Habitat use by rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss is described for a southern California stream where the summer water temperatures typically exceed the lethal limits for trout (>25°C). During August 1994, water temperature, dissolved oxygen (DO), and trout distribution were monitored in two adjacent pools in Sespe Creek, Ventura County, where summer water temperature reached 28.9° C. Water temperature was an important factor in trout distribution in the two pools. During 1–11 August 1994, water temperatures in pool 1 ranged from 21.5°C at the bottom (4.1 m) to 28.9° C at the surface. After 5 August, trout were no longer found in this pool, suggesting that trout had moved out of the high temperature water or died. In the adjacent, shallower (1.5m) pool 2, surface water temperatures were as high as 27.9° C, but temperatures on the bottom remained cooler (17.5–21° C) than pool 1, presumably due to groundwater seeps. Consistent aggregations of trout were observed in pool 2 throughout the study period. During the day when water temperature was highest, most trout were found in a region of the pool with the lowest water temperature (mean=18.3° C). Conversely, regions with the highest water temperatures had the fewest trout during the day. The seeps may have introduced water with low dissolved oxygen into pool 2, as the DO in many locations on the bottom ranged from <1 mg 1−1 to 5 mg 1−1 over 24 h, while the surface DO ranged from 4.1 to 10.0mg 1−1. Lowest DO occurred from 2400 to 0600 hours. During August, water temperature and DO were positively related. Thus, rainbow trout faced a trade-off between the relatively cool water temperature with low, possibly lethal levels of DO (e.g. 1.7 to 3.4 mg 1−1 in region 3), and lethally high water temperature but high DO. Seeps may serve as important thermal refugia for trout, and an increased understanding of their role as potential critical refugia in Southern California is necessary.