Spotlight on Parks: The Forest of Nisene Marks

Stand beneath the towering ancient redwoods nestled in the hills beyond the heart of Aptos Village at The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. This lush oasis stretches 10,000 acres across the Santa Cruz Mountain range, maintaining more than 30 miles of recreational trails that support an array of outdoor activities: hiking, running, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Some trails even have views of the Monterey Bay! Stroll amongst the second-growth redwoods, hike through fern-lined canyons, and enjoy a scenic picnic beneath the evergreen canopy. Discover the enchanting beauty and serenity of the redwoods at the Forest of Nisene Marks!

Hikes

With over 30 miles of well-maintained trails, it can be a challenge to know where to start! Many of the trails traverse Aptos Creek, whose gentle gurgling provides a serene soundtrack for any hike. Search for fossilized seashells in the creekbeds along the trail, which provide a unique reminder that the site of this majestic redwood forest used to be under an inland sea. Wander along winding trails that are situated beneath second-growth redwood trees that stand hundreds of feet tall. Whichever trail you choose, there are natural wonders to behold!

Easy – Buggy Trail (1-mile roundtrip)
The fern-lined Buggy Trail is a quick and easy out-and-back trail that runs half a mile each way, connecting with Aptos Creek Road while providing stunning views along the way! What the trail lacks in distance it more than makes up for in beauty: look up to admire the redwood canopy above, stop to check out mushrooms peeking out of fallen logs and the forest’s nutrient-rich soil below, and soak in the lush greenery that surrounds you on the Buggy Trail. Note: This trail isn’t well-marked, so be sure to download a trail map before you enter the park.

Moderate – Old Growth Loop (2 miles roundtrip)
For a moderate trail that is brimming with beauty, venture to the Old-Growth Loop trail, situated next to the park’s entrance station. Cross over the seasonal bridge that traverses Aptos Creek and be sure to take a peek at the moss and fern-covered grotto before you reach the other side. There, visit the Twisted Grove: a rare place where the redwoods bend and curve around each other, creating a distinctive twisting effect! Take a detour to Marcel’s Forest for another amazing view: an old-growth grove. While Nisene lost many of its old-growth redwoods to logging in the late 1800s and early 1900s, there are still a few old-growth evergreens standing alongside their more numerous second- and third-growth descendants in the park. Catch sight of them for yourself along the loop trail at Marcel’s Forest, which is home to the best-preserved old-growth forest in the park! Further along the loop trail is the now-fallen Advocate Tree. Estimated to be 1,000 years old, this towering evergreen once stood at 260 feet. With twisted trees, fern grottos, and the park’s best-preserved old-growth redwoods, there is lots to see along the Old-Growth Loop Trail!

Challenging – Maple Falls (10 miles roundtrip)PLEASE NOTE: THE LAST HALF MILE OF BRIDGE CREEK TRAIL TO MAPLE FALLS IS CLOSED
Weave your way through fern-lined canyons, over fallen logs, and across creek beds on your hike to Maple Falls. Witness the grandeur of the redwoods as you make your way through the verdant landscape, passing by historic logging sites and trekking over railroad tracks. As you approach the falls, ferns carpet the rocky walls of a narrowing canyon while the terrain becomes more challenging to navigate. Those up for the adventure can climb over boulders, crawl under fallen redwoods lodged in the rockwall, and cross over the creekbed several times over. This final effort leads to the great reward of this trail: Maple Falls. With a lush maple canopy overhead, the 30-foot cascade tumbles into a small pool below. This spectacular waterfall is best seen after it rains, and the Maple Falls trail is a must-hike at Nisene Marks!

Note: This trail crosses through the creekbed at several points. Waterproof shoes are recommended.

Dog-Friendly Trails

Bring your four-legged friends along on one of several dog-friendly trails in the park! The main road that runs through the park, Aptos Creek Fire Road, also acts as a trail that serves up epic redwood views and connects to several other dog-friendly trails, like the Split Stuff Trail, Terrace Trail, and Aptos Rancho Trail. There is also the Vienna Woods Trail, which is a quick, 1-mile out-and-back trail that is pup-friendly while providing spectacular scenery. Leashes are required on trails, and please clean up after your four-legged furry friends!

Know Before You Go:

  • There is a $8 vehicle day-use fee that supports the California State Parks.  
  • Cell service is limited in the park. Be sure to download trail maps ahead of time.
  • Bring plenty of water and snacks for your visit.
  • All features and creatures in this park are protected by law and are not to be disturbed or removed.
  • Keep an eye out for poison oak along the trails.
  • The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park has dog-friendly trails, so bring your pup along! Leashes are required, and of course, please clean up after your pooch. 
  • Mountain biking is allowed on Aptos Creek Fire Road as well as on the following trails: Aptos Rancho trail, Split Stuff trail, Terrace trail, and the Vienna Woods trail.
  • Please respect this natural space and keep it natural for years to come. Pack your trash, stay on marked trails, carpool, and leave it better than you found it. 
  • Upon arrival, please check in with the park staff to see if there are any trail closures.

The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park is a jewel in the Santa Cruz Mountains! Just a stone’s throw from Aptos Village, you won’t want to miss this stunning wooded landscape. From a lush fern forest floor to the evergreen canopy hundreds of feet above, with waterfalls, old-growth redwoods, and twisted groves, there is so much to explore in this part of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Forest of Nisene Marks is full of outdoor adventure that you won’t want to miss!