The idyllic Forest of Nisene Marks rises from sea level to over 2,600 feet at the highest coastal mountain peak. Within the boundaries of the town of Aptos, the main entrance is directly across from the Aptos Village and leads into the park’s 10,223 acres of redwood groves, 30+ miles of trails and a spiritual beauty only Mother Nature could create.
Once the site of a major logging operation that spanned the forty years from 1883 through 1923, the forest of Nisene Marks, specifically Aptos Canyon, was left decimated. Located within the forest, the Loma Prieta Mill was the largest mill in the Santa Cruz Mountains and was finally dismantled in 1924 after it processed 140 million board feet of redwood. A tribute to forest regeneration, all of the redwoods in the park today, with the exception of one old-growth grove, are second and third generation redwoods that reemerged after the clear cutting devastation.
Nisene Marks is named in honor of a Salinas woman who purchased the land in the 1950’s to ensure no future clear cutting or development would occur. In the early 1960s, her children gifted 9,700 acres to California with the caveat that the land must be preserved in its natural state.
Nisene Marks State Park was the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. This location, at coordinates 37.03° North, 121.88° West, is one of the two most popular attractions within the park. The second most visited area is Five Finger Falls, a remote waterfall at the culmination of a 12-mile hike through redwood groves, past derelict remains of logging sites and railroad tracks, over bridges and streams.
Popular among locals as well as those from Silicon Valley & Beyond, Nisene Marks has trails and fire roads perfect for mountain bikers and hikers of all levels. For those looking for an easy hike, Buggy Trail, Aptos Ranch Trail and Waggoner Overlook Trail are between .2 and 3 miles while moderate hikers will enjoy the 7-mile Maple Falls, 4.6-mile Loma Prieta Grade and Old Growth Loop, a 2.2-mile trail that wends its way through an old-growth redwood grove that includes the park’s largest redwood, The Advocate, measuring 250 feet tall and 45 feet in circumference. And for true outdoor adventurers, West Ridge Loop, Sand Point and Five Finger Falls are between 7.5 and 13 miles, with sand Point offering a 1400 elevation gain and a truly stunning view of Santa Cruz County.
Nisene Marks is a favorite among mountain biker. There are four designated hike & bike single-track trails, Aptos Rancho Trail, Split Stuff Trail, Terrace Trail and Vienna Woods Trail. Bikes are also allowed on Aptos Creek Road. Backpacking, picnicking and camping at a remote encampment are also popular activities as are geocaching, self-guided family nature walks and a visit to the Redwood Learning Center.
The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park offers a refreshing respite from the stress of daily life. From highway 1, take either Soquel Drive or State Park exits to Aptos Creek Road. There is a dirt parking area at the entrance. Park hours are sunrise to sunset.