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 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!
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.
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.
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.
A variation of Route VI that approaches Maple Falls via West Ridge Trail instead of Bridge Creek Trail.
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.
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.