Historic Loop Trail At The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park
Central Coast

Historic Loop Trail At The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

Enchanting redwood forests, waterfalls, fern-covered canyons, and historic logging sites are just a few of the things that you can experience along the Historic Loop Trail.

The Historic Loop Trail starts deep within a forest and is lesser known than other redwood hikes in the Santa Cruz region. But this hidden gem provides amazing scenery, a bit of solitude, and stunning views of Maple Falls.

Keep reading for details on how to reach the Historic Loop Trail, where to park, and what you can expect if you plan to hike it!

Trail Location & Parking

Historic Loop Trail is located within The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, just a 15-minute drive from Santa Cruz. It costs $8 to visit this State Park for the day.

The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park consists of 30 miles of hiking and biking trails. Aptos Creek Fire Road is the main road that travels through the park and is also the starting point for many of the park’s trails.

The Aptos Creek Fire Road is used by hikers, dogs, and bikers so be on the lookout for oncoming cars and people as you enter the park. We even had a small deer jump in front of our car and run across the road as we were driving.

Parking by Porter Family Picnic Area

The Historic Loop Trailhead starts near the Porter Family Picnic Area. To reach the trailhead you can take Aptos Creek Fire Road all the way to where it ends. There is a large area where you can park your car for the hike.

If you plan to do this trail on the weekend, be sure to arrive early as parking at this State Park is limited and can fill up quickly.

There is a small restroom at the trailhead along with trash cans and benches for resting.  

Location: Porter Family Picnic Area

About The Historic Loop Trail

The Historic Loop is a wonderful day hike that leads to a waterfall, old logging sites, multiple creek crossings, and wooden bridges within The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park.

On the official park map, the Historic Loop hike is listed as 5.6 miles long. After finishing the trail and adding up the distance, we ended up doing around 7.5 miles.

I would classify the Historic Loop hike as moderate due to its length. The terrain along this trail consists of rugged, uneven surfaces with tree roots, rocks, and steep drop-offs.

Map Of Historic Loop Trail:

After parking at the Porter Family Picnic Area, you can check out a map at the trailhead. I also recommend downloading an offline hiking app like Maps.Me that you can reference during the hike. You will need to make a few different turns which can be confusing if you’re not familiar with the area or the trail names.

Although The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park is located just north of Aptos town, there is no reception once you head into the park past the entrance gate.

The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park History

The Historic Loop Trail offers a great mix of scenery and a look into this region’s history. Unfortunately, the original redwoods in this forest were cut between the years 1883 to 1923 as this region was a major hub for logging redwood trees.

Giant redwood tree stump along the Historic Loop

Since then, the redwoods at The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park have grown back sprouting from the tree stumps that can be found all over the park. The trees that we can see today at this park are part of a second and third-growth forest.

Along the Historic Loop you can also visit old logging sites. Although not much is left of them now, it is interesting to learn more about this region’s history.

Bridge Creek Historic Site

Once this forest was home to a logging camp, sawmill, railroad station, hotel, store, and many other buildings. Now what remains is overgrown with bushes and trees as nature claims back the land.

During the hike, you will also come across a sign for the Porter House. This site marks the location of where Warren Porter, the secretary of the Loma Prieta Lumber Company used to live.

Our Hiking Experience

After hiking a few of the shorter trails at The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, we decided to come back the following day and tackle the longer Historic Loop Trail.

Historic Loop Trailhead

From the parking area, go past the gate and follow the wide Aptos Creek Fire Road for 0.2 miles until you reach a junction.

We hiked the Historic Loop Trail clockwise so we took a left turn into the Loma Prieta Grade Trail. Note that bikes & dogs are not allowed on the Loma Prieta Grade Trail beyond this point.

Go left for the Loma Prieta Grade Trail

In 0.8 miles you will reach another junction that leads to a quick detour to the historic Porter House Site. There is a fence marking the location of this old house, but nothing is left of the ruins.

Porter House Site

The next part follows the Loma Prieta Grade through a quiet redwood forest. The trail here is narrow with some steep drop-offs, but nothing too challenging. This section was pretty long and we saw no other people along it on a Monday morning.

