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The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park: Day Hike
My goal is to hike once every week, and this weekend we decided to visit the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park in Aptos, which is about 15 minutes from us.
We visited this park as a practice hike for Pacific Crest Trail in January 2017, and we visited with friends two years ago. Therefore it was time to visit Again. It just opened last week, and California State Parks didn’t make the official announcement until last Monday.
“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.
The park is a maze of ridges, canyons and creeks. Names such as Big Slide, the Epicenter, the Mill Site, and Big Stump Gulch offer a hint of the floods, earthquakes, and logging that shape and reshape the rugged landscape.
Three earthquake faults influence the park’s geology. The San Gregorio Fault runs slightly southeast of park boundaries. The Zayante Fault crosses the park’s Aptos Creek Canyon while the San Andreas Fault, extending nearly the entire length of the state, parallels the park’s northeastern border below Santa Rosalia Ridge. The San Andreas Fault’s devastating 6.9 magnitude earthquake caused upheaval throughout Northern California in 1989. That quake was named after Loma Prieta (“dark hill”), the mountain near the quake’s epicenter in the park.
The park’s sedimentary sandstones were laid down 3 to 5 million years ago when this area was covered by a shallow inland sea. Fossilized seashells can be spotted, especially in exposed creekbeds where Aptos and Bridge creeks continue to carve their way to the sea.”
The night before our hike, I downloaded the map to my phone and tried to plan it from our desktop. The map was difficult to read therefore I created my own map on Google Maps.
I created various routes and going to Maple Falls seemed like the best destination since it was 8 miles back and forth. I created other longer routes so we didn’t have to go the same route back, which was 9-11 miles long. Another was 12 and one was 21, which will be saved for later.
Turns out I made a mistake because technically parking started much earlier, two miles earlier. It added another 4 miles round trip. If you parked outside the park, it tacks on another one mile, which is another 6 miles.
Since parking is “very limited”, which is vague on the website, we planned to get up at 5:30am and arrived at 6:30am. For that exact reason, we had to pack the night before that includes prepping coffee because there is no way I can function and pack around 5 am. Best to pack the night before.
300+ ft elevation
2 Liters Total
1.5 Reservoir/Camelback 20oz water bottle
Honey Stinger caffeine gel
10 parking spots
Arrive at 6:30am.
Water for Hiking Mileage Ratio
5 miles = 1 liter minimal
2 hours = 1 liter minimal
Goal Hike: 10 Miles, 300+elevation, 3-4 hours
2 Liters of Water
Hot Hikes: Water to Hiking Mileage Ratio:
5 miles = 1 Liter of Regular Water;
1 Liter of Water with Electrolytes, preferably Nuun Sport maybe with Caffeine for a mid-hike energy boost.
We were hesitant about the arrival time because of the vague, limited parking wording, and Memorial Day weekend. We planned to arrive precisely at 6:30 am.
It worked out like a charm. There were only three other cars in this 12-car parking lot. There was no one at the booth, and there was no paperwork to fill out to pay in cash. We looked around and decided to leave a note and hiked. Usually, you could continue to drive into the park, and there are other parking spots. However, it is severely limited parking, ten parking spots.
I plotted the google maps, and parking this distance is two miles further out from the Porter Picnic Area, and it’s one mile more far out. On the website, it states, going to Maple Falls is a 7-mile loop. Therefore it automatically tacked on 4 miles (roundtrip), and if you get there late, it will be a 13-mile hike!
Plan to go out one direction for a set time and walk back. If you have a GPS or GPS app such as strava, set a goal distance.
If you park outside the park, getting to the starting point “Porter Picnic Park,” it would make it a 6-mile roundtrip hike.
We got so lucky to get parking and to cut out two miles. We would still do the hike if it were a 13 miler, but we are advanced & prepared hikers.
We started taking the fire road since it was the only thing we could access. We crossed over to the nearby trail to the left of us as soon as possible. More than likely, it adds on mileage, and it changes up the scenery.
Pro: Overall, it’s a beautiful section outside of the first road.
Con: It’s narrow, and if you decide to hike after 8 am, you will be crossing paths with several people with a small distance. Thus, I would recommend hiking the fire road instead, especially now since everyone is flocking to the parks.
We continue hiking on until the trail met the fire road, which is where you hit the steel bridge. We’re back on the fire road.
You continue hiking on, and you will pass the second parking lot, which is closed. You continue and pass the Winter gate. It’s a beautiful view and minimal elevation gain.
On the first junction, we took a left onto the Loma Prieta Grade.
We crossed over the Bridge Creek Trail.
Don’t let the map fool you. It seems like a short hike to Maple Falls, but there is much weaving in and out. We looked at our GPS, and it said we hiked 5.0 miles. We both decided we wanted to hike-on since we initially agreed on 10 miles, not 12 miles. We were both prepared (food, water, mentally), and we had our mindset to hike towards a destination.
As soon as you hit the Bridge Creek Trail, the last mile takes a good 30-45 minutes. When we were at .5 miles left, it felt like the longest .5 miles of my life, when we had hit junction that stated we had .5 miles. But it was all worth it.
Important Note:: the trails are narrower, and you cross the creek several times (left, right). Additionally, there is some minor rock climbing, log crossing, and more. It will probably require 4-point contact for a few occasions. I’d recommend trekking poles if you have them.
We arrived at Maple Falls, and no one was around. Perfect. We ate our sandwiches. Drank our Nuun with Caffeine to hydrate us and gives us a jolt for the hike back.
After finishing lunch, a hiker we had spotted arrived. We left, and on our way out, we spotted three other girls. It was perfect timing because we were finished with the rock climbing, and awkwardness if we had passed more groups.
Of course, hiking back is much more comfortable and more relaxed. We were quickly on our way back the same way we came back in. We didn’t want to take the chances of taking an alternate route and hiking longer.
We saw more and more people arriving. Several didn’t have water or had 16oz. I had no idea how they are doing it. More than likely, they didn’t know how far out they were walking.
When we hit the Porter Family Picnic area, we took the fire road back. It was a long walk and not as adventurous as the trail we took, but it had plenty of space to get around people since, at that point, it was at 10 am = everyone is hiking around.
We looked at the trail to our right, and it was packed. People had difficulty going both directions, which is why we recommend going early or planning to go one direction and walk back.
I didn’t take any more photos afterward because I was tired and felt like I captured enough pictures, which was fantastic. Excellent hike accomplished and so glad we came early. Unfortunately, we would have to arrive early for all hikes during this pandemic.
REMINDER: LEAVE NO TRACE BEHIND
Lastly, please remember to leave LEAVE NO TRACE BEHIND and leave it better than you found it. Pack your trash. You brought it in, and you can take it out and properly dispose of it.