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Find a Trail

The Forest of Nisene Marks is laced with over 40 miles of scenic trails and fire roads providing a variety of options for hikers, bicyclists and equestrians.  Some trails lead to historic sites tracing railroad logging grades built over 100 years ago.  Others wind through lush creek canyons or up to viewpoints along the mountain ridges.  The trails mirror the landscape and range from easy to strenuous, although most fit in the moderate range.

Lower Trails

  • Aptos Rancho Trail
    • This trail is on property that was once part of the Aptos Rancho land grant awarded to Rafael Castro by the Mexican government in 1833.  Along this route, you will travel through open, sunny areas and the cool, shady Aptos Creek Canyon.
  • Old Growth Loop
    • The Old-Growth Loop Trail travels through an area which many people consider the most beautiful place in the park.  Along this trail, you will see magnificent old-growth redwoods, attractive fern-covered canyon walls along Aptos Creek and a “crazy forest” of unusual redwoods called the Twisted Grove.
  • Waggoner Overlook Trail
    • Starting from the Emmett Reed Picnic Area at the parks entrance station on Aptos Creek road, this 0.1 mile ADA-compliant trail takes you to a shady deck overlooking the picturesque Aptos Creek Canyon.  State Park’s ranger, Gerry Waggoner, who for many years provided visitors with insights into the history and ecology of the park, was a strong influence in the formation and direction of the Advocates for Nisene Marks State Park.
  • Aptos Creek Road/Fire Road
    • The Aptos Creek Road/Fire Road travels through the heart of the park and provides access to most of the trails.  Sections of this road follow old railroad grades built between 1883 and 1912.  It is also possible to reach the Soquel Demonstration State Forest trail system which connects to the fire road 9.4 miles north of the Porter Family Picnic Area.
  • Buggy Trail
    • A leisurely stroll on this easy trail will complement a lazy day at George’s picnic area.
  • Terrace Trail
    • The Terrace Trail takes the visitor through many scenic areas along Aptos Creek.
  • Oak Ridge Trail
    • The Oak Ridge Trail begins by wandering through a mixed evergreen forest then climbs to the top of a ridge and a forest of coast live oak trees as it loops back the the Old-Growth Loop Trail.
  • Vienna Woods Trail
    • While relatively short, the Vienna Woods Trail travels through two of the three vegetation zones in the park: creekside riparian and mixed evergreen.
  • Split Stuff Trail
    • The Split Stuff Trail provides a connection from the entrance station parking lot to the Aptos Rancho Trail and the Old-Growth Loop Trail.  “Split stuff” refers to wood shingles, posts, pickets and grape steaks that were frequently produced in the woods by hand at the site where the tree had fallen.  Many stacks of split stuff were left behind and can be found by the inquisitive hiker in some remote areas of the park.

Mid-Park Trails

  • West Ridge Trail
    • As the name implies, this trail climbs a mountain ridge which it follows to the West Ridge Trail Camp. The hiker is rewarded with good views along the way.
  • Porter Trail
    • This short trail traverses the hillside between the Mary Easton and Porter Family picnic areas.
  • Hoffman’s/Loma Prieta Grade Trail
    • The first section of this popular trail leads to the Porter House site by tracing the railroad grade built in 1883.  From here, the Loma Prieta Grade Trail continues up to Hoffman’s Historic Site, the best preserved logging camp in the park.  From there, it is possible to loop back through the Bridge Creek Historic Site or connect with the West Ridge Trail.
  • Bridge Creek Trail
    • This trail follows sections of the old 30 inch narrow-gauge railroad line (built in 1917) up the creek canyon to the Bridge Creek Historic Site.
  • Mill Pond Trail
    • This short trail connects the fire road with the Loma Prieta Grade Trail.  It crosses Aptos Creek on a bridge through an area once occupied by the Loma Prieta millpond.

Upper Park Trails

  • Aptos Creek Trail
    • This trail crosses the Zayante earthquake fault as it winds through flood ravaged Aptos Creek Canyon, rewarding the hiker with a beautiful creekside setting at Five Finger falls.
  • Big Slide Trail
    • A convenient shortcut from Whites Lagoon to upper Aptos Creek Canyon and the scenic Five Finger Falls area.  This trail also descends one of the steepest ridges in the park dropping 600 feet over a distance of about 1 mile.
  • White’s Lagoon Trail
    • This short trail leads to one of two ponds within the park and to the Big Slide Trailhead.
  • Hinckley Fire Road
    • Open to hikers and bicyclists, the Hinckley Creek watershed is one of the most steep and difficult areas to hike in Santa Cruz County.  From its headwaters at an elevation of 2600 feet along Santa Rosalia Ridge, the creek drops 2200 feet in only four and a half miles.  Its twisting course and nearly verticle canyon walls presented logging operations with so many problems that it took three separate logging operations 18 years to strip Hickley Basin of its redwoods.