Leo and I were long overdo for a backpacking trip. It always seems hard to get away for a trip during the holidays but we wanted to get a February trip in since a snow trip was not looking like a possibility this year. As I am writing this the Sierras are getting snowed on, finally, but still not enough snow if you want to carve out a kitchen or a snow shelter. I wanted to do something not too far from home, but something new, so I found The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park after some online searching. The few reviews I found of the trail seemed good, but getting details from a ranger proved difficult. I looked at other options in the area as backup plans but could only find Castle Rock. It seems that all of the other trail camps in the area are closed for the season. I left a message for a ranger at 831-763-7064 and a nice ranger called me back on the weekend. She took my information to give to the ranger in charge of the Forest of Nisene Marks SP since I would be parking overnight but reservations are not required. The trip from trailhead to camp was about 6 miles, see map below. The direction to camp is generally up and well covered it second growth redwoods. We had a forecast that included the likelihood of rain that night. (Dave, not just redwoods dripping on us but actual rain.) This is a dry camp with no real water possibilities along the way (except for a creek almost at the start of the trail). We packed in extra water for that evening at camp and the way back out. We both packed too much but you don't want to be short on water 6 miles in either. The trail camp lists 6 spots in the official map/guide but a tree took out site #5 and site #6 is missing (or really hard to find). Tables are provided at each of the 4 sites still remaining with an outhouse and trash can for the camp and trail goers. There is one site right on the outhouse and the others spaced around it. Site #4 is the one furthest away. All sites are sloped slightly but the entire trail camp has great redwood tree cover. Reviews online cited the trail to be overgrown in spots. It is slightly overgrown in spots but I did not see any poison oak (although not the best time of year for it) so not a big deal. The one downside to this trail is that bikes are prohibited from using the trails (signs posted) but many choose to use the trail against the rules. The trail is predominately a narrow single track with many sections steep on both the uphill and downhill side so if a fast moving bike approaches there is no where to safely get out of the way. All the bikes we saw were headed downhill (from the trail camp). Bikes are allowed on the fire road and trails in the demonstration forest to the north so this trail is a cut-through for them that I am sure gives them an adrenaline rush, especially when dodging the hikers using the trails. :-(
We took Leo's red Mazdaratti on this trip as it hadn't been out of the garage in a while. Here is Leo gearing up for the trail ahead. The trailhead was a little difficult to find (partly because I was too busy talking to properly navigate). To get to the trailhead from Santa Cruz travel south on highway 1 to the town of Aptos. Take the State Park Drive exit and take a left so that you are headed north towards Soquel Drive. Take a right on Soquel Drive and after you cross some train tracks look for Aptos Creek Rd and a sign for The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park on the left. It looks more like a driveway, or entrance to shopping center, than a road but you cross over the tracks past a bike shop and head past some homes on your way to the park entrance. There is one hairpin curve before the entrance. We chatted with a ranger at the gate who actually knew less about the trail camp then we did (This was our first time here). He had us read over the rules for the trail camp but did not actually make us fill out anything even after we asked him if we should since the rules we were reading had previous campers information at the bottom of it. Rules were typical: leave no trace, no fires, camp stoves only, no water at camp so bring some, . nothing out of the norm. We were going to ask the ranger more questions but after he showed us how little he knew about the camp we decided that further questions were pointless. We paid our $5 each for the night and another $5 for a map. Decent map for the price. Parking was pretty limited due to the popularity of this trailhead on a Sunday.
So this time of year they have the "winter gate" locked so you have to park at George's Picnic Area. There is a pit toilet but nothing else at this trailhead. We decided to take the most direct route to camp since we were carrying quite a bit of extra weight in our packs so we chose to use the West Ridge Trail. To get there you have to head north on Aptos Creek Road.
Before the locked gate, but after the bridge over Aptos Creek, you come to a payphone. I decided that it was worth taking a picture of this dying breed.
Assuming you don't get engrossed in conversation and end up going too far to the north along the road and find yourself at Mary Easton Picnic Area just to have to turn around and head back, you should see the trailhead on the left after you cross over a small creek. In our defense the sign is off the road some so you could miss it. Notice the sign on the left stating no bikes, dogs, fires or smoking.
The trees along this creek were amazing. Redwoods can re-grow from the stumps of old trees through a process called sprouting. The offspring are genetically identical to the original tree and the usually form a ring around the original trees location. Here you can see that taking place with some erosion underneath.
Here is another shot of a second growth (sprouted) ring of trees. The trail actually goes right though a different ring but it was hard to capture it on film. Some things you just have to experience in person.
The trail continues in a gentle up for the most part. Here is one of the more open sections.
Here is the junction with Ridge Connection Trail. Stay left at this and the next junction if the trail camp is your destination.
The trail is in good condition for the most part. There was this tree that could be worked on at some point this spring to make hiking a little easier.
So this is the next junction with Big Stump Gap Trail. Stay on the West Ridge Trail going towards the Trail Camp and Sand Point Overlook beyond it.
You can see the narrow trail and steep terrain does not lend itself to fast mountain bikes.
Here is some evidence of what the bikes are doing to the trail. The trail is actually so narrow in spots that there are marks on the trees from bike handlebars on the trees that the trail winds it way through.
It was a little overcast that Sunday with rain forecast for that evening so the views were not ideal. You can make out the coastline though in the distance even through the clouds. I imagine on a clear day you could see quite a bit of the coastline.
I think that I will have a bench placed somewhere when I die. It seems like a cool thing to be remembered by .
So the trail is not all redwoods and this shot proves it.
When you reach the Aptos Creek Fire Road take a left as you are almost to camp now.
Here is the Trail Camp. You can see the outhouse in the background. There is one site to the right and one to the left of the outhouse. The other sites are further behind and to the left of the outhouse..
We decided to setup shelter before the rain hit. I suggested bringing the tarp down low on the right side should the wind pick up and blow the rain. As it turns out it made for a low shelter as our heads had to be in the low end that night because of the slope and the wind never really picked up much. It did keep us warm and dry that night though. We didn't worry much about the left side as there was a clump of redwoods blocking any weather on that side. There was evidence that someone was making some primitive shelters out here at some point. Maybe a scout troop?
The table shows all of our gear spread out before we hustled it into our shelter when the rain started. This is a great trip except you have to pack water in and watch out for rule breaking bicyclists. I think Butano SP is slightly better (no water but you could pump some and no bicyclists) but this is even a lesser known destination than Butano so you are likely to have it to yourself. You also have this one open year round while Butano is closed in the winter to camping. More newts at this trail camp but more banana slugs at Butano. Visit both and tell me what you think :-)