Seco Gorge River Hike
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
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
you come around a big bend. You can see it crossing the slope below you
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
as the signal that you are at the base of the slope and exit up the
trail. The trail up the slope is generally not visible from the river,
look for where others have walked. Do not try and climb the cliff!
we came across some idiots who tried, they were being rescued by the
their gear was strewn down the cliff and the creek.) All the trailettes
join and go to the same place. Unless of course you want to do the
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
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
picnic grounds. Don't be too anxious to climb out to the parking lot at
gate. The trail is a hundred feet of steep pain. Just enjoy the swim
the picnic grounds. You can't miss this section as it is typically
with people, kids and water toys. And you absolutely can't miss the
bridge that is indicated on the campground map below.
(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.)
The most important thing to
keep in mind is that you will be completely immersed in water!
- Old sneakers work well as do aqua sox (with a rubber sole)
that cost $5 at Wal-Mart (a pair of these aqua sox will last about two
trips down the Seco).
- Do not go barefoot or wear sandals, not even Teva sandals. Your
feet will be bashed against many boulders, your toes especially will
- More expensive canyon / river shoes are also available.
- Some shoes (such as the Teva Proton) cost $30 and are far too
thin for the money offering less protection than the aforementioned
aqua sox. This class of shoe is designed for living in a kayak and only
walking on reefs for a short distance.
- Ideally your shoe will have a thick rubber sole, tough rubber toe
rand and partial leather (or similar) uppers. Beware of neoprene upper
material that goes all the way to the sole, this is the part that wears
out on the aqua sox.
- Jay is currently using Salomon and Gorman has Keens.
- One other thought is that most any trail / hiking sneaker will
likely do a superb job. Of course the river will take a toll on
them. So, either use an old pair or just keep searching the bargain
- Fit: In the water, leather will stretch some to increase the
volume of the shoe but not the length. Even more important is that your
foot volume (but not length) will shrink in the cold water. Always
consider the thickness of sock that you will be wearing and the
possibility of customizing your foot bed. A wide range of orthotics and
cushion inserts exist that are great for absorbing excess shoe volume
as well as providing more padding and arch support. Jay is currently
very happy with his Wright Socks.
Socks designed for water are
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
big pools. The pack is also a good place to keep water bottles, even
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
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
*possible* extreme water conditions that may make the Slot section
The early season certainly gives you the wildest ride! In late
the water flow is very mellow but the pools remain full.
Current River Conditions
Water Level at juncture of the Arroyo and Salinas Valley
Water Level at
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.
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.
for the amenitized lower section. The uppermost loop is first come,
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
back and around the lake. Eventually you will get to an intersection
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.
of the River
and description of the course from a kayaker's perspective.