Arroyo Seco

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Rating: B

Nudists at Arroyo Seco, between Soledad and Greenfield, walk, wade and swim in what's sometimes called a "full immersion canyoning trip" to get from one end of a dozen swimming holes to the other and past several waterfalls, including one that some naturist groups climb down.Located off Highway 101, the wilderness isn't designated clothing-optional, but some hikers like to remove their tops and bottoms anyway."I hiked and swam for two hours," reports reader Franz Gall. "It's a beautiful place."Being nude is best, says Rob van Glabbeek, "as any clothes you choose to wear will be soaked."Threading through the amazingly clear water, which is as much as 40 feet deep, requires repeated swims of up to 50 yards per time.The canyon walls form 100 foot towers.The bottom line: don't even think about attempting the trek unless you are in top condition.To avoid hassles, don't go nude on weekends, when families tend to be present.

Legal status:

Part of the Ventana Wilderness area of the 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 $7 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, so don't come during or just after the end of the rainy season.

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