The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park (north of Aptos, in the Santa Cruz Mountains)

OTE Ratings: O8/T6/E8
Distance: 10-25 miles
Time: 2-6 hours



Starts with some fun singletrack, then a long climb (2300' gain) on moderately boring but pretty dirt road. This ride stays in the forest (mostly Redwoods, mixed with Madrone, Tanbark Oak, and Douglas Fir) almost all of the way, except for a couple of wonderful views of Monterey Bay. An option at the top (see the Soquel Demonstration Forest writeup) has (had?) some challenging and rocky but very fun (O8/T9/E6) singletrack.

Directions to the start

(N 36° 58' 44", W 121° 54' 23")
Take Highway 1 to Aptos, 5 miles east of Santa Cruz. (Some people think of this as being "south" of Santa Cruz.) Take the Seacliff exit, go north toward the mountains, and turn right at the first light, onto Soquel Drive. After about 200 yards, turn left at the light onto Aptos Rancho Road, a short dead-end street. Park along the street there; the trail starts at the end of the street. [Note: this is not the "main entrance" into the park, which puts you onto dirt road right away, and avoids some of the fun singletrack at the start.] [Another Note: As of this summer (93), Aptos Rancho Road now has "No Parking" signs plastered all along it. I park up on Seacliff or in one of the nearby bank parking lots now.]

The ride

At the end of Aptos Rancho Road, go down a steep, rutted trail, then some rolling singletrack, a creek crossing (Aptos Creek), and up the other side until you get to a T -- go left. There are many opportunities along here to turn right and go up to the road (that would be the main road into the Park -- Aptos Creek Road); however, you can stay on singletrack just about all the way to "the steel bridge" -- at some point, you must go up to the road, turn left onto it, and (sometime soon) cross the steel bridge.

An option here is a 90 degree left turn -- its exact location is hard to specify, but it leads to a crossing back over the creek, and some real nice forest singletrack. Some confusing trails head off to the left up the hill, but the correct one leads eventually back to the creek, crosses it again, and goes on up to the steel bridge.

Past the bridge, you stay on the road, pass the uppermost car-parking area, pass a gate, and go on up "the Incline" (600' of climbing in 1/3 of a mile), then a mellower climb, up to "Sand Point Overlook" (1600' elevation). Here, you have 3 choices ... turn around and go home, go down Hinkley Ridge trail, or go on up to Santa Rosalia Mountain.

Hinkley takes you down a fun dirt road (watch out for the water bars across the road!), past 3 or 4 stream crossings (Soquel Creek), out to Olive Springs Road (turn left onto it). From here you have either a fairly flat, 6-mile road ride to return to your car (take Olive Springs down to Soquel- San Jose Road, turn left onto it, and then turn left at the light at Soquel Drive), or you could go back up Hinkley road.

In case you go on up from Sand Point Overlook: some people call the road above Sand Point Overlook "The Ladder" or "The Steps" -- it gets steep, then flatter, then steep, and so on. At 2.4 miles above Sand Point, look for the short singletrack on the right. It goes out about 150', to a spot with a wonderful view of Monterey Bay & Salinas Valley. There's a couple of welcome downhills just before the top; at the top ("Santa Rosalia Mountain Overlook" -- 2500' elevation) there is another nice view out over the Monterey Bay.

At the top, you're near the northern edge of Nisene Marks Park; it adjoins the "Soquel Demonstration Forest" here. There are several options for how to proceed from here (see the Soquel Demonstration Forest writeup). Usually, I just feel like heading back down the hill.

©1995-2015 Doug Landauer


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