Arroyo not-so Seco near Soledad

 

 
Stretch: Willow Creek to Arroyo Center bridge
Difficulty: Class IV, class V- above 600 cfs (demo)
Distance: 3 hiking and 4 river miles, 1 day
Flows: kayaks 200 - 600 cfs, IK minimum 150
Gauge: unreliable stage at takeout (USGS) or flow downstream (USGS).
Gradient: 50 fpm average
Put-in: Willow Creek pack bridge, 500'
Take-out: Arroyo Center picnic area, 300'
Shuttle: short uphill walk
Maps: USFS Ventana NF, AAA Monterey Bay Region, Topo
Season: November to June, depending on rain and snowmelt
Agency: USFS
Notes: © 1998-2017 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo

This is one of the most scenic class IV runs in California, although it was never described in any printed guidebook. You must carry your boat about three miles up an old dirt road (gated to minimize 4WD damage): a little bit up, a little bit down. The hike is pleasant, especially in November when autumn leaves create scintillating views of the Ventana Wilderness. You are amply rewarded with 2 miles of fun rapids in a narrow brushless gorge, then 2 more miles of boulder bar rapids in a deep canyon. Compared to this, the two lower runs described in Schwind's classic book are hardly worth the drive from population centers.

This run does not require a vehicle shuttle! Water quality is excellent, even after recent rain. The gorge section is runnable down to 125 cfs or below, but the boulder bar rapids are more navigable above 150 cfs. As flows approach 500 cfs one rapid becomes class V, and pools disappear between other rapids, as you can see in these pictures.

Volume flows (cfs) are available on a USGS website downstream, although this flow now seems somewhat reduced early-season by vineyard irrigation. Stage levels (feet) are available from a gauge at take-out, supposedly near Greenfield. Unfortunately the gauge pool has a muddy bottom and changes from year to year. In 2012 the minimum recommended stage was about 7.6 feet for IKs, and about 7.8 for hardshells (optimum 8.0 to 8.2). In 2017 floods the gauge pool radically changed, and now the dividing line between class IV and V is between 5.0 and 5.5 feet! Every year, be sure to compare the downstream gauge for sanity. At high flows it might be advistable to start on Santa Lucia Creek to avoid the high-water class V rapid.

To start your trip, drive to the locked gate, and carry boats about 2.5 miles (slightly uphill and then down) to a bridge across Santa Lucia Creek. This is an alternate put-in, although the quarter mile of bump and grind on Santa Lucia Creek to the confluence is probably harder than the extra .5 mile boat carry, except at higher flows. Continue uphill on the dirt road to a trail junction, where there are excellent views southward up Arroyo Seco canyon. Turn right and descend to the Willow Creek pack bridge.

On the hike we have seen hand-size tarantulas and cougar or big-bobcat tracks. Here are some good pictures of a November 2002 trip, including tarantula!

If you arrive to find more water than you expected, as we did once (700 cfs after overnight rain), you can carry your boat up the road about 1.5 miles, where the road curves left around a less-steep area. There is a good trail down to the Seco just before the road curves right, climbs, then descends to Santa Lucia Creek. Even the class III section stomps at high flows! You probably will want to continue down to Miller's Lodge, a section containing brushy class II with one III.

mile 0
Put in below the pack bridge on river left. If you have time, there is a nice trail up Willow Creek, and a trail or upstream hike to the Zen Center at Tassajara Hot Springs.
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Canyon from the hike-in road  Idyllic pool with sandy beach
.1
Willow Creek comes in on the left, just above a class II boulder bar rapid followed by a long class III slalom.
.3
Two major rapids in quick succession. The first is class IV- at low water but gets easier at higher flows. At low flows the second is class IV with an undercut left wall; easy portage on the right. At higher flows this rapid becomes a recirculating class V monster. If you run it at high flows, be prepared with throwbags.
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This one has a flip rock underwater  Moderate undercut on the left side
.6
Confluence with Santa Lucia Creek amidst a class III rapid.
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Wrap rock below Santa Lucia Creek  That rapid and next one from above
.7
The canyon narrows and deepens. Brush is never a problem, but you should scout all rapids to ensure they are not log-choked.
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Steep sliding falls  Staircase drop into narrows
1.1
Narrow passage up against the wall, with what looks like an alternative slot on river right, actually rock-choked at low flows. At high flows, the alternative slot on river right glasses over and becomes the route of choice.
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Too Tight for wide boats   Falls above Photo rock
1.5
Mucho Cojones, class IV+, easier at higher flows
An 8 foot falls with an undercut chamber on the far right side. A nasty rock used to lurk at the bottom of the falls, but it moved during the winter of 2006, so this is no longer a class V rapid. The undercut right wall creates an ugly backwash, but as flows increase it is easier to cheat left. Below, the creek flows thru a narrow zig-zag rock cleft into a deep pool.
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Best to run this on river left  Just below Mucho Cojones exit
1.6
The Pit, end of class IV canyon. Remaining rapids are class II-III boulder bar affairs that require sharp maneuvering at low flows. At high flows hydraulics can get surprisingly strong.
3
Hidden below a steep class III created by a large rock outcropping, a sidestream on the left creates a spectacular 10 meter waterfalls into a plunge pool.
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Mandatory 50 meter side hike  Big Rock in Middle rapid
3.5
A steep boulder-choked drop with a big rock in the middle below. The best low-water route is a ski jump above and left of the big rock, second channel from left, between a willow clump and a guard boulder. At higher flows more routes become available on the right side, but be careful of an undercut rock extending from the right bank.
4
Arroyo Seco picnic area on right bank. Rest rooms. If you have a second car, this makes a good parking area.
4.1
You might want to run the rapid (right side) under the Arroyo Center bridge and take out on a rocky beach to the left below.
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Gravel beach at picnic area  Rapid under road bridge

If you have time for the lower runs, note that there is a brushy rapid with (exciting!) 1 meter waterfall against a sandstone cliff (Camel Rock) at a sharp right turn about a mile below the Arroyo Center bridge. There are two potentially lethal low-water crossings, one shortly below the Arroyo Center bridge, and another near Miller's Lodge. Shortly past Miller's Lodge there is a good free take-out where the road comes near river level near a rockslide; be sure to choose the left channel after the low-water crossing, or you might miss this spot. Below here, Schwind sez that brush hazards ease after a time, as does the overall gradient. Then about a mile before take-out at the G16 bridge, brush hazards increase again (1974). The canyon is less scenic downstream.

Shuttle Directions

To reach take-out: From the south on US 101 at Greenfield (north of King City) take G16 west 5.7 miles to Arroyo Seco bridge, take-out for lower 9.5 mile Schwind run. From the north on US 101 at Soledad, just after crossing the Salinas River, take G17 southwest 9.3 miles. G16 and G17 intersect on the south bank near Schwind's take-out bridge. Continue west for approximately 7 miles. Where G16 bears right uphill to Carmel, stay left on Arroyo Seco Road. Miller's Lodge, recommended take-out for the upper 5 mile Schwind run, is a short distance ahead. Continue 4 more miles uphill to the USFS camp and picnic grounds at Arroyo Center. There is a $7 entrance fee (2012).

To reach put-in: Drive your vehicle as far uphill as possible past the west campground, to a locked gate. At the end of the day, walk uphill to retrieve your vehicle. Hot showers are available at the nearby campsite for a small fee.

 

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