Deep Creek Hot Springs via Bradford Ridge Path
- Location: Western San Bernardino Mountains north of Lake Arrowhead. From I-210 in San Bernardino, take Highway 18 (Waterman Ave. exit) and go north for 14.2 miles. Turn left on Lake Gregory Drive and make an immediate right on Highway 189. Go a total of 2.7 miles on 189, through the town of Twin Peaks, and turn left on Grass Valley Road. (There’s a gas station at the intersection). This intersection can be a little tricky, so be careful. Go a total of 4.2 miles on Grass Valley Road (at 1.9 miles, look for a sharp left turn; if you stay straight, you’ll end up on Peninsula Drive.) Grass Valley Road dead-ends at Highway 173. Turn left and drive 2.8 miles to a turnout just before a bridge a few hundred yards before where the road closes.
- Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
- Distance: 5 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (steepness, terrain, elevation gain)
- Suggested time: 3 hours
- Best season: October – May
- USGS topo map: Lake Arrowhead
- Recommended gear: Hiking poles; sun hat; sunblock
- More information: Trip reports here and here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 7
The hot springs of Deep Creek in the northwestern San Bernardino Mountains are one of the area’s popular hiking destinations. This less-traveled route from Highway 173 via the Bradford Ridge Path is longer and more challenging than the common approach from the north via Bowen Ranch, and it features one of the steepest stretches on any Southern California hiking trail. But it has the advantage of free parking with no required permits, and although some stretches of Highway 173 aren’t in great condition, hikers worried about driving on the dirt roads to Bowen Ranch won’t have to worry about them. It’s also a shorter drive from L.A. and the Inland Empire.
The trail is almost entirely exposed, but even on summer days, with adequate sun protection–and water–it can be done. The steep slopes of the canyon help block out the glare of the sun, and since this is a reverse hike, with an afternoon start, you can save the climbing for when the temperature is lower. Other than some noise from the nearby gun range and some trash and graffiti here and there, there are virtually no signs of civilization until you get to the springs.
From just before the bridge, follow the trail around a pile of rocks and head north, passing by a metal gate. For the first mile, the trail follows the path of Kinley Creek, a tributary of Deep Creek (usually dry). There are a few spots where the trail is loose and washed out, so hands may be required as well as feet.
At 1.1 miles, the trail veers east and heads into a tighter canyon. You climb to a ridge and then begin the main descent, gradually at first. At 1.7 miles, a short spur leads to a nice viewing point where you can see the dramatic gorge of Deep Creek and the hills across the way. Make a sharp right turn and continue the descent, with a fence on your left.
After following the ridge for a way, the trail begins an extremely steep drop on loose terrain. The very bottom stretch is perhaps the most treacherous; in addition to my hands, I was finding myself using my “fifth limb” on this part. At the bottom of the hill, your work isn’t quite done yet as you have to navigate a boulder-strewn wash, ducking under trees and climbing over rocks.
Finally, at 2.3 miles, you reach the Pacific Crest Trail as it follows the south shore of Deep Creek. Head right (keep an eye out for this junction on your return as it’s not signed) and soon you will see the swimming hole. Those sensitive to such issues might want to know that nudity is common here.
The trail passes right by one of the springs, and you can follow a path down to the creek. Even if you haven’t brought a swim suit, there are several places where you can dunk your feet in the nice warm water. That, and the sight of the serene creek flowing through the steep canyon, make the effort to get here–and the steep climb to get out–worthwhile.
Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.
Rather than the steep descent, hike the Bradford Ridge all the way to the PCT. A bit longer but not nearly as steep.