Five Finger Falls
Length 11.9 miles · Climbing 1370 ft
This long hike starts on the busy Aptos Creek Fire Road and makes its way up a side canyon to a remote waterfall. Most of the hike is through second-growth redwoods. The last mile and a half of trail has some pretty nice redwoods and is one of the more interesting and scenic stretches of trail in Nisene Marks.
Although it's a 12-mile hike, the 6 miles on the Aptos Creek Fire Road are relatively fast and easy.
Click here to see the trailhead location in Google Maps.
Start at the parking lot by the Porter Family Picnic Area; if the Winter Gate is closed, start at George's Picnic Area instead, adding two miles to the hike.
The fire road makes a gentle, gradual ascent. The scenery is fine but not as nice even as other second-growth forests such as Pescadero Creek; the woods have a somewhat dry, disheveled look. This very much a forest that has been heavily logged in the recent past. In part the dull look of the forest comes from the fact that it isn't pure redwood; there are patchy redwood groves mixed in with other kinds of trees.
At a hairpin turn with a bike rack, turn off onto the singletrack Aptos Creek Trail. The scenery in this side canyon immediately changes to a somewhat nicer redwood forest with a tanoak understory. The trail follows what looks like the route of an old railroad.
The trail crosses a creek twice; in the summer it's no problem stepping over the creek. After the epicenter sign, the redwoods give way to a drier environment. The trail, which clings precariously to a steep hillside, becomes somewhat narrow. Although it's illegal, I often see mountain bikers here; it seems like a pretty dangerous trail for biking.
The trail crosses a long, narrow log suspended over a chasm. A landslide here took out the entire trail a few years ago, leaving just a sheer vertical rock face. The trail was impassable for several years. The footbridge is not a standard state parks bridge - it's only a few inches wide and it has are steel cables on only one side to hold onto. One slip would mean a really long fall. I'm not really sure how people get mountain bikes over it.
The really good part of the hike starts at the bridge. The redwood forest becomes much more attractive, with a lusher appearance, and the scenery in general gets progressively more interesting over the next few miles. The condition of the trail also improves a lot after the bridge, although it still passes through two gulches where it's been washed out.
The trail switchbacks steeply uphill to avoid a sheer cliff. This is the biggest climb of the hike. As the trail crests, there are some views of the cliffs and the valley below.
The trail descends to a surprising little redwood flat. The lush flat, sprinkled with redwood sorrel and with a few ferns, is home to a pure redwood grove that looks a little like Bull Creek Flats, with the same cathedral-like appearance. Although the trees aren't that big, there aren't any obvious signs of logging within the flat; on the other hand, there's clearly been logging around the edges.
Leaving the flat, the trail enters more mundane tanoak-and-redwood forest. After passing the Big Slide Trail, the trail gradually descends to the brushy creek. The trail crosses the creek and climbs up the other bank. The south bank has a much different look than the north bank; the woods are much more open, with no tanoak understory at all. The dark forest is made up of clumps of small redwoods but has a lusher, more attractive appearance than the denser, dryer-looking north bank. The area is completely quiet except for the burbling creek.
The trail descends again to the creek and then ends. Walk along the rocky bank of the creek for about 10 yards to reach Five Finger Falls, a tall, narrow stream that flows down a vertical rock face into a little grotto.
© 2014 David Baselt