When you hike in this 10,000-acre state park, you might believe you’ve entered a hobbit world. Tall redwoods and pristine creeks line many of the 30 miles of trails, which rise from close to sea level up to the mountain peaks at 2,600 feet.
The park bears the name of tree-hugger, nature lover Nisene Marks, whose children donated the former logging operation site to the state in 1963. Forty years of rampant clear-cutting decimated the forest during the Aptos logging era, which ended in the 1920s. But the park stands as living proof that forests can regenerate like gangbusters.
This is a fantastic place to hike, bike, jog, run or ride horses. You can also mountain bike on the fire road, then park it and hike deeper into the forest.
Backpack camping is allowed with advance reservations. Call Sunset State Beach for reservations: (831) 763-7064. The primitive trail camp is six miles from the parking lot. You can also camp at nearby New Brighton or Seacliff state beaches.
Dogs are not allowed on the trails. However, they are allowed on the entrance road and the picnic areas, as long as they leashed (maximum 6-foot).
Amenities: Picnic tables, barbecue pits, pit toilets.
Directions: Exit Hwy 1 at State Park Drive and head east to Soquel Drive. Turn right and go 1 mile to Aptos Creek Road. Turn left on Aptos Creek Road (Aptos Center) into the park.