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Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

Loma Prieta Grade Trail
From Porter Picnic Area to Hoffman’s Historic Site is 6 miles round
trip with a 400-foot elevation gain; several longer hikes are possible

One of the largest state parks in Central California, The Forest of Nisene Marks has few facilities, but it is this very lack of development that makes it attractive to anyone looking for a quiet walk in the woods.

The woods, in this case, are second-growth redwoods. The park is on land near Santa Cruz that was clear-cut during a lumber boom lasting from 1883 to 1923.

Loma Prieta Lumber Co. had quite an operation. Using steam engines, oxen, skid roads and even a railway, loggers ventured into nearly every narrow canyon of the Aptos Creek watershed.

After the loggers left Aptos Canyon, the forest began to regenerate. Today, a handsome second generation of redwoods is rising to cover the scarred slopes.

The Marks, a prominent Salinas Valley farm family, purchased the land in the 1950s. In 1963, the three Marks children donated the property to the state in the name of their mother, Nisene Marks. As specified in the deed, the forest must not be developed and the natural process of regeneration must be allowed to continue.

Ferocious winter storms in 1982 and 1983 battered the canyons and ruined part of the park’s trail system, in particular the paths in the upper reaches of Aptos Canyon. Railroad grades and trestles that had withstood a century of storms were washed away. Volunteers and the California Conservation Corps repaired the damage.
Loma Prieta Grade trail travels to the 1920’s logging camp now known as Hoffman's Historic Site. The trail continues on an old railroad grade to Big Tree Gulch. 

Directions to trailhead: From Highway 1 in Aptos, take the State Park Drive exit to Soquel Drive. Turn right (east) and proceed 0.5 mile into Aptos. Turn left on Aptos Creek Road and drive four miles to a locked gate at The Forest of Nisene Marks’ Porter Picnic Area.

The hike: From the picnic area, follow Aptos Creek 0.4 mile to the Loma Prieta Grade trailhead. (An old mill site is a short walk up the road.)

For a short stretch, the trail stays near Aptos Creek. This creek, which rises high on Santa Rosalia Ridge, is joined by the waters of Bridge Creek, then spills into Monterey Bay at Rio Del Mar Beach. Silver salmon and steelhead spawn in the creek.

The old railway bed makes a gentle trail except for a few places where the old bridges have collapsed into steep ravines. Your destination of China Camp, now called Hoffman’s Historic Site, has a few wooden structures.

You can return the same way or take the Ridge Connector Trail over to West Ridge Trail. This latter trail runs south and connects with Aptos Creek near the trailhead. Be warned that Ridge Trail is sometimes crowded by large amounts of poison oak.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at