The Green River Gorge Swimming Hole is the classic "locals" spot that is little known by outsiders. From its unmarked trailhead (find the red gate on the north side of Enumclaw Franklin Road SE) it is a short walk down an old road and then a primitive trail down to the Green River.
The trail starts on a wide grass footpath that leads through the forest and then along a chain link fence on the right. The fence is to protect city of Black Diamond’s water supply, which consists of three underground springs. On the other side, watch for a trail that shoots off to the left. This undocumented trail meanders along the upper rim of the gorge and eventually connects, via an old road, to the Icy Creek Trail.
Continue past the chain link and stay on the trail to the right past the clearing. The trail continues downward and is muddy in some places during the wet months. Toward the bottom, the trail gets significantly steeper as it descends along the sloping ridge. Before it reaches a flat area on the left, the trail is steep, and exposed clay can be slippery. Still, the trail is navigable with care and a good pair of shoes or hiking boots.
The flat area to the left offers views downstream and across the river where a large sandstone cliff curves away from the river. People have used this as an unofficial campsite in the past, but camping is not allowed by Washington State Parks on this site.
The trail descends to a flat area through a short section of forest of cedar, western hemlock and Douglas fir. As you walk toward the river you get a glimpse of a cliff beyond the forest that hovers like a white backdrop behind the towering trees.
The trail opens up to a beach that grows and shrinks depending on the river level. Across from the beach is a 150-foot sandstone cliff at the sharp bend in the jade green river. Hanging Gardens is was so aptly named by Wolf Bauer because of the native vegetation perched along the edges of eroding sandstone. Small cedars along with other smaller native plants cling to their narrow purchase.
This spot in the Green River Gorge is great any time of year! The orange, yellow, and red colors of autumn contrast with the white cliff wall and the jade green of the river. In the winter, high water fills the channel and the whitewater riffles become waves that attract whitewater boaters. If you are lucky, you may even see a kayaker or two braving the winter chill to kayak one of Washington's top whitewater runs. In the spring, new green leaves pop as alder, vine maple and giant maple leaves create a new canopy. Western sword and fiddlehead ferns unfurl and fill in the space between salal and Oregon grape. In the late summer the towering wall and thick native forest create a private, deep pool that is ideal for taking a dip and cooling off. In the warm evenings, the air will be filled with sparrows that have emerged from their hiding places nestled in the cliff walls. They dart like agile aviators as they catch insects for an evening meal.
The best time to swim in the gorge is in July and August when the river levels are generally low enough to swim. The best days are the really hot ones! To experience the best views of the gorge, head 2 miles further northeast on Enumclaw Franklin Road Southeast all the way to the Bridge Overlook at the Green River Gorge Resort, where numerous creeks cascade into the 300-foot deep canyon.
For more about the Green River Gorge visit: www.greenrivergorgegreenway.org