Up Then Down in the Redwoods
The Forest of Nisene Marks is a California State Park named after the matriarch of the family that donated the land that became much of the park in the 1960s. The terrain is steep and clothed in a forest of 2nd- and 3rd growth coast redwoods. The trails are wide and well-maintained former logging roads that are the primary remnant of a once-vibrant industry that hauled 140 million board feet of lumber out of the general vicinity. The epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake is in the park, and was the original destination of our hike. However, the interests of time delayed that adventure for another day, and it is assuredly on the short list.
The trailhead is on the east side of Olive Springs road across from a small quarry operation. There is a gate with a Redwood Enterprises (or something) sign warning against trespass, and there is also another gate with no sign about 200' up the road with no sign. The rough dirt roads behind these gates meet about 0.2 mile down and the hike begins. You cross Hinckley Creek right away then continue along the flat canyon bottom under a canopy of riparian trees before crossing a fairly substantial bridge. Evidently there is private property back there, and you'll see evidence soon enough.
This is the Hinckley Basin Fire Road, and it soon begins to climb at a pretty steady clip. The rest of this stretch is a nice climb of 1300' over 3 miles in a forest of redwood and bay. Note the myriad old logging roads that crisscross certain areas, and remember that the 125-150' redwoods you're walking under are only 80-100 years old. These redwoods are mere preschoolers, but their existence is a testament not only to the foresight of the Marks family, but also the tree's ability to survive industrialized logging by growing anew from stumps, roots, and even fallen logs.
You hit the West Ridge Trail Camp and West Ridge Trail about 3 miles in. There are 3-4 usable sites, a 2-star outhouse, trashcan, and a bunch of mosquitoes. Keep going, however, and there are 2 benches about a half-mile ahead that overlook Santa Cruz and the Pacific Ocean. It's truly a magnificent spot, and certainly sublime in the early morning as the sun shines on the coast from the east. You will likely encounter mountain bikers here as this is a 3-way junction where the Hinckley Basin Fire Road ends at the Aptos Creek Fire Road. Aptos Creek comes from the south near the park's headquarters, heads up to this bench, then continues uphill to its end at Eureka Canyon Road. A lot of bikers start at Eureka Canyon Road, and ride (mainly down) to the park HQ, but a lot of bikers ride up to the benches from the HQ and it's easy to tell which bikers came from which direction.
Do the proper thing and knock off 2 miles and and 2 miles back on the Aptos Creek Trail up (north) beyond the benches to reach an interesting area known as Lone Tree Prairie. This name is somewhat of a misnomer considering there's no prairie, but, rather a dense redwood forest on a very steep slope. Getting past the joke that this name is currently, it isn't a stretch to imagine a once-mighty redwood forest reduced to an army of stumps and shrubs. The former darkness of the deep forest may have been replaced by a weedy grassland full of stumps and cows, but the conditions that allows redwoods to survive prompted the growth of new trees from the old. Now the area is a deep forest of "small" redwoods, and perhaps will once again harbor astonishing old growth monsters.
Either that or the person who named the spot didn't know what a prairie is.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.