Forest of Nisene Marks

Just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, right outside the quaint village of Aptos, lies a serene oasis: the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, 10,000 acres of second-growth redwoods and oak groves waiting to be discovered.

by Maria Grusauskas

The park claims 30 miles of maintained trails and roads meandering through semi-wild terrain and climbing from 100 to 2,600 feet. Though horses are prohibited on most of the trails, the park is a paradise for runners, hikers and mountain bikers looking for the thrill of rugged and varied trails, not to mention some of the cleanest air in California. Panoramic views of the Monterey Bay await the most ambitious hikers at Sand Point Overlook.

Three fault lines run through the Forest of Nisene Marks, including the notorious San Andreas fault. In fact, the epicenter of the 6.9-magnitude earthquake that shook Northern California in 1989 and rearranged the forest floor lies a short 1.5-mile walk from the Porter Picnic Area. The cool waters of Bridge and Aptos Creeks trickle into waterfalls in two different locations—Maple Falls on the Bridge Creek Trail and Five Finger Falls on the Aptos Creek Trail. Read more...

PERFECT FOR running, hiking, mountain biking, dog walking.

FINES AND/OR DEMERITS HANDED OUT FOR walking dogs and riding bikes in the wrong place. Dogs and bikes are allowed only on fire roads throughout the park and on single-track trails south of the steel bridge.

YOUR MOM WOULD TELL YOU TO listen for mountain bikers if you’re on foot and call out to pedestrians if you’re on a bike. And as always, dear, dress in layers and watch for poison oak.

CREATURE COMFORTS: Four not fabulous but serviceable restrooms between the entrance and Porter Picnic Area. A pay phone! (It used to work.) Lots and lots of informational kiosks. And the remote West Ridge Trail Camp, for which reservations must be made by calling Sunset State Beach at 831.763.7063. Fires are prohibited.

IF YOU’RE LUCKY YOU’LL stumble onto one of the park’s several albino redwoods or an old-growth tree that escaped the axe. They’re out there.


Old-Growth Loop
1.5 miles; 45 minutes; easy to moderate
Crowds are surprisingly absent from this loop, which meanders past a 260-foot behemoth and a phenomenon dubbed the Twisted Grove.

West Ridge Loop
7.9 miles; 3 hours; moderate to strenuous
A climb to a scenic overlook and visit to an historically seedy site.

Hoffman's Historic Site
3.8 miles; 1.5 hours; moderate
A modestly graded in-and-out to the location of an old logging camp.

Hike to The Loma Prieta Epicenter
6 miles RT; 2-3 hours; moderate
A hike to the epicenter of the 1989 earthquake that flattened downtown Santa Cruz and collapsed the Bay Bridge. With optional trek to Five Fingers Falls.

Big Loop to West Ridge Trail Camp and Five Finger Falls
14 miles (plus 2 if you go to Five Finger Falls); 8 hours or overnight; 1400 feet elevation gain; moderate to strenuous
An excursion through redwood and mixed evergreen forest to a remote backpacking camp in the heart of the park, with a detour to a 35-foot waterfall on the way back.

Exit State Park Drive from Highway 1. Go east on State Park Drive toward Soquel Drive. Turn right on Soquel Drive. Go one mile to Aptos Creek Road. Turn left on Aptos Creek Road (Aptos Center) into the park. Entrance is two miles from Soquel Drive. Map to Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

Aptos Creek Rd, Aptos, CA, 95003. 831.464.5620. Learn more at the official Forest of Nisene Marks State Park website.