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Maple Falls

Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

June 17th, 2000

8.0 miles
915 vertical feet
Total Time: 5:46

Rating: 6/10

Directions:   View Driving Map

Jean, Jenny, Tom, and I hiked in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park.

The park is near Aptos, just south of Santa Cruz. Parking is $3. The road to the Porter Family Picnic Area is a dirt road, and is closed during the winter. On this summer day, though, it was open.

The trail starts off on the Aptos Creek Fire Road, but we shortly turned left onto the Loma Prieta Grade trail. This is an old railroad grade; signs of the old tracks are still visible in the ground. We hiked through the dense forest next to Aptos Creek, and it was hard to believe that loggers go their hands on the area in 1881 (hence the reason for the railroad) and when they left in 1922, there were no trees left. But going there now, you wouldn't know it.

Loma Prieta Grade trail

We passed the Porter House site, which is now just an uninteresting patch of grass. At the intersection with the Bridge Creek Trail we took a wrong turn. I'd wanted to take the Loma Prieta Grade up to Maple Falls, and then the Bridge Creek Trail back. Unfortunately, we took the right fork and we'd end up reversing the loop. I didn't figure this out until we approached Maple Falls, but there wasn't much harm done.

The Bridge Creek Trail goes through redwood forest and alongside the creek, featuring ferns, occasional mushrooms, and lots of banana slugs. We eventually reached the Bridge Creek Historic Site. Again, there's not much to see here. The Loma Prieta Grade trail forks off to the left. We took the trail continuing straight on towards Maple Falls.

On the green map they hand you when you pay for parking, the trail to Maple Falls is clearly marked. That's more than I can say for the actual trail. It crosses the creek dozens of times. While the water level is just a trickle and isn't much danger at this time, it's a big nuisance. The sun was coming out in full force as we slowly worked our way up the narrowing canyon. The trail was completely eradicated in places by trees fallen by winter storms.

At one point we were all about ready to turn around. But I was pretty sure I could hear the falls at this point. So I went ahead, radio in hand, thinking I'd go about 5 minutes and turn around. I took about 5 steps before I saw the falls. I radioed back and made the short remaining hike to the falls, rushing over a 30-foot granite wall at the end of the canyon.

Tom hiked over to meet me at the falls, but Jean and Jenny didn't want to deal with the mosquitoes I mentioned I saw swarming around. The falls aren't all that impressive. A fallen tree leans from the ground and stabs right at the top of the falls, which end up in a small pool at the bottom.

Tom in front of Maple Falls

After a short look at the falls, we turned around. A few other crazy hikers came up as we were leaving. They asked if it was worth it and I said I'd never do this hike again. Misery loves company. The hike back wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, though. The thought of returning the way we came didn't exactly appeal to me, but all the stream crossings seemed much easier this time.

We turned right onto the Loma Prieta Grade and I was glad we did. We climbed up into a beautiful second-growth redwood forest. The trees and the soft reddish ground reminded me of hiking in Sequoia National Park among the sequoias. The trees aren't as big, obviously, but it was just as peaceful. We were the only ones there until we saw an illegal mountain biker come at us from the opposite direction. At least he stopped for us, even though he shouldn't have been on that trail in the first place.

Redwood forest

We continued walking along the trail in peace and quiet until I suddenly heard buzzing and, less than a second later, a sharp pain stabbed at my right calf. I jumped up and screamed and realized I'd just been stung by a bee (or perhaps more likely a wasp or hornet) for the first time. Luckily, I don't appear to be allergic. We applied some Sting-eze to it and that helped a little, though as it wore off I would feel a stab of pain in my right leg every time I took a step. Mosquito bites never bothered me at all, but this was completely different. I kind of limped back the rest of the way to the car. The trekking poles probably helped quite a bit.

We passed Hoffman's Historic Site, which is just a bunch of old broken wooden structures. We started seeing more and more hikers as we approached the parking lot. Eventually, we reached the Aptos Creek Fire Trail again turned right back to the parking lot.

Even with the bee sting and the disappointingly tough hike along the canyon to the tiny falls, I enjoyed most of the second half of the hike. The peaceful forest of redwoods between Hoffman's Historic Site and the Bridge Creek Historic Site is special. Something I might even do again sometime.

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