CENTRAL COAST DOG WALKS
The Old Growth Loop at Nisene Marks State Park
by Whitney Wilde
GiGi, my Belgian Malinois, is impatiently bouncing up and down, more than a little enthusiastic to hike the Old Growth Loop with her puppy friends in Woofers & Walkers (a collective of dogs and their people). We are going to a magical forest filled with fern grottos, fairy rings, a twisted grove, goosepen trees, a thousand-year-old redwood, a Smiley Face Stump, an ever-changing array of seasonal flowers, and a gazillion new smells for canine noses to enjoy. It’s not the easiest walk, full of steep climbs and gentle slopes, but every effort is rewarded with another amazing view of nature. Dogs are allowed on this trail and must be on a leash no longer than six feet.
We enter Nisene Marks State Park a sneaky back way that only the locals know… at the end of Aptos Rancho Road, across from Safeway in Aptos, California. This is NOT the main entrance to the park and this entrance is free. The trail snakes along through second- and third-growth redwoods. We gently pick our way atop stones across a creek to continue on the trail until we come to the trail marker pointing us to the Old Growth Loop on the left.
The trail drops down and comes to Aptos Creek. Seasonally, there is a bridge here, but today the bridge is gone in preparation for winter storms. Again, we pick our way across the creek, stepping on smooth river stones using newly found sticks to help us keep our balance. Our dogs happily dance across, splashing in the water and wondering what is taking the silly humans so long. Once across the creek, the Old Growth Loop is just over a mile.
We turn left to go through the Pourray Family Picnic Area and the trail quickly becomes a challenge - - steep and winding. We cross a small creek over Ravine Bridge until the trail comes to a “T”. We take the left trail about 500 feet and see the Advocate Tree, at least 1,000- years-old, over 250 feet tall, and 39 feet around in diameter. When this tree sprouted, the only locals were Costanoan Ohlone Indians. The Advocate Tree has a large “goosepen” or hollow spot caused by fires that have burned into the tree’s heartwood. Early settlers built gates across these openings to keep their chickens and geese.
We return to the “T” in the trail and continue on through a lush green forest of redwoods, ferns, lichen, redwood sorrel, tiger lilies, columbine, wild iris, violets and more. We look for fairy rings of new sprouts surrounding an older, damaged tree. This part of the trail is fairly wide and easy.
I tell the group to keep their eyes open for the Smiley Face. A whimsical previous owner, Marcel Pourray, noticed a stump that seemed to have two eyes, so he grabbed his chainsaw and added a nose and mouth. It is difficult to see unless you are looking for it.
The trail now curves around but we take the right-hand trail to stay on the Old Growth Loop. Eventually, we come to a marker for the Twisted Forest on our left. We take that side trail about fifty feet and look straight up. We are amazed at how the trees grow curved and twisted in this small section of the forest.
We return to the original trail and it quickly returns to the Pourray Family Picnic Area and Aptos Creek, the end of the Old Growth Loop. We retrace our steps back to Aptos Rancho Road. The entire hike is just over three miles long.
Nisene Marks was named after a woman who helped save the 9,700 acres from development or logging. The Old Growth Loop, or Marcel’s Forest, was added to the park in the mid-1990s.
It’s been a great hike, but we are all looking forward to a pint of ale and some fish and chips at Britannia Arms, a British pub with a dog-friendly patio less than a half-mile away on Soquel Drive.
Whitney Wilde is the founder of Woofers and Walkers. To join Woofers and Walkers on one of their weekly hikes or other canine friendly activities, visit www.woofersandwalkers.com.