso Trail and the Cold Springs Trail, when the San Juan Creek Trail can be used the whole way? The reason is because between those two points, the San Juan Creek Trail is seldom maintained. We hiked the San Juan Trail on the way back and can personally attest to how overgrown the trail was and how difficult it was to follow. When you enter Caspers Wilderness Park, ask the Park Rangers whether this section of the hiking trail has been worked on recently before you do this hike. If they indicate it has been maintained, then use the trail, because it will save you approximately 3 miles on your hike as well as significant elevation gain. If the hiking trail has not received maintenance, the heavy bushwhacking required and the possibility of losing the trail probably make the shortcut not worth the effort. We have marked the potential short cut in yellow on the Google Map below. For a printable hiking trail map of Caspers Wilderness Park, click Here. For the Caspers Park Brochure click Here.

Further Thoughts: This was a hike I did with two friends from work, Matt Gutierrez and Jon Kaplan. It was a great hike that offered the opportunity to see abundant wildlife and the opportunity to relax by the San Juan Hot Springs. We saw deer, a ring-neck snake, a red diamondback rattlesnake, hawks, turkey vultures, and an alligator lizard. One of the things about this particular trail is you will find the farther out on the hiking trail you go, the less likely you are to see other hikers.  Only a few hikers make the lengthy hike all the way to the San Juan Hot Springs.

We enjoyed the length of this hike because it provided a complete change in scenery. On your hike along the Juaneno Trail you have great views of the Santa Ana Mountains as you follow the San Juan Creek. You travel up the creek bed through open terrain as well as through areas with lush Coastal Live Oak Trees and Sycamore Trees. Once you hit the San Juan Creek Trail and the Oso Trail, the hike becomes significantly more exposed. Make sure to have plenty of water on warmer days. Additionally, make sure to have good sunscreen because the hike is exposed on this section. The Cold Springs Hiking Trail journeys deep into a vibrant riparian area that makes you feel miles away from civilization in Orange County. However, the highlight of this hike is once you reach the San Juan Hot Springs which is a great place to enjoy lunch. Most of the hot springs are too hot to even stick your feet in and most websites have the temperature of the hot springs at between 120 and 130 degrees, however there are one or two that are cooler.  (Note: make sure to pitch in and carry out some of the trash others have left behind in this area to help improve it for others)

The San Juan Hot Springs actually has a long history in Orange County, even though most people in Orange County do not know it exists. In the 1870s, the San Juan Hot Springs was actually a well known tourist destination. At the turn of the 1900s, a hotel and other buildings were constructed to meet the tourist demand to visit the San Juan Hot Springs off of Ortega Highway. Sometime around 1936, the resort was unfortunately shut down. Sometime in the late 1970s, a new owner renovated the rundown hot springs resort. However, the resort again closed down and most of the remnants were destroy in a 1993 wildfire that ravaged the area. For more on the history of the San Juan Hot Springs click Here.

Caspers Wilderness Park is an 8,000 acre protected wilderness preserve nestled among the river terraces and sandstone canyons of the western coastal Santa Ana Mountains. The park's many fertile valleys are overtly complemented by specimen groves of native Coastal Live Oak and magnificent stands of California Sycamore. These areas are further accentuated by seasonal wildflower displays and running streams. Wildlife is abundant and can be readily viewed from any of the parks numerous trails.

Bottom-line is the hike to the San Juan Hot Springs is a fun must do hike to a very neat geological feature deep in Orange County's wilderness!

Rating: Elevation Gain: 1,200 ft (Strenuous), Distance: 15 Miles Roundtrip (Strenuous).

Time to Complete Hike: 6 - 7.5 hours.

MORE TRAIL WRITE-UPS ON CASPERS WILDERNESS PARK



San Juan Hot Springs (This Post)

3 comments:

  1. This is a great article with great detail. Just a few questions if you have time. I would like to spend more time hiking in these types of areas. What is the water availability like along the trail? Also would you recommend a time during the year to go? Again thanks for the detail about this area it is appreciated.

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  2. Thanks for the write up. If anyone is reading this from the future, as of May 2015 the San Juan Creek Trail is open all the way to the hot springs, so no need to detour if you prefer. It gets a little overgrown in places, but it is no problem getting by.
    The two heavy posts driven into the ground by the hot springs appear to be gone, however an obvious path is cleared to the hot springs, and a "no swimming" sign was clearly visible from the trail. The palm trees are also still there. I had no trouble spotting it immediately.

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  3. Be aware: There is no drinkable water available outside of the main park faucets. At the bottom of the hot springs, the swimming pool is filled in, and has VERY active beehives on it.

    The Nature Center is worth a visit. The exhibits are well done, the volunteers are knowledgeable and friendly, and there is a short video discussing the park.


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Ashley and I encourage and welcome our readers to submit comments about their experiences on the trails we have posted on our blog or about their own hiking experiences in general.