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Aptos Creek Fire Road Nisene Marks State Park
Aptos Creek Fire Road
Length/configuration : 18-mile out-and-back.
Aerobic difficulty : Easy, gentle riding.
Technical difficulty : Pothole-riddled gravel road with cars for the first 2.2 miles.
General Location : About 4 miles south of Santa Cruz.
Elevation Change : Aptos Creek Road leaves Soquel Drive at an elevation of about 200'. In 9 miles it climbs to 1,600' at Sand Point Overlook for a total elevation gain of approximately 1,400'.
Season : The road is open to riding year-round and is ideal from spring through late fall. Spring brings a multitude of wildflowers to the forest, including huckleberry, Western coltsfoot, fat Solomon's seal, gooseberry, thimbleberry, blackberry, and miner's lettuce. During the summer, this trail remains cool in the shade of overhanging trees. The weather often remains dry well into November, but winter rains can make this trail rather muddy. It's best to avoid wet winter rides because of trail erosion.
Services : No facilities are available at the park; all services are found in the town of Aptos or in Santa Cruz, 4 miles north of Aptos on CA 1. For camping, New Brighton State Beach is just one exit north on CA 1. There's also camping in the park at Westridge Trail Camp, but you must have advance reservations; call (408) 335-4598.
Hazards : Be sure to ride single file on the first section of this ride. The road is narrow and has two-way car traffic. Once on the trail, remember to watch for hikers and be sure they know you are behind them before passing. Also, watch for oncoming bike traffic.
Rescue Index : Nisene Marks is well used by runners, walkers, and mountain bikers year-round. You'll often see at least 10 people on this ride, even in the middle of January, so make your way back towards the trailhead for assistance. The nearest phone is at the steel bridge over Aptos Creek.
Land Status : California state park.
Maps : The park puts out a great map with lots of information for $0.50. The park rangers sell it but are not always around. The best way to get this map is to send $0.50 to park headquarters with your request: The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, 101 North Big Trees Park Road, Felton, CA 95018.

This 18-mile out-and-back ride is located just South of Santa Cruz and east of Aptos in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. The trail avoids cars and stays in the park on an old logging road that climbs gradually.

Your destination on this ride is Sand Point Overlook, which affords the best view in the entire park. Looking south, you see Monterey Bay. To the southwest is the town of Santa Cruz. To the west is Ben Lomond Ridge, and to the northwest, the Santa Cruz Mountains. From Sand Point Overlook, it's a lively downhill ride back to the town of Aptos.

Most of the trail runs through second-growth redwood forest. The area once was dominated by majestic redwoods but was thoroughly logged in the early 1900s, leaving only huge stumps that can be seen on both sides of the old road. The forest is now a blend of bigleaf maple, red alder, Douglas fir, tan oak, and redwood. This ride will take you past other traces of the once-busy logging industry. The Loma Prieta Mill site is now just a jumble of beams, which once were the foundation of a large redwood lumber mill. Two miles farther is the Top of the Incline, a structure built by the Molino Timber Company to haul split logs south to Aptos Creek using a steam donkey and narrow-gauge rail cars.

The Forest of Nisene Marks was the first property on the West Coast that the Nature Conservancy helped acquire for public use. In 1963, the Marks children, with assistance from the Nature Conservancy, donated the property to the state of California in memory of their mother, Nisene Marks.

This park also was the epicenter of the powerful October 17,1989, earthquake that toppled the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland. The epicenter is located on the Aptos Creek Trail, which splits off of the Aptos Creek fire road. Bikes are not allowed on this trail, but hide yours in the bushes and hike the half mile to the sign locating the epicenter.

Finding the trail: Going south from Santa Cruz, take CA I to the Seacliff Beach/Aptos exit. Turn left (east) and at the next intersection turn right onto Soquel Drive. You can start your ride here or continue driving a half mile to Aptos Creek Road. Turn left onto Aptos Creek Road and park in the turnout on the right, just past the railroad tracks.

Notes on the trail: The trail follows Aptos Creek Road, an old logging railroad grade that makes for easy, gentle riding. The roughest section is the first 2.2 miles, where you share the pothole-riddled gravel road with cars. At the gate, the rough gravel gives way to a smooth bed of redwood and pine needles all the way to Sand Point Overlook.

View: Trail Map

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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