A Foray Into the Forest of Nisene Marks

The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park may just have become my favorite park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Even though we have lived in the area for 5 years, for some reason we have not yet visited the park. That is until this past weekend when we did an 8.5 mile hike there.

Forest of Nisene Marks State Park; california; flowers; santa cruz Watch out for poison oak, growing everywhere.

Watch out for poison oak, growing everywhere.

We started by approaching from the North on Eureka Canyon Road. The drive up to the park itself was very scenic over narrow, winding roads in poor repair; just the way I like them. Turning West onto Buzzard Lagoon Road we drove a little bit up this unpaved fire road following a group of mountain bikers and pulled over to begin our hike.

Shortly after the road curved to the South, we made a turn to the West onto Aptos Creek Fire Road and followed it to our turnaround point. Even though this was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, there were no other hikers on the road. There were a number of mountain bikers, but all of them were very respectful of us hiking, slowing down as they approached, and making sure we knew of their presence.

Forest of Nisene Marks State Park; california; santa cruz Great view of the Monterey Bay coast.

Great view of the Monterey Bay coast.

As we hiked along the road we noticed many paths leading off to the sides and turned off onto one we were sure would lead to Santa Rosalia Mountain summit, which it did. With no marker, I’m not sure we stood on the 2,529 foot summit, but we came close enough.

Forest of Nisene Marks State Park; california; santa cruz Ready for some pull-ups? The branch split then re-joined. Quite cool.

Ready for some pull-ups? The branch split then re-joined. Quite cool.

At this point, the road which to this point gained elevation, now began its descent. We continued on for a bit longer until we finally decided to turn off onto another one of these side paths to see if we could get a good view of the coast. The path was in fact a singletrack meant for mountain biking, though no bikers were utilizing it. They were all using the road. The trail would have made for some technical biking with many jumps and other features strewn throughout.

The singletrack made for more attractive hiking, winding through the forest, offering views of not only the coast, but also of Santa Rosalia Mountain itself. After a lunch stop, we turned around and followed the singletrack until it met back with the road.

Forest of Nisene Marks State Park; california; santa cruz; trees Manzanitas are one of our favorite trees, largely because of their intriguing bark.

Manzanitas are one of our favorite trees, largely because of their intriguing bark.

As we approached the car we came very close to a barrage of Airsoft pellets and flying debris. A group was playing a war game, dressed head to toe in camouflage, in the trees right next to the road. Unlike them, we were not wearing full face masks and protective clothing, so were a bit worried about getting hit (the pellets will leave welts and take an eye out).

Despite finding ourselves in the midst of a war-zone during the last leg of our hike, we certainly enjoyed the scenic, quiet, and uncrowded trails. Can’t wait to get back and check out some of the historic sites in the Southern portion of the park, though I’m certain we won’t find the same solitude we found along Aptos Creek Fire Road.

For more state park adventure, visit our California State Park Guide.

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