Locals flock to The Forest of Nisene Marks for picnicking, biking, hiking, and running. Some of its 30 miles of trails lead to historic logging sites. Others wind through redwood canyons or up to ridges with sweeping ocean views. The Aptos Creek Trail leads to the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
In the lower part of the park lies Marcel’s Forest. Named for Marcel Pourroy, who spent more than 30 years tending and protecting it, the Pourroy family recently sold this land to Save the Redwoods League to ensure its old-growth redwoods would be protected after Marcel’s death.
Especially in the lower part of the park, the trail network can be complex and hard to follow, so take a map.
If you have an hour, hike along the 1.1-mile-long Old Growth Loop, and enjoy a streamside picnic area, a twisted redwood forest, and the park’s largest tree, the Advocate.
If you have half a day, hike the Loma Prieta Grade Trail. In 2.3 miles, you’ll reach Hoffman’s historic site, the best preserved logging camp in the park. A century ago, an old steam train ran along this gentle uphill route.
If you have a whole day, pedal up Aptos Creek Fire Road to 2,529-foot Santa Rosalia Mountain. Along the way don’t miss the Sand Point overlook, which offers one of the most expansive views in Santa Cruz County.
Trailhead: George’s Picnic Area; 1 mile roundtrip; elevation gain 100 feet.
Stroll on this trail to view second-growth redwood and oak forest. January through March, you might even see fetid adder’s tongue or “slinkpod,” an interesting and foul-smelling lily that blooms among the redwoods.
Aptos Rancho Trail to George’s Picnic Area
Trailhead: parking lot at entrance station; 3 miles roundtrip; mostly level.
From the entrance, take the Split Stuff Trail 0.2 (mostly flat) miles to Aptos Rancho Trail. “Split stuff” refers to hand-cut products such as wood shingles, posts, pickets and grape stakes cut by loggers. From the junction of the Split Stuff and Aptos Rancho trails, you can explore sunny and shady areas along Aptos Creek and connect with many of the other trails in the lower park. If you head up to George’s Picnic Area, you’ll see creekside plant communities, including redwoods, willows, red alders, and maples. This part of the park was once part of the Aptos Ranch, a land grant awarded to Rafael Castro by the Mexican government in 1833.
Waggoner Overlook Trail
Trailhead: Emmett Reed picnic area at entrance station, 0.2 miles roundtrip, mostly flat.
This wheelchair-accessible trail leads to a shady deck overlooking picturesque Aptos Creek. It’s named for former park ranger Gerald “Jerry” Waggoner.
Old Growth Loop
Trailhead: Emmett Reed picnic area at entrance station, 2.2 miles roundtrip, moderate elevation gain.
Follow the trail to the scenic creekside Pourroy Picnic Area. From there, loop around to a moss and fern-covered grotto and a “crazy forest” of twisted trees. In summer look for a large colony of bright orange tiger lilies. Don’t miss a short side trip to The Advocate. At 250 feet tall and 45 feet in circumference, it’s the largest redwood in the park.
*Note: a seasonal bridge aids travel from May through October. From November through April a moderate to difficult stream crossing is required. Elsewhere, the trail is rough and steep in places.
Loma Prieta Grade Trail
Trailhead: Porter picnic area; 4.6 miles roundtrip; elevation gain 350 feet.
From the picnic area, head uphill along the Loma Prieta Grade through a lush forest to Hoffman’s historic site, which once housed 100 loggers and mill workers. As you walk, notice the tracks from the steam train that hauled wood along this route.
Trailhead: Porter Picnic Area; 7 miles roundtrip, elevation gain 300 feet.
Take the Loma Prieta and Bridge Creek trails. Recommended during the drier months, because heavy rains make access difficult and potentially dangerous.
Five Finger Falls
Trailhead: Porter Picnic Area, 13 miles roundtrip, elevation gain 500 feet.
Take Aptos Creek Fire Road and Aptos Creek Trail. Along the way, you’ll pass by the epicenter of the October 17, 1989, Loma Prieta earthquake. Its magnitude was 6.9. Hike recommended during the drier months, because heavy rains make access difficult and potentially dangerous.
Trailhead: Porter Picnic Area; 11.4 miles roundtrip; elevation gain 1,400 feet
Take the Aptos Creek Fire Road 5.7 miles up to the Sand Point overlook bench, which provides one of the best views in Santa Cruz County. Parts of the road follow an old railroad grade that was built between 1883 and 1912.
West Ridge Loop
Trailhead: Mary Easton Picnic Area; 7.5 miles roundtrip, elevation gain 850 feet
Take the Porter Trail to Aptos Creek Fire Road. Then follow the Loma Prieta Grade trail to Hoffman’s Historic site, the tumble-down remains of an old logging camp. Take the Ridge Connection Trail to the West Ridge Trail to return. Stroll up the Aptos Creek Fire Road to the start.