Hidden amongst the redwood trees about four miles away from the hustle and bustle of Santa Cruz is the popular swimming hole known as the Garden of Eden. The name pretty much says it all, a beautiful, verdant paradise, with lots of opportunities for irresistible temptation. Skinny dipping anyone?

Legends of this river utopia prevail in the area and I don’t know how many times I’ve come across groups of people laden with coolers and floaties wandering around the woods lost and searching for the Garden of Eden. So as a favor to all the hikers, runners, and mountain bikers who have had to redirect lost Garden of Eden seekers, here is a guide with detailed directions and tips on how to find Santa Cruz’s most popular and elusive swimming hole..

garden of eden santa cruz
If it’s foggy at the beaches, head to Garden of Eden for a sunny summer day

Directions to the Garden of Eden

  1. About 4 miles up Highway 9 from Santa Cruz (going towards Felton) is a small dirt parking area with a green gate on the right side of the road. It basically looks like an extra wide dirt shoulder on the side of the road. If you reach the Tollhouse Resort you’ve gone too far. Coming from Felton you will pass the Tollhouse Resort, go around a big bend and the parking area will be on your left. If you can’t find parking do your best to find a wide section of road elsewhere but be mindful that you’re on a highway and locals can come zipping around the bends quickly.

garden of eden parking area
You won’t see any signs for the Garden of Eden but this is what the Highway 9 trailhead looks like
  • After you’ve parked walk through the green gate. There will be the option of taking a narrow single track trail or the wider fire road. I prefer the fire road because you’re less likely to brush up against poison oak. Head down the fire road for about 1/4 of a mile.

  • IMG_2019
    Start your journey to the Garden of Eden by heading through the green gate and down the fire road
  • When you reach the railroad tracks take a right. The Roaring Camp Boardwalk train does occasionally come through but it’s slow and loud so you’ll have plenty of time to move aside.

  • garden of eden railroad tracks
    There’s something special about walking along railroad tracks in the woods
  • Walk along the tracks for about 1/2 a mile. You will see other paths leading down to the river. These are not paths to the Garden of Eden although they will take you to other swimming spots if you’re willing to navigate steep, slightly treacherous trails in your Birkenstocks.
  • When you see the no dogs/no alcohol sign and a wider trail then you’ve reached the main trail leading to the Garden of Eden. It’s a short walk down the trail ( watch out for poison oak and tree roots!) to the river.

  • garden of eden signs
    Keep your eyes open for these signs that mark the trail to the Garden of Eden
    The main trail to the Garden of Eden is much wider then the alternative trails.
    Garden of Eden
    First glimpse of the Garden of Eden as you come down the trail

    What You Need To Know

    1. Rangers will give you a ticket for having booze or a dog at the Garden of Eden. Ticketing is especially prevalent on the weekend and holidays. So leave your four-legged friend at home and disguise your adult beverage. That Klean Kanteen you got for Christmas makes a great receptacle for some vino and will leave the river beach nice and clean when it’s time to head back to reality.
    2. That being said: there have been issues with people getting severely injured at the Garden of Eden. Use good common sense with what you consume and what you decide to dive off of.
    3. Make sure you’re parked legally or you will get a ticket. Don’t be tempted to park in the area across from the main parking zone because those “No Parking” signs are taken very seriously. Nothing like a parking ticket to put a damper on a sunny river day. If you don’t see a “No Parking” sign and you’re safely off the highway then it’s perfectly fine to park there.
    4. Plan on packing out your trash. The only trash can for the area is at the green gate, there aren’t any trash cans at the river, so be mindful about how much waste you create. Also, the trash can at the top can reach capacity on a busy weekend. If the trash can is full please take your garbage with you rather than leaving it next to the trash can where it becomes a messy feast for the raccoons and ultimately ends up polluting the same pristine place you just enjoyed.
    5. There aren’t any bathrooms so plan accordingly…
    6. And while kids will enjoy the Garden of Eden, it’s not the most kid friendly river hang. The water is relatively deep, there are a lot of large boulders that would be difficult for toddlers to navigate, poison oak, not to mention groups of twenty-somethings lounging and subsequent pungent smoke wafting in the breeze..
    garden of eden
    Enjoy less crowds and more tranquility on weekday evenings at the Garden of Eden

    What to Bring/Wear

    1. It’s a short walk but it is on uneven dirt paths and along the railroad tracks so sturdy sandals or a pair of sneakers is best.
    2. A backpack
    3. A small, lightweight cooler with a shoulder strap
    4. Blanket or towel or a beach chair that you can wear on your back
    5. A long sleeve shirt for when the river gets shaded ( usually late afternoon)
    6. Sunscreen+Sunglasses+Hat

    *Note: Distances were calculated by Strava but expect it to be about a 15-20 minute walk from the parking area to the Garden of Eden. 

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