Article

Garden of Eden

An idyllic swimming hole on the San Lorenzo River.

by Molly Lautamo

NOTE: If you are not willing to pack your trash all the way back to your car, please do not come to the Garden of Eden.

SPLOOSH! A young man leaps off a rocky hillside, 10 feet down into a deep blue pool. Teenagers laugh and splash, using a large fallen branch as a float. College girls sunbathe on sandy shores, gossiping while reading magazines and textbooks, nonchalantly watching the boys from behind oversized sunglasses. An older woman sits serenely apart on a sun-warmed boulder across the water. The carefree days of summer reign here—the cool, blue-green waters and sandy beach nestled in a secret cove downslope from the railroad tracks feel removed from the stresses of daily life. Forget all your worries and lose track of time in what could be mistaken for the birthplace of Adam and Eve. You have arrived at the Garden of Eden.

This swimming hole can be hard to find, and many confuse it for its downstream neighbor, Big Rock Hole. When you truly arrive at the Garden of Eden, however, there’s no doubt you’ve found the right spot. It’s not hard to picture Adam and Eve bathing in these very waters (especially when you spot revelers sans fig leaves—this is a well-known clothing-optional spot).

The beach is long and wide, with plenty of room for sun worshipers and shade seekers alike. The pools are wide and deep enough to take a real swim and the long, curving beach offers plenty of waterside real estate for everyone.

A GREAT PLACE TO take a refreshing dip or lay out with a good book on the beach.

YOU SHOULD LEAVE BEHIND your pup, alcohol, cigarettes and BBQ fixins (no campfires allowed).

DEFINITELY BRING a swimsuit, towel, sunscreen and a picnic, ‘cause once you find this spot you won’t be leaving anytime soon.

YOUR MOM WOULD TELL YOU to pack your trash! If you lugged a six-pack down the hill (something Johnny Law frowns upon), then may we suggest you lug the empties back to your car. She would also tell you not to dive in head-first here, or to use the rope swing in a dry year, since there's a big rock not far beneath the surface.

HELPFUL HINTS There are no bathrooms or trash cans. You also can’t see the Garden of Eden from the railroad tracks, although you will pass a lot of lovely swimming holes on your way there. Don’t be tempted to just cut down the eroding hillside—you’re almost to the real Garden of Eden!

Directions From Santa Cruz, drive three miles up Highway 9 (past the South Entrance to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park) until you see the sign for the North Entrance to the park and a large dirt lot to your right with two green metal gates. A sign will say Ox Trail. (If you reach Toll House Resort, you’ve gone too far.) Enter through the southernmost gate and follow a wide trail down the hill. At the fork, follow the path to the right and continue another quarter mile or so until you reach the railroad tracks. Turn right at the tracks and follow them until you see a “No Campfire” and “No Alcoholic Beverages” sign on your left, another half mile. Follow the steep trail and sounds of laughter and splashing down to the river.

NEARBY
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Big Rock Hole Swimming Hole
The Pogonip

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Actually, you can see it from the train tracks, you just have to go past the trail (south) leading down to the Garden a little ways and you can see down to the river.

 

I'm thinking about heading up to the SC mountains for a visit. Is there any water to swim in at Garden of Eden right now?

 

That's funny I was just trying to find out the same thing. I would like to head over there next week. I might try and scope it before then, but if you hear anything let me know. I'll keep you updated if I scope it out.

 

Yes, the water is lovely at the Garden of Eden. I was there last week and am heading there again tomorrow!

 

Have you been this month? I'm trying to figure out the water level too. Thanks.

 

The water levels are fine at GoE. Lowest I've seen in a decade or so, but still swimmable, fun and refreshing. Just a few reminders to all visitors to this beautiful but fragile ecosystem: 1. NO dogs allowed. I can give you 25 reasons for this rule, but the two most important are (a) if the rangers catch you with your dog, it's a $200-$300 fine; (b) dogs are predators and they carry diseases that infect our native species. 2. There is no trash service. As a volunteer, I pick up bags of garbage every week. It's depressing. If you pack it in, pack it out.
We must treat this gem with the care it deserves. Garden of Eden is not a party place. It's a peaceful place for reflection, respect, and reverence. If you see bad things happening, feel free to text me at 831-345-7081.
Kip Téllez, Felton

 

Thinking of taking the family. Is it kid friendly. My older boys will enjoy for sure but I also have two younger children.

 

I would strongly recommend finding a different spot to enjoy the river/forest with your kids. This summer Garden of Eden has been insanely impacted by crowds after getting a bunch of exposure on social media, books, and magazines, and it's gone beyond what it can handle. Keep in mind the following as you consider bringing young children here: (1) There are NO toilet facilities. On a recent weekend, neighbors counted 150 cars parked along the narrow stretch of Highway 9 by the trailhead, which means enormously crowded conditions combined with zero toilets anywhere nearby. Just think about what that means when people are hiking far enough down there that it's not just for an hour or two. (2) Parking is super sketchy. There is a narrow pull-out beside the highway, and lately over and over locals have been seeing people parked super unsafely, young kids darting out into a highway where there are blind curves. Someone said just a couple days ago they almost hit a couple of young kids and only avoided it because they KNEW to slow down there; many drivers won't have that same awareness, (3) there is a lot of partying that goes on there - alcohol and pot. Keep that in mind as you consider what you want to expose your kids to. (4) This summer there have been repeated injuries due to people jumping off rocks into too-shallow water - serious injuries involving Lifeflight helicopter rides. (5) Some people choose to go clothing-optional here.

Overall the place has gotten out of control. Mountains of trash have been photographed, left behind where there is no trash pickup at all. This used to be a lovely, sweet spot enjoyed by locals. This summer we've seen it literally loved to death. It's time to give the place a rest and find other spots to enjoy, letting Garden of Eden recover from its Instagram/Yelp/Facebook-fueled overexposure.

I have requested, and will request again, that Hilltromper remove the directions to this spot and update this article to reflect how sadly it's been impacted by overexposure. The parking situation alone is a disaster waiting to happen, let alone water quality, trash, and injuries of partying rock-jumpers.

 

Apologies for the delay in responding. joniwords is correct that the Garden of Eden 'blew up' last month. Things have calmed down quite a bit since then. As to pollution from septic systems, that was once the case, but today public health officials all agree that the San Lorenzo is a safe place to swim. As for removing directions -- there are plenty of secret swimming holes that we will never give up, but this one is well-known, and we are about helping people find fun. As for trash: See the note at the top of this post. eric[at]hilltromper.com

 

Unfortunately, this once idyllic spot has been overrun with people since it has garnered attention on social media sites. While it could probably handle a few dozen people at most, crowds of hundreds are not unheard of during the summer ... especially on weekends. Trash is a real problem, not to mention broken bottles which can ruin a good day (wear shoes even while in the water). In addition, there are NO bathroom facilities so, after a day of eating and drinking, where do you think those hundreds of people go to relieve themselves? Plus, remember that the San Lorenzo Valley has no sewers and people rely on septic systems (and many are really, really old systems) whose leach fields have to flow somewhere ... So don't let kids or pets get river water in their mouths or in open sores/wounds and wash them after they get out. And don't let them jump in the water as the rocks are just below the surface. There are many, many injuries every year and, recently, a young woman was seriously injured and a young man lost his life, both from falling on the rocks.

I know people from out of town say that locals are "nay-sayers" to keep people away, but if you think about the logistics of this place, you'll understand why locals don't swim in the river all that much .... Come visit but consider just hiking through the beautiful redwood forest at Henry Cowell or Fall Creek.

 

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