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Mt. Umunhum - The Mystic Sierra Azul Area Open Space Preserve, Santa Cruz Mountains, CA

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

Ohlone meaning for 'Umunhum' is resting place of the hummingbird

Mt. Umunhum hike
Hike to Mt. Umunhum, Santa Cruz, CA

This has been on the tribes 'todo list' for almost a year, which is when we first discovered this trail. Having shifted the plans a few times, we finally decided to make it happen. As we approached the Hicks Road near Camden, the beauty of the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve started to unfold. Super windy road, thick tree cover, humming of birds, horse crossings and a creek flowing alongside the road, the approach onto the trailhead is such a delight. The road up the hill is narrow with many blind spots. Very popular with cyclists who attempt this steep ascent towards Mt. Umunhum.

The preserve has quite a few trails along different sections on the road. The tribe also saw some folks sharpening their rock climbing skills. This side of the mountains was still quite green to our surprise. As we approached the parking lot, expansive views of the valley were visible on both sides. While I knew from research that there would be limited parking at the trailhead, I was not prepared for such a small parking area and no parking along the roadside. We met the ranger who suggested that we can drive a little bit further ahead to the summit and do the trail in reverse order from the summit down and back up. Though that seemed like a great idea, the tribe decided to wait it out for a spot to open, we were not prepared to be at the summit without some hard work! It was our lucky day, we got a spot after a short wait and driving around enjoying the views.

The trail starts just across the parking lot, it is well maintained, very gradual meandering through the forest and many switchbacks. The cube on the summit of Mt. Umunhum is visible all along the route. Right off the gates we spotted these really old rusted cars which were abandoned in the middle of the forest. Tribe's inquisitive minds were spinning many a stories all along the hike - some horror, some mystical and some war time escape.

The cube was a US Air Force radar center from 1957-1980, and the peak itself was out of bounds for public until few years ago. Large part of the trail is shaded with thick tree cover, which made for a nice walk on a super hot summer afternoon. About 1.5 miles in on your right you will see the Guadalupe Creek Overlook, 360 degree view all the way across the Santa Clara valley and more. There will be a few bridges to cross along the way. The trail also leads to remains of a cabin from the times of miners settlement in the area. Watchout for poison oak, that is prevalent in the area.

Native American, Mining Settlers, US Air Force Base - Mt Umunhum is home to rich history

Trail is clearly marked, with mile markers to direct, as you approach the summit, there are two paths to get you to the top, on the left is the path taking you to the parking lot while the one on the right leads through close to 70 stairs to the summit of Mt. Umunhum. The tribe was delighted to have made another summit, the cube that we were chasing for the last 1.5 hrs was right there in front of us. Panoramic views of the entire valley on one side and extending way over the mountains towards the Pacific. This did make for an amazing unobstructed vision for the radar for hundreds of miles.

The summit was opened to public in September 2017, it honors the rich history of Native Americans, early settlers who were miners and the US Air Force protecting the Bay Area during the Cold War. I'm sure the tribe will continue to discuss the rich history and stories of this mystical place for a long time.

Best Bay Area Hiking
Mt. Umunhum, hiking during COVID

At 3,846 ft the round trip would take anywhere between 2.5-3 hrs, arrive early for parking and have extra water on a hot summer day, even though there is ample shade.

Learnings from the tribe - Sometimes the wait is well worth it, like for the tribe Mt Umunhum was almost a year long wait.

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