When not out trapping pigs, Daniel McGlynn writes about science and the environment. His work appears in local, regional, and national publications.This story is part of a series exploring significant natural habitats and resources of the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD), many of which are encountered in other parts of the Bay Area as well. The series is sponsored by EBRPD, which manages 65 parks, reserves, and trails covering more than 100,000 acres in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
If you’re craving an adventure close to home, Forest of Nisene Marks State Park should be high on your list. Spanning a handful of ridges in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the park boasts 30 miles of trails on 10,000 acres.
But bring your map. The trail system–a mix of fire roads, old logging roads, and single-track–winds through the forest with minimal markings, giving a feel somewhat like the expansive public lands of the Sierra Nevada. Among the popular destinations are two waterfalls (Five Finger and Maple) and the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake (marked by a sign on the Aptos Creek Trail).
The area was clear-cut between 1883 and 1923. Now, the land reads like a story of that era. A few giants remain, but many second-growth redwoods grow right out of ancient stumps. The Marks family, including mother Nisene, acquired the land after it was logged and donated it to the state in 1963.
The park is well known and well used by mountain bikers, but also offers hiking-only trails. With panoramic views, room to roam, and even a backpacking camp, the park’s possibilities for wilderness exploration make it well worth the trip.
Getting there: There are two ways to access the park. Either take Summit Road off Highway 17 and enter from Buzzard Lagoon Road, or go to the main entrance four miles up Aptos Creek Road in Aptos. The Earthquake Epicenter hike starts from Aptos Creek Road.
Hike by Daniel McGlynn, originally published in the July 2009 issue of Bay Nature magazine