By Levi Clancy for לוי on
Bradford Ridge trail
Take the Bradford Ridge Trail if you are coming from LA or San Bernardino.
Drive up to Lake Arrowhead area.
Take Grass Valley Road north.
Make a left where Grass Valley Rd dead-ends at Highway 173.
Take Highway 173 to the road closure.
Park at Kinley Creek Bridge.
Follow the trail to the right.
The trial is about 3½ miles, or one hour.
When you reach the Mojave River, make a right.
Ten minutes later you will be at the springs.
Many people go via Bowen Ranch anyways because it is the most popular and has the biggest web presence. But the Bradford Ridge trail to Deep Creek hot springs is so much better! The drive is significantly shorter. There are no dirt roads. Plus it is free and has no curfews. The hike is a little bit longer, about 50 minutes in and 70 minutes out, but it is equally strenuous.
The Bradford Ridge trail is only accessible from the south. Highway 173 is closed shortly after it forks with Arrowhead Lake Road (there is a long, dirt segment that has been gated since early 2011). You cannot reach it from Victorville or Highway 15. The only way to reach the trailhead is by coming up from the south via Highway 210 → Highway 18 → Highway 189 → Grass Valley Road → Route 173. You cannot miss the trailhead because Highway 173 is closed just around the bend.
The trail takes about 40 minutes to 1 hour. Two-thirds to the end you will reach a fork: you can take the very steep descent, or the less steep descent. Either way, when you reach the trail at the river (the Pacific Crest Trail) just make a right and take it the little distance left to the springs.
If you are coming from Los Angeles then take the Bradford Ridge trail instead!
City folk with city cars usually go to Bowen Ranch. But there are still some nasty stretches of dirt road. Take the Bradford Ridge trail and it will save you more than an hour and the roads are all paved. Plus, sometimes Bowen Ranch gets entirely shut down by the owner Mike Castro if it is cloudy or drizzly. If you are coming from the south, I only advise the Bowen Ranch route if you have crippling vertigo, or if steep declines bother your joints. If you are coming from Victorville and have a tough vehicle, take the Freedom Trail.
Bradford Ridge has a much nicer, shorter drive that goes past Lake Arrowhead and there are no dirt roads, plus parking is totally free. The Bowen Ranch route takes about an hour longer to drive with a long stretch on a bumpy, dusty dirt road in Victorville, and there is a parking fee. So why would anyone take the Bowen Ranch route? Well, the Bowen Ranch hike has a less steep decline into the canyon, so the hike is a little easier and because the path is wider it seems to not trigger people's vertigo as often (though I've had friends get vertigo on both routes).
Early along on Bowen Ranch Rd you'll see a big pile of painted tires. Keep going and the road will end at a fork with Bowen Ranch straight ahead, and the Freedom Trail to the right.
After a 30-40 minute drive along a decently graded dirt road, you reach Bowen Ranch and pay $5 per person (double that if overnight). That can add up quickly if you have a group. Then you drive along a really bad dirt road to a dirt carpark.
The hike from the carpark is about 45 minutes in, 60 out.
About halfway to the springs, the paths from the Freedom Trail and Bowen Ranch merge. Be careful when coming back to Bowen Ranch! Stay to the right or you will accidentally wind up along the Freedom Trail. It has happened to less careful people!
When you are almost at the hot springs, the route splits again. To the left is a very steep route, but you can cross the river on some boulders and avoid getting wet. To the right is a less steep route that leads to the West Beach, and you can wade across the river to the springs.
The Bowen Ranch trail and the Freedom Trail merge. Just always go downhill to get to the springs. On the way back, stay to the right for Bowen Ranch; stay to the left for the Freedom Trail. At the end of the trail there are two choices: to the right is a longer, gradual route with a wet river crossing; to the left is a faster, steep route where a stack of rocks permits a dry river crossing.
The Freedom Trail is free, but you'll need a sturdy high-clearance vehicle.
The Freedom Trail is named because it frees you from Bowen Ranch's fees and curfews. Just before you enter Bowen Ranch's gate, look to your right and you'll see a steep road full of gullies. Take that turn and drive 1½ miles, about twenty minutes. You'll be on either JF 3381 or JF 3380 at times, but one stretch has no markers and is not on the map.
Ignore the route markers. Just always bear left when going to the springs, and always bear right when going back home. After a particularly steep hump you will find a dirt area smoothed out by years of parking. Usually there is a vehicle or two already there.
The Freedom Trail has free parking all the time, any time, for as many hours or days as you want.
Simply find a good spot and start hiking. The hike is 45-60 minutes each way, downhill all the way heading in and uphill all the way heading out. Always head downhill when going to the springs, and stay to the left and go uphill when returning to the Freedom Trail (or you'll wind up with a very angry Mike Castro at Bowen Ranch).
Pacific Crest Trail
The Pacific Crest Trail is free and easy. I advise it during very bad weather.
Simply park along Arrowhead Lake Arrowhead Road / Saddledike Embankment Road at a gate with a castle-like concrete decoration on either side. The drive is easy. It is entirely paved and never takes you to a high elevation, so after heavy rains or severe snow the Pacific Crest Trail really may be better than Bowen Ranch or even the Bradford Ridge trail. Sometimes Bowen Ranch will even close in inclement weather.
The two-hour hike is the longest route to the hot springs, but is also the easiest hike and has no big elevation changes.
Unlike the other hiking trails, there are no particularly steep parts. Plus the first two miles are paved. Park at the castle-style gate on Arrowhead Lake Rd, then follow the concrete road to the ridge of an embankment, all the way to the actual Pacific Crest Trail. Then follow the PCT for the next five miles. There is caution tape at the trailhead and you might have to go around some of the washouts but the hike is still do-able. The nice arched bridge is just over halfway to the springs! Latest trail conditions are available here.
Yes, I took public transit to Deep Creek hot springs.
I do not drive, plus I wanted to camp in the region for a while, so it made sense for those circumstances. Public transit is not suitable at all for a day trip. From San Bernardino Metrolink station, take the MARTA bus up to Blue Jay. From there, walk up Grass Valley Road to Highway 173. The hike to Highway 173 is alright, since there are lots of houses and trees to look at along the way. But the stretch on Highway 173 goes on forever. Around each bend, you hope to see the trailhead. It never comes until over an hour later.