Hikes in Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

Forest of Nisene Marks State Park in Aptos, CA, is very close to Santa Cruz. It is a beautiful park with 40+ miles of hiking trails shaded by redwoods. Two hiking destinations are Maple Falls and Five Finger Falls. These are best visited in Feb-March time frame, a few days after a downpour.

Maple Falls

Maple Falls is a fantastic destination in Forest of Nisene Marks. It is a seasonal waterfall that is quite majestic after heavy or sustained rains in winters. So the best time to visit is December to February, after a thunderstorm.

What is special about any hike to Maple Falls? The last half mile of the hike meanders along Bridge Creek, switching sides almost ten times. Each time the trail switches sides, we have to cross the creek. There are no bridges, so we're bound to get our feet wet! In Jan 2011, after heavy rains, water level was between 6 and 11 inches deep. At a few places, scrambling was necessary. In winters, the hiking trails in Forest of Nisene Marks are gorgeous, making any route to Maple Falls worthwhile.

In March 2014, a group of us actually stood under the waterfall and posed for photos. That was a lot of fun!

8.6 miles
800 ft
The shortest route to Maple Falls, gently sloped throughout.
10.9 miles
1700 ft
A longer route to Maple Falls, going through West Ridge Trail, which is a beautiful single track trail.
10.1 miles
1000 ft
An alternative to Maple Falls, forming a loop through Bridge Creek Trail and Loma Prieta Grade.
13.5 miles
2500 ft
This route starts from Land of Medicine Buddha, a buddhist monastery that lies to the west of Forest of Nisene Marks. There is a 6-mile loop in Land of Medicine Buddha. From the highest point along that loop, there is a 0.2 mile connector trail leading to West Ridge Trail in Forest of Nisene Marks. The overall hike is gorgeous.
Five Finger Falls

Five Finger Falls is not a spectacular waterfall by any means. However, the hike to the falls is spectacular, going through lush green forest in winters. Highly recommended hike for seasoned hikers. In November 2009, Aptos Creek Trail and Big Slide Trail seemed unmaintained, giving us the feeling of being in wilderness.

11.8 miles
1100 ft
The shortest route to Five Finger Falls goes via Aptos Creek Trail. For a few years, this trail was closed due to mudslide. A rope was set up to bypass the mudslide, so adventurous hikers could make it to the falls. In Dec 2012, some visitors reported that the trail has been repaired.
15.5 miles
2200 ft
A longer route to Five Finger Falls that includes Big Slide Trail and a side trip to White's Lagoon.
Maple Falls and Five Finger Falls

In winters, a hike that combines both Five Finger Falls and Maple Falls is going to be long but rewarding. Below are listed various ways to combine these two destinations. All routes are between 18 and 21 miles long, even though visually, they look very different on a map.

18.3 miles
2000 ft
The shortest route to both falls.
21.3 miles
3100 ft
A variation of Route I that approaches Maple Falls from West Ridge Trail.
20.8 miles
3700 ft
A variation of Route III that returns from Five Finger Falls via Big Slide Trail and White's Lagoon.
19.4 miles
3600 ft
A variation of Route VI that approaches Maple Falls via West Ridge Trail instead of Bridge Creek Trail.
20.5 miles
2200 ft
A minor variation of Route I that goes through Loma Prieta instead of Bridge Creek Trail when returning from Maple Falls.
20.4 miles
3000 ft
A variation of Route II that returns from Five Finger Falls via Big Slide Trail and White's Lagoon.
19.6 miles
2600 ft
A route that visits both falls and also goes through Sand Point Overlook.
Sand Point Overlook

Sand Point Overlook lies in the northernmost part of Forest of Nisene Marks. It is reachable via a long fire road called Aptos Creek Fire Road in the east, and by single track hiking trails in the west. So whatever route you pick, half of the hike is going to be along a fire road. The road is pretty, shaded by tall trees.

13.3 miles
1700 ft
Ascent via Loma Preita and West Ridge Trails. Descent by Aptos Creek Fire Road.
14.5 miles
1600 ft
Ascent via Bridge Creek and West Ridge Trail. Descent by Aptos Creek Fire Road.
13.5 miles
2000 ft
Ascent via West Ridge Trail. Descent by Aptos Creek Fire Road.
Hoffman Historic Site

A couple of routes in the western section of the park. These routes do not visit any waterfall and do not go via Sand Point Overlook. However, the trails are pretty awesome in any season.

8.0 miles
1300 ft
A nice hike via West Ridge Trail and Loma Preita Grade.
8.7 miles
900 ft
A pleasant route through Loma Preita Grade and Bridge Creek Trail.
9.5 miles
1500 ft
A shaded route amid redwoods, through West Ridge, Loma Prieta and Bridge Creek Trails.
Sand Point Overlook and Maple Falls

15.9 miles
2100 ft
Nice, long route through Maple Falls and Sand Point Overlook.
20.2 miles
2700 ft
Alternative route.
Sand Point Overlook and Five Finger Falls

16.7 miles
2500 ft
Nice, long route through both Sand Point Overlook and Five Finger Falls.
17.2 miles
2500 ft
Alternative route.
West Ridge and Five Finger Falls

The routes below combine an exploration of the western ridge and Five Finger Falls in the north east.

18.7 miles
2600 ft
A pleasant route through West Ridge and Five Finger Falls.
21.2 miles
3300 ft
Alternative route.
Aptos Rancho Trail

4.5 miles
600 ft
Gorgeous route all along Aptos Creek, with two creek crossings.
6.9 miles
800 ft
A longer route along Aptos Creek with four creek crossings.
Trout Gulch Trail

Trout Gulch Trail is not shown all maps. Trail Map at Signite.Com shows its location near the location called 'Bottom of Incline'. In March 2012, the trail appeared overgrown but sufficiently visible that we were never lost.

6.0 miles
800 ft
The shortest route visiting Trout Gulch Trail.
8.1 miles
800 ft
A route that visits both Trout Gulch Trail and Bottom of Incline.