Our New Trail
Mount Umunhum
Neil Wiley


The new Mount Umunhum Trail is in our backyard. If we could fly like a bird, we could be there in a few minutes. Of course, most of us can’t, so we have to drive down to Los Gatos Boulevard, make a right on Shannon, and turn to follow narrow and bumpy Hicks Road to the newly improved five-mile Mount Umunhum Road up to the summit. Allow an hour. (Don’t trust your GPS. Mine sent me the wrong way.)

My guess is that when most visitors reach the Summit parking lot, they will walk up the 159 stairs to the very top at 3478 feet. From there you can see some great views in all directions, touch the five-story radar building, walk the loop past the Ohlone ceremonial space, and look at interpretative panels in the summit shelter. For many people, this will be enough.

Others, however, will want to escape the hardscape, stairs, and pavement for the trail. After all, Mount Umunhum is just the centerpiece of Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, with its more than 18,000 acres of grasslands, chaparral, forests of bay and oak, deep ravines, and unspoiled wilderness. So why not get out in open space?

The new Mount Umunhum Trail makes more of this giant preserve accessible. You can enter the trail directly from the Summit parking lot or from the higher East Summit area. Entering at the parking lot saves one-fifth of a mile of steep trail. The next 2.2 miles of trail follows many switchbacks down an easy grade through shady forest. Even with the trees blocking some views, there are several vista points. The best is at 2.2 miles where the Guadalupe Creek Overlook provides a nice view of Santa Clara Valley. The last mile to the Bald Mountain parking area is relatively straight and seems flat with only about a 354-foot drop in elevation. The hike takes you down 1,150 feet from the East Summit, or down 1,020 feet from the Summit parking-area trailhead. It is an easy and pleasant hike.

You’ll appreciate the mild grades of less than 10 percent, the switchbacks, and shade even more if you hike up from the Bald Mountain parking area. I had planned to walk back up, but as luck would have it, I met a hiking buddy who offered to drive me to the top. She and her hiking partner created a shuttle with cars at the Summit and Bald Mountain parking areas. It sounded like a good idea.

If you want a longer hike, you can take Barlow Road from the Mount Umunhum Trail intersection 3/10 of a mile up-trail from the Bald Mountain parking area. Barlow Road takes you 1.5 miles to the Woods Trail intersection. A right turn on Woods Trail takes you 2.8 miles to the Jacques Ridge parking lot at the bottom of Mount Umunhum and Hicks roads. A turn left meets Limekiln and Kennedy trails at 3.6 miles. Limekiln goes to Lexington Reservoir, Kennedy goes to Kennedy Road.

All three parking lots have bathrooms, but there is no drinking water available. Horse troughs are located near the top of the multi-use trail, but the trail between the Summit parking lot and East Summit is for hikers only. Bikers are allowed on the multi-use trail and the road. Be careful, and share the road. In the event of an emergency, a pad next to the Summit parking area is available for helicopters.

Hopefully in the distant future, trails from Mount Umunhum will extend south through now-closed areas to Lake Elsman, Summit Road, Wright’s Station, and Soda Springs Road. This would help us avoid driving on Highway 17 and Hicks Road, and improve open-space access for those of us in the Summit area and Santa Cruz County. Also, a trail through the southeast section of Sierra Azul could link with Nisene Marks State Park and a continuing trail to Monterey Bay.