Arroyo Seco

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Rating: B

Although Arroyo Seco means "dry canyon" in Spanish, there's nothing dry about the hike that some naturists take to visit some of the county's best swimming holes between Soledad and Greenfield, off Highway 101. But you need to be in top physical condition to make the trek. Nudists walk, wade and swim to get from one end of a dozen swimming holes to the other and past several waterfalls, including one that some naturist groups occasionally climb down. The water is up to 40 feet deep, and the canyon walls form 100 foot towers. Being nude is "the recommended attire, as any clothes you choose to wear will be soaked," says Rob van Glabbeek. "I hiked and swam for two hours," reports reader Franz Gall. "It's a beautiful place." But don't visit during or just after the end of the rainy season or you may find the whole area under water. And to avoid hassles in this part of the Ventana Wilderness, don't go nude on weekends, when families tend to be present.

Part of Los Padres National Forest.

How to find it:

From Salinas, take Highway 101 south past Soledad to Arroyo Seco Road. Follow Arroyo Seco west to the U.S. Forest Service campground in Arroyo Seco Canyon. The entrance fee is $5 a car. "A lot of picnic people are at the entrance of the canyon," says Gall. "But you won't see them after 10 minutes of walking. Go through the picnic area right along the river. There aren't any signs or maps. You can walk for about an hour until you come to a point where you have to start swimming every 10 minutes. The water's crystal clear. The stones aren't covered with anything slippery, so it's a really easy hike. But you should use sneakers."

The beach:

See above for description. Along the lower stretches of the canyon, you will have your pick of numerous pools.

The crowd:

Arroyo Seco's lower four miles of swimming holes are visited by only a few hardy hikers during the week. On weekends, clothed users take over.

Problems:

Users must swim and hike and be in good physical shape; mornings often cool; lack of precise directions; no easy way out in emergency; entrance fee; after heavy rains the river covers access.

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