The Arroyo Seco Gorge River Hike

Our Arroyo Seco Photo Gallery

Arroyo Seco is a full immersion canyoning trip and contrary to its name the arroyo flows all year. It is notable for the longest string of swimming holes that we know of in central California. It is not practical to pass through the gorge without several 50 yard swims through deep crystal clear water midst vertical rock walls.  

The course is segmented into five parts. The upper two parts (Indians- Escondido-trail bridge many photos by another group of canyoneers) are suitable for turning the trek into an overnight trip. The normal day hike can include one or more of the the lower three sections described below:

The standard day course begins at the Arroyo Seco Gorge parking lot / campground. Proceed past the gate and up the dirt road to the entry point of your choice as described below. It is about 3 miles up of easy walking on the road up to the Marble Peak trail bridge. Know that three miles going down the creek feels more like nine! Some people trek up the creek for an extreme work out. Going down is just plain fun.

Upper Day section is the more mundane of the three. It has one large pool with a sandy beach just below the trail bridge and two large rock wall pools just above the confluence with Santa Lucia Creek.

The most spectacular part of the course is the Slot section. Entrance to the Slot section is via the Santa Lucia Creek bed. Just proceed up the dirt road until it crosses a bridge over a small stream, there is only one, then follow the trail on the far left corner down into the creek and then under the bridge. Now walk / swim the stream bed down to the Arroyo Seco. The Slot section contains many deep pools and a long slot canyon that you must swim through. On your way up the road pay close attention for the trail that separates the Slot and Lower sections. It is not marked but very obvious as you come around a big bend. You can see it crossing the slope below you and to the left going down to a large pool. Take note of the cliff that you are standing on. When coming down the slot section you must identify this cliff as the signal that you are at the base of the slope and exit up the unmarked trail. The trail up the slope is generally not visible from the river, just look for where others have walked. Do not try and climb the cliff! (Once we came across some idiots who tried, they were being rescued by the rangers, their gear was strewn down the cliff and the creek.) All the trailettes eventually join and go to the same place. Unless of course you want to do the Lower Run.

The Lower Run is very pleasant with many pools. Near the end of the canyon look for the confluence of Rocky Creek. It is little more than a cleft in the cliff face but just a short distance up it is a 25' water fall and plunge pool that is almost completely hidden. The Lower Run ends at the main Arroyo Seco swimming and picnic grounds. Don't be too anxious to climb out to the parking lot at the gate. The trail is a hundred feet of steep pain. Just enjoy the swim into the picnic grounds. You can't miss this section as it is typically swamped with people, kids and water toys. And you absolutely can't miss the road bridge that is indicated on the campground map below.

Trail Map
(notes: The Willow Creek trail bridge is signed as the Marble Peak Trail and is actually above Willow Creek not below as indicated. Rocky Creek is lower than indicated on the map.)


Interactive Map


The most important thing to keep in mind is that you will be completely immersed in water! 


Socks designed for water are highly recommended.

Poles: Generally poles are mandatory for creek hiking but the Arroyo has such a large swimming and floating component that we will need to test them this summer to find out their efficacy. (update: never tested them, pretty obvious that they would be more of a hindrance than a help)

Pack: Use either an old day pack with a dry bag inside or a dry pack to store food and other materials that need to stay dry.  Note that the pack will float and we often just throw ours in the creek and let it go down on its own. It also makes a nice floatation device in the big pools. The pack is also a good place to keep water bottles, even full, they won't cause it to sink. Use empty nalgene bottles for dry storage of items requiring easy access and for additional flotation.

WARNING:  a pack with a rigid back frame can get you into trouble in a deep pool if you have it on your back!! Take the pack off and float it through the pool.

Fanny Pack: good for carrying a water bottle. You don't really want anything clipped to your belt, hanging around your neck, etc. These things will just get in the way, bang into and catch on rocks and likely come loose if not tightly attached.

Car Keys: be sure and put them inside a ZIPPERED pocket that does not have a hole in it or clip them to an inside clasp hook. Or, inside a ziplock bag inside the dry bag.

Shorts: Just about anything will work but you'll be happiest if you wear synthetic hiking shorts with a lining. If they don't have a lining then wear synthetic underwear. Remember, you have to walk a fair distance in them and you'll be sliding and grinding over boulders that are often covered with moss. (hip pockets sewn to the outside of the short may be ripped off on the rocks, it happened to me)

Shirt: Again, anything will work but we recommend a synthetic T-shirt.

Sun Screen: Water proof sun screen such as Bull Frog.

Glasses: wear a strap to keep them on your head.

Hat: YES  Preferably with a full brim and chin strap.

Floatation Devices: People take everything from inner tubes to kayaks down the Seco. We recommend going as light as possible, just take yourself and your pack. It has occurred to us though that wearing a PFD (life jacket) might be fun. Or,  if you are unsure of your swimming skills  a PFD is a good option.  Wear one that is tight fitting *jacket or vest* style, preferably with large arm openings such that paddlers use. Non-rigid back packs also make excellent floation devices when filled with dry bag / empy water bottles.

Camera: We finally took our cameras inside our dry bags. Be very careful because the liklihood of bag failure is directly proportional to the value of the gear inside! Photos coming soon.

The best choice seems to be a water proof disposable. Regarding other cameras, remember that dry bags often get a few drops of water in them and they will certainly get banged around. Canon digital cameras have water proof cases designed for snorkeling use but they cost a couple hundred dollars. (See the link at the bottom of the page for some good photos of the gorge.)


May through September is the best season. The water is cool but oh so nice when the mercury is sitting around 100°F which is very common during these months. Water flow varies greatly depending on how wet the season was. In May (June  also during El Niņo) be prepared for *possible* extreme water conditions that may make the Slot section untraversable. The early season certainly gives you the wildest ride!  In late summer the water flow is very mellow but the pools remain full.

Current River Conditions

Flow and Water Level at juncture of the Arroyo and Salinas Valley
Water Level at Arroyo Center

Ignore the USGS descriptions of these sites being near Soledad / Greenfield. The sites have a map link that shows the exact location which is represented by the link titles above. Arroyo Center is the old name for the area of the camp and picnic ground described on this page.

Weather Reports

Current Conditions
Last 7 Days

Driving Directions and Campground

From the Bay Area:
101 South to Soledad
Exit on Arroyo Seco Road and go to the right (west). The exit is immediately on the south side of the 101 bridge across the Salinas River in Soledad.
Proceed to the end of the Arroyo Seco Rd (paved). There is a closed gate and parking lot as indicated on BOTH maps.

Camping now requires reservations for the amenitized lower section. The uppermost loop is first come, first serve.

The campground is just before the gate. There are other camps and confusing driveways on your way up the road. If you are unsure, just go to the end, turn around and drive 100 yards back down a small slope. Turn right on the first road going by the campground. There is a large rest room and shower facility just behind the intersection. See the map below. Follow the road, the lower campground loops are just to your left. The road proceeds back and around the lake. Eventually you will get to an intersection with a stop sign. Turn right. A short distance and there will be a Y in the road that goes to two campground loops. Go left to the upper loop. Team SK usually camps in this upper loop.

Friends of the River

Great photos and description of the course from a kayaker's perspective.

Ventana Wilderness Alliance