Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bald Mountain: Sierra Azul OSP

 The grassy slopes of Bald Mountain and Loma Prieta (distant)

Only fifteen minutes away from the south bay community of Almaden Sierra Azul OSP is a rugged mountain wilderness located on the steep chaparral slopes of Mt. Umunhum. The summit of Baldy Mountain is a quick and mostly level 5 minute walk from the trailhead perfect for sharing with a loved one. On a clear day the office towers of downtown Oakland and San Francisco are visible to the north along with the beautiful and undeveloped Coyote Valley to the south.

Exit CA-85 on Santa Teresa Blvd.
Right on Coleman Ave.
Left on Almaden Expressway
Right on Almaden Rd. (which becomes Alamitos Rd. after the quicksilver county park trailhead)
Right on Hicks Rd
Left on Mt. Umunhum Rd. (continue past the first trailhead)
Park at the gate at the top of Mt. Umunhum Rd.

The old Air Force base atop Mt. Umunhum.

After parking on the side of Mt. Umunhum Road near the gate Beylah and I walked over to the start of the trail. Though the trail is fairly exposed it does not get as warm as some of the other bay area trails do in the summer, in the winter it even sometimes sees snow. The trail is frequently quite muddy often with puddles of water remaining days after the most recent rain. The vegetation is light, mostly chaparral with Madrone and Manzanita in abundance. Still the trail feels more like an afternoon stroll than a hike.

 Pacific Madrone

Beylah and I walked out to the grassy slopes in casual shoes, jeans, and light sweaters after a filling lunch in nearby Los Gatos. I learned that by calling it a "walk" and not a hike, she was much warmer to the idea. While the trail might be more of a light weight saunter, the views pack a big punch. The eastern slopes of Mt. Umunhum rise steeply several thousand feet out of the valley below with Almaden Reservior shimmering at the base. To the north the Transamerica Building and the San Francisco skyline, Oakland, and San Jose. To the south, acres and acres of farm land, vinyards, and open space along with the south Santa Cruz Mountain peaks of Loma Prieta and Mt. Thayer.

The final few hundred feet leading to the "summit".

The grassy slopes of the Bald Mountain (hardly a mountain) invite one to sit and spend some time in contemplation of the developed and undeveloped parts of the Bay Area. I've found unusual clarity sitting and staring out at the landscape on most of my visits. However because it is so easy to reach it is not uncommon to share the mountain with 10 or 15 other visitors. Still the Bald Mountain trail is one of the easiest and most rewarding "walks" in the Bay Area.

Facing south and west towards the south Santa Cruz Mountains.


  1. Are you sure that 3rd photo isn't a manzanita? Also, is that me? I don't even remember you taking that but it's awesome! I love feeling so small compared to an ancient tree or when on top of the mountain. It's hard to beat that feeling.

  2. I'm sure its a Pacific Madrone, Manzanita is more of a bush (they have the same red'ish bark/trunk color.

    Madrone's live to 200-250 years old, and this one looks pretty sizable. The oldest Pacific Madrone is over 450 years old. Still wimpy compared to the other trees of california, redwoods and Sequoia's living for several thousands years, and Bristlecone/Foxtail Pines over 4,000 years old.

    This is a cool state.

    1. Its manzanita, very large manzanita but manzanita none the less.

  3. it sure looks like a big manzanita....