Taiwanese-American blogging about his travels outdoors and occasionally his thoughts on life.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Hiking Garden of Eden, Santa Cruz, United States

Nestled in the mountains of Henry Cowell State Park, there lies a local swimming hole ambitiously named The Garden of Eden. Located on the San Lorenzo River, this getaway is a nice alternative for anyone trying to escape the heat and unwilling to deal with Santa Cruz beaches. Surrounded by trees, the area not only allows sunbathing but also protection from the sun if necessary.

To get there from the south bay (Campbell, San Jose, Los Gatos...etc) follow these directions:

1. Take highway 17 south and over the mountain.
2. After coming down from the mountain, take Mt. Hermon Rd. exit. and head west/straight until you hit highway 9.
3. Once you hit the T-section, turn left onto highway 9 and head south towards the north entrance of Henry Cowell State Park.
4. Drive past this entrance for Henry Cowell State Park, this is not the entrance you are looking for (although this northern portion of the park is also nice for quick hikes).

5. Once you enter the trees, its only a 1-5 minute drive before you reach the parking lot. The parking lot is tiny and my guess is that it can only hold, at most, 10 cars. Therefore, plan your trip accordingly.

This is what the parking lot looks like.

6. From the parking lot, enter the southern gate and walk down the path. From the lot, it takes probably only 15-20 minutes to reach the Garden of Eden. Follow the path down and head right whenever there is any split. Do this until you reach the train tracks. Once you reach the tracks, head right and walk down.

7. Head down for about 10-15 minutes until you see a brown “no campfire” sign. From there, the path is obvious. Turn left and head down the side of the mountain. The trail is not steep. Very quickly, you will see the small beach that is The Garden of Eden.

Here is a panorama of the entire beach that I shot.

At the end of the day, I felt the self proclaimed Garden of Eden was a bit underwhelming for its moniker. This portion of the San Lorenzo river is definitely a beautiful place to escape to and the pools are amazing for diving into, however, its popularity and convenience has also attracted the typical drawbacks that accompanies such notoriety: that is, trash.

This place is littered with trash!

When we got there, you really couldn't ignore the amount of trash scattered about around the beach. Leftover food, clothing, underwear, swimming gear, wrappers...it really took away from the beauty of the river. Not only that, but many of the trees were also vigorously scarred with the initials of countless visitors. It was all a very jarring juxtaposition to say the least.

On a scale of 1-10, I'd have to give The Garden of Eden a 6/10. On a hot day, I imagine parking to be a headache and the "garden" to be crowded with locals. If you're set on visiting this place on a hot day, try the "garden" first, see if the crowd is good, if not, travel up or downstream a bit and look for a more secluded area. There are definitely more pools along the river.

If you want to make the journey a bit longer (because to get to the garden from the parking lot is so short ~ 20 min), try heading down to the river as soon as you reach the train tracks and just follow it. Doing so adds an adventurous 30 minutes to your hike and allows you to identify alternative swimming holes if the garden is overrun by rowdy visitors.

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