Los Padres National Forest

Pups are welcome at camp and on hiking trails
Driving to and sleeping at a campground
Ideal for first-timers

Soaking in Willett and Sespe hot springs in Los Padres National Forest

Soaking in Willett and Sespe hot springs in Los Padres National Forest

Soaking in Willett and Sespe hot springs in Los Padres National Forest

Soaking in Willett and Sespe hot springs in Los Padres National Forest

Designed by
Veronica Head
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Last updated
May 24, 2024

Trip · 3-day camping trip

For ·Families and returning campers

Vibe · Moderate and fun

Permits · You won't need a wilderness permit, but apply for a CA campfire permit online and buy an Adventure Pass to park at Piedra Blanca Trailhead

Drive · 2.5 hours from LA

Ideal dates · January to May (before it gets too hot!)

Pets · Welcome on trails and campgrounds

Los Padres National Forest (LPNF) boasts a whopping ten wilderness areas: Ventana, Silver Peak, Santa Lucia, Garcia, Machesna, San Rafael, Dick Smith, Matilija, Sespe, and Chumash. In total, the forest has a mind blowing 1.75 million acres. This trek takes you through Sespe Wilderness. The trailhead is accessible by driving along highway 33, a portion of which is considered a National Forest and State Scenic Byway. So whether it's the road trip or the hike itself, you'll witness beautiful natural landscapes in LPNF.

Official National Forest Website

Directions to Campground

Main image credit: Mary Hikes

Stuff to know

  • There are critters in the Sespe Wilderness. Make sure you pack up your food and scented items in the car or an animal proof container when they’re not in use.
  • Mosquitoes, horseflies, and ticks like to hang out during the summer. Bring yo' bug spray, or even better a bug net.
  • Watch out for poison oak, especially if you venture off-trail.
  • Make sure you check campfire restrictions before you go! Restrictions happen seasonally, depending on how high the wildfire risk is.
  • Practice Leave No Trace! That means packing out any trash and making sure you keep an eye out for litter.

Resources

Check the weather
Sespe Hot Springs in Los Padres National Forest

Where to camp

Wheeler Gorge Campground

Each campsite comes with a:

  • Picnic table
  • Fire pit
  • Space for up to 6 people
  • Two parking spots
  • Vault toilets & flushing toilets (on site)

Note: This campground does not have potable water. You will need to bring your own water for your camping trip. We recommend these 5 gallon collapsible water containers that you can fill prior to coming.

Wheeler Gorge Campground is a great place for families to explore the Los Padres National Forest all year long. Informative tours of the area are led by forest rangers at the nearby visitor center. The campground provides scenic views of a nearby stream, as well as vast mountain vistas.

Check-in: Noon · Check-out: Noon

Nightly Rate: $35

Backpacking at Oak Flat Campground
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Itinerary

Day One

Wheeler Gorge Campground. Credit: Recreation.gov

Leave LA as early as you can cuz' traffic

  • Last cheapish pit stop · Circle K - 11408 N Ventura Avenue in Ojai
  • Nearest grocery store · Vons - 1125 Maricopa Highway in Ojai - It's still a 45-minute drive from the campground so stock up on food before you arrive.

Arrive at the campground and get settled in

  • Check into your campsite, enjoy a quick lunch, and set up your tent.

Check out the nature center and become a junior ranger

Relax and cook up dinner

  • Settle into your campsite for a relaxing night and some quality family time.
  • For lounging under the stars, we recommend this reclining camp chair for kids and adults.
The name Sespe can be traced back to a Chumash Indian village, called Cepsey, Sek-pe or S'eqpe' ("Kneecap") in the Chumash languag

Day Two

Rose Valley Falls. Source: Ventura County Star.

Make brekkie and get ready for the day

  • Make a classic breakfast from childhood, like chocolate chip pancakes
  • Be sure to pack a lunch, plenty of water, snacks, and be prepared for wet feet
  • These packable camp towels are great for taking on hikes where you know you’ll get wet

Check out Rose Valley Falls

  • This easy 0.8 mile out and back trail takes you to breathtaking mountain waterfalls
  • The falls run seasonally and are most likely to be flowing after rainfall in the spring

Enjoy Lunch at Rose Valley Campground

  • Relax and enjoy your pack lunch

Take an afternoon hike on the Piedra Blanca Formations Trail

  • Further up the road, you’ll find the trailhead for Piedra Blanca Formations Trail
  • This easy 2.7 mile out and back trail is a longer one, but worth it
  • The trail takes you alongside a river and features some river crossings, so be prepared to get wet

Return to camp and enjoy dinner

  • Cook up your last dinner in Wheeler Gorge!
  • Unwind and enjoy your night at camp
Sespe Wilderness is also home to the Sespe Condor Sanctuary. It's not open to the public, but it was established to protect one of the most endangered animals in the world. What's a major threat to condors? Microtrash (i.e. bottle caps, broken glass).

DAY THREE

Ojai Pizza Company in Ojai. Source: Ojai Pizza Company.

Pack up and leave camp around 10 AM

  • Cook up brekkie, pick up any random pieces of litter around camp and save some snacks for the return drive

Drive to Ojai Pizza Company in Ojai for a kid friendly lunch

  • Ojai Pizza Company is right along Ojai’s main drag and sure to please any picky eater
  • Located at 331 E Ojai Avenue in Ojai
  • Open daily from 11 AM to 9 PM

Head home!

California has the second largest number of wilderness areas in the country (Alaska has the most)
June 1, 2024

Bewilder at LAist Super-Fun Saturday

Make wildflower seed bombs with Bezzi the Yeti at LAist's Super Fun Saturday

Event in 2 days

Bewilder Basecamp: Spooky Wonders

Join Bezzi the Yeti on her first spooky camping adventure!

Shop curated gear

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Bezzi's Pick
$399.95

NEMO 4-person Aurora Highrise

This colorful tent has plenty of standing room, is easy to set up, and pack out!

Bezzi's Pick
$249.95

NEMO Stargaze Reclining Camp Chair

Lean back, and we mean all the way back, in this comfy camp chair. You'll never want to sit up.

Bezzi's Pick
$159.95

NEMO Moonlander Camp Table

We can confirm that these camp tables withstand hot bevvies and rock collections.

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Meal and snack ideas

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Breakfast

Food For The Sole Blueberry Banana Crunch

Gluten Free • Vegan

Bezzi's Pick
Breakfast

Packit Gourmet Diner Deluxe Eggs with Sausage

Bezzi's Pick
Dessert

Campfire cinnamon roll ups

Vegetarian

Bezzi's Pick
Snack

Brookside Dark Chocolate Covered Blueberries

Vegetarian

Bezzi's Pick
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Angie's Boom Chicka Pop

Gluten Free · Vegan

Bezzi's Pick
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Santa Cruz Organic Apple Sauce

Gluten Free · Vegan

Bezzi's Pick
Lunch

Summer rolls with almond butter satay

Gluten Free · Vegan

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Dinner

Dan dan noodles

Gluten Free · Vegan

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Asian chicken lettuce wraps

Gluten free

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Pho ramen

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Curry ramen

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Peanut butter cheesecake overnight oats

Vegetarian

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