Spending the day at the Garden of Eden in Santa Cruz is accepting an invitation to nature’s most popular pool party. Bring a picnic and pool floats, and swim and lounge in the sun—just be prepared to share the space with others! (Go early in the day to avoid the crowds.) It’s called Garden of Eden for a reason. This swimming hole along the San Lorenzo River, part of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Felton, is surrounded by beautiful redwoods and Douglas fir trees with plenty of sunlight shining through to make the water swimmable and refreshing. A large swimming hole connects to a smaller swimming hole and the rest of the river. There are plenty of rocks to see and be seen on, as well as a small beach along the waterfront.
There’s another beach area reached only by swimming across the hole. You can also navigate the rocks to walk up the river, where it’s a bit quieter. Arriving before noon will also give you a less crowded experience—most people come in the afternoon when it’s hottest.
The walk to and from the Garden of Eden is a little under 0.75 mile (one way). From Henry Cowell’s Ox Parking Lot, located just south of Felton’s old Toll House Resort on Hwy. 9, simply follow the trail down, turn right at the railroad tracks, and walk along them until you see the “No Diving” and other signs on your left. Follow the path down to the swimming holes. Note: Many people jump from the rocks into the water, and it’s a bad idea, since there are shallow spots and rocks! Always check water levels before taking any type of plunge. No dogs.