The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park is a Triumph of the Environment

California - The Forest of Nisene Marks State ParkThe Forest of Nisene Marks State Park is about 10,200 acres (40 square kilometers) of semi-wilderness redwood forest that is suitable for many outdoor activities. It is located four miles north of Aptos, California on Aptos Creek Road. It was logged to the ground between 1883 and 1923, so the forest today is a remarkable example of regeneration. It is part of the coastal range rising from sea level to mountains over 2,600 feet (790 m). It has excellent facilities for hiking, mountain biking, picnicking, horseback riding and running. With advanced registration, it is also open to backpackers for camping.

The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park is a small victory over corporate interest. The Loma Prieta Lumber Company clear-cut the land, and then Nisene Marks bought it from them to find oil. When this proved unfruitful, it was donated to the State of California by her children in 1963. There is evidence of the logging operations with historic lumber mills and trestles still there.

Today, it is beautiful forest ecology, including second generation redwoods, for the general public to enjoy. It was the epicenter of the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989. The most popular attractions are the earthquake epicenter and Five Finger Falls which is on the Aptos Creek Trail. The part of the trail leading to the falls was closed in 2007 due to landslides. However, it is still possible to hike to the falls by a longer route. There are also many landslides near the epicenter.

With 30 miles of hiking trails in The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, mountain biking is limited to the fire trails, and horseback riding is allowed on some fire roads and hiking trails. There is over 20 miles where mountain biking is allowed so there is no need for hikers and mountain bikers to meet. Sand Point Overlook is a popular destination for mountain bikers with a view of the Pacific Ocean. This is considered one of the best views in Santa Cruz County. There are several picnic areas with charcoal grills. Dogs on leashes no longer than 6 feet are only allowed on the fire roads up to the Porter Picnic area.

The main hike starts from the picnic area and follows Aptos Creek for a short while. Aptos Creek and Bridge Creek join and flow into Monterey Bay at Rio Del Mar Beach. During the autumn rains, steelhead and silver salmon spawn in the creek. For a gentler walk, follow the old railway tracks. The destination of Hoffman’s Historic Site still has some old wooden structures. Return to the picnic area the same way or follow the Ridge Connector Trail over to the West Ridge Trail which connects with Aptos Creek. Watch out for the poison oak on this trail.

This state park does not have luxury accommodations. It is for serious outdoors people. There are pit toilets near the picnic areas and the camping sites are primitive. With a 6 mile one-way hike there are 6 campsites which accommodate 6 people each. For camping reservations call 831-763-7073. There is no water available at the campsites. Backpackers must bring in their own water.

There are educational activities for families and school children as well as exhibits of the local history. Call 831-685-6444 for information about the educational aspects. School trips are a good way to teach history and geography because children remember information connected with fun and adventure much better than they remember something learned from a book.

There are lots of little surprises in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park along with the water fall and historical sites. There are wild pigs, black tail deer, banana slugs, coyotes and blue jays and a secret shrine under one of the bridges.

The climate is very changeable from hot to cool in a few hours. It is best to wear layered clothing to be able to adjust to the different temperatures. Due to the rugged terrain, there are currently no wheelchair accessible places in The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park other than the parking areas, restrooms and routes of travel. They are trying to improve this situation. For more information contact

The park has no visitor’s center. Call 831 763 7063 for recorded information about the campsites, hiking trails, mountain biking and educational programs.