After a small creek crossing, we reached a turnoff for Maple Falls. If you have the energy – I highly recommend hiking the additional 0.5 miles to check it out!

The path to Maple Falls travels through a mossy, fern-covered canyon. I was fascinated by how many different types of ferns we saw in this gorge. We even spotted a banana slug slowly making its way up to some plants.

Banana slug along the trail

To reach the waterfall you will need to cross Bridge Creek several times, climb across giant rocks, and up steep cliffs with exposed tree roots.

It may not be possible to do this section in the rainier months as heavy rains can make these creek crossings impossible or even dangerous.

The trail ends at Maple Falls, a towering waterfall rushing down a tall cliff. Even in the dry summer months, it was flowing with a decent amount of water.

Maple Falls

After viewing the waterfall, we headed back to the Maple Falls turnoff. To continue along the Historic Loop follow the narrow path along the Bridge Creek Trail.

This section felt very serene and relaxing with the creek rushing next to us. The creek water also made the air feel a lot cooler during the hot afternoon.

Bridge Creek Trail

Along this path, you will come across the Bridge Creek Historic Site where you can view giant, cut-down redwood trees stacked on top of each other.

In a bit, you will also pass next to a dry waterfall and green moss-covered cliffs.

The Bridge Creek Trail will end and connect with the Loma Prieta Grade Trail again. On the way back we took the Millpond Trail by the Porter House Site over to the Aptos Creek Fire Road to finish up the loop.

We passed another interesting location where the Loma Prieta Sawmill and many other logging buildings used to stand. Now, this site is overgrown with vegetation, berries, and flowers.

Loma Prieta Sawmill Site

The last part of the trail crosses Margaret’s Bridge and connects back with the fire road that we took back to the parking area. Overall, be prepared to spend a good amount of time on this trail to visit Maple Falls and explore various historic logging sites.

Other Visitor Tips

  • It costs $8 to visit The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park for the day. If you plan to return the next day, you will need to pay this fee again.
  • Carry plenty of water. This Historic Loop Trail ended up being much longer than we expected so go prepared with extra water and snacks.
  • I always bring a first aid kit, and a portable phone charger, even on quick day hikes. It’s always best to go prepared!
  • This area is home to mountain lions. Although mountain lion sightings are rare, always be on the lookout for wildlife.
  • Use trekking poles if needed. Overall, this is not a technical trail but some sections can be challenging and trekking poles can help.
  • Dogs are prohibited beyond the gate at the Porter Family Picnic Area so they’re not allowed on the Historic Loop Trail. If you’re looking for dog-friendly trails at The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, check out the:
    • Aptos Creek Fire Road
    • Aptos Rancho Trail
    • Split Stuff Trail
    • Terrace Trail
    • Vienna Woods Trail

Where To Stay Nearby

Looking for a place to stay on your visit? Here are some of our top picks in the area:

Fern River Resort

The Fern River Resort is nestled in a wooded property off Highway 9 that connects many historic logging towns and the surrounding redwood State Parks. All around the Fern River Resort you can enjoy stunning views of towering redwood trees, the San Lorenzo River, and lush, well-kept gardens.

The cabins come equipped with all the comforts of home and are filled with thoughtful touches for a cozy experience. There are several cabin options to choose from at Fern River Resort, for various budgets and traveling group sizes.

Read More: Staying At The Fern River Resort In Felton

Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort

If you’re looking to spend a few days RV camping near Santa Cruz, we’ve got the perfect place for you! The Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort is a great alternative to standard State Park camping that offers amazing amenities for its guests.

Here RV Resort guests can enjoy conveniences like a Clubhouse, firepits, outdoor grills, bathrooms with hot showers, and full hook-up RV sites. Take your pick from standard RV camping sites for $80 a day, or if you’re up for a splurge, the river view sites go for $125 a day. Each of the full hook-up sites includes water, sewer, electric, and cable.

Read More: Review Of Camping At The Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort

Looking for more things to do around the Central Coast? Check out these posts next:

Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I earn a small commission when you book through these links for which I am very thankful!

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