A Visitor’s Guide to the Garden of Eden, Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, California, is well known for its stunning beaches, majestic redwood forests, and world-famous surf spots. But there is also a secret spot in the Monterey Bay area that many people don’t know about: the Garden of Eden swimming holes.
This popular swimming hole is tucked away in the Santa Cruz Mountains and is a favorite getaway for those looking to escape the grind of San Francisco or looking for a sweet day trip from their vacation rental in Santa Cruz.
After a short blissful walk through nature, you’ll find several beautiful swimming holes fed by the San Lorenzo River. These crystal-clear pools are perfect for a refreshing dip, especially on a hot summer day.
Whether you’re looking for a backpacking outdoor escape or are just to cool off, you’ll love the Garden of Eden swimming holes. Come explore this hidden gem of Santa Cruz and discover why it has been a favorite local swimming spot for generations.
Getting to The Garden of Eden
To get to the Garden of Eden from Santa Cruz, you’ll drive three miles up Highway 9, until you get to the dirt parking lot near the North Entrance to Henry Cowell State Park.
You know you’re there when you see the sign for the Ox Trailhead. You’ll follow the trail through the redwoods until you get to the railroad tracks, and then follow the train tracks to the right. You’ll know you’re there when you see signs for the Garden of Eden swimming pools on your left.
The walk to the pools is a fairly easy stroll with a length of .75 miles each way; just follow the sounds of splashing water from fellow Eden pool revelers.
Things To Do at the Garden of Eden Santa Cruz
Once you’ve arrived at the Garden of Eden, you’ll have several fun outdoor activities to choose from. The river trail is kid-friendly and especially peaceful early in the day.
The best thing to do at the Garden of Eden is to take advantage of the swimming pools! Several beautiful, refreshing pools you can swim in are fed by the San Lorenzo River. On a hot summer day, there is nothing quite like relaxing in the swimming pools here, surrounded by the beauty of the redwood forest.
Keep in mind, to get into the pools; you’ll have to walk or climb over some rocks- it’s not the most accessible place to swim. However, people of all ages, including families with younger children, do frequent this spot.
As long as you’re comfortable walking through the streams and climbing over rocks and fallen tree branches, the Garden of Eden is a fantastic place to take a dip.
While the trail to the Garden of Eden is only a short trek from the parking lot, it’s a pretty one. If you’d like to extend the hiking portion of a visit to the Garden of Eden, you can continue to walk along the San Lorenzo River. In addition to the Garden of Eden, there are several other smaller swimming holes depending on the year’s rainfall and the river’s shape.
Additionally, while you’re in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, you have access to many of Santa Cruz’s best trails, including everything from the easy and popular .9-mile Redwood Grove Loop Trail to the moderate, 5.3-mile Henry Cowell Observation Deck Loop.
The Garden of Eden in Santa Cruz is a fantastic place for a picnic. After a fun day of hiking around the park and swimming in the pools, nothing beats a fun picnic surrounded by redwood trees!
There is a small, flat, sandy beach near the pools that provides the perfect platform for laying down a beach blanket and enjoying your favorite meal. Combined with the soothing sounds of the San Lorenzo River running nearby, it’s truly an idyllic picnic setting.
Even if you aren’t planning on having a picnic, there are no amenities at the Garden of Eden, so it’s a good idea to at least bring a few snacks to reenergize during your day trip!
If you’re planning a day trip to the Garden of Eden, consider bringing a tube or flotation device along. Several sections in the San Lorenzo River are excellent for tubing or a leisurely float down the river. You can also bring smaller tubes or flotation devices to use to float in the swimming holes at the Garden of Eden.
We aren’t the only ones who appreciate this beautiful wooded oasis- the Garden of Eden in Santa Cruz is home to tons of wildlife. There’s a good chance you’ll spot some animals either at the swimming pools or while hiking from the parking lot to this swimming spot.
Some wildlife you may encounter along the way includes banana slugs, deer, owls, and woodpeckers. The San Lorenzo River is also home to many fish species, including steelhead trout and coho salmon.
In addition to providing incredible swimming holes like the Garden of Eden, the San Lorenzo River is also an excellent place for fishing. The San Lorenzo River was home to one of the most robust steelhead trout populations in the United States. However, in the early 1900s, the trout population was severely threatened, and their numbers dwindled.
Today, the steelhead trout population is recovering, and you can still fish for them, but only during the proper season, which runs from about December to February. Additionally, fishing in the San Lorenzo River is catch and release only.
Tips for Visiting the Garden of Eden
Visiting the Garden of Eden is one of the best things to do in Santa Cruz. In fact, the Garden of Eden is one of the best swimming holes in all of Northern California. Here are a few important tips and pieces of advice to make your experience as great as possible.
What to Pack
- Swimsuit: Be sure to pack a swimsuit to enjoy a refreshing dip in the Garden’s swimming pools.
- Towels: During a trip to the Garden of Eden, you’ll want to bring towels to dry off and lay down on the beaches surrounding the pools.
- Bug spray: There are often mosquitos here, so you may want bug spray to avoid getting bitten.
- Proper footwear: A trip to the Garden of Eden involves light hiking, and you will have to climb over rocks to get to the pools. Be sure to bring footwear so that you can comfortably climb the rocks. Many people also like to bring water shoes so they don’t cut their feet on the jagged rocks.
The Best Time to Visit
If you want to experience the swimming holes with fewer crowds, it’s best to go early in the day in the middle of the week. If you arrive early in the day, you have the best chance of securing parking, as the parking lot occasionally fills up.
Even on long summer days, it’s best to plan to swim at the Garden of Eden before 4 pm, as that’s when the sun dips behind the trees and the area becomes shaded.
Even though the Garden of Eden is still a bit of a “hidden gem,” it occasionally gets crowded. Warm holiday weekends and summer weekends are going to be the busiest times at the Garden of Eden swimming hole.
With that said, the Garden of Eden is still a great place to visit, even when you’re sharing it with others- there are several different swimming holes and spaces to spread out.
As far as seasons go, this is a year-round destination. You can still visit the Garden of Eden in the winter, although the swimming holes will likely be far too cold for swimming. However, it’s still a beautiful trail and peaceful area, even if it’s too cold for a dip in the water.
Mind the Railroad Tracks
While walking from the parking lot to the Garden of Eden, part of the trail is along the railroad. Keep in mind that this is an active railroad. You’ll want to stay clear of the tracks and listen intently for trains coming- they’ll be very loud and easy to hear coming, but you still want to exercise caution.
Additionally, like in many other places in the Santa Cruz redwoods, poison oak can be found along the trail and near the swimming pools. Keep an eye out for those shiny, telltale leaves of three, and take care to avoid the plants touching your skin or clothes.
Look Before You Leap
Most importantly, you’ll want to avoid jumping and diving from the rocks above into the swimming pools. The swimming pools at the Garden of Eden are beautiful, yet very shallow in some spots, with submerged rocks lying just below the surface. To have the best and safest experience at this lovely Santa Cruz park, be sure to enter the water carefully to avoid injury.
Leave Your Pets
Enjoy this Santa Cruz Oasis
If you’re looking for a wonderful day trip to take from your vacation home rental in Santa Cruz, the Garden of Eden is an excellent choice.
The crystal clear waters, lush green surroundings, and tranquil atmosphere make this collection of swimming holes one of the best in the state. So whether you’re seeking a fun hike, a refreshing dip, or a little of everything, you’ll enjoy this beautiful Santa Cruz oasis.