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Overlooking the town of Los Gatos and the south bay, Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve is the District's largest preserve, encompassing over 18,000 acres of mostly rugged and steep terrain.
The environment of Sierra Azul is strikingly varied. One can visit serpentine grasslands, hard, rocky, and steep chaparral, dense stands of bay trees, or quiet, shaded oak woodland forests. For the more hardy explorers, there are deep ravines and riparian corridors, some containing seasonal or year-round water flow.
Wildlife is abundant in Sierra Azul. The entire Preserve is prime mountain lion habitat and also provides homes for deer, bobcats, coyotes, and many other species of animals. Sierra Azul ("Blue Range") is a true wilderness area, yet surprisingly close to the urban areas of the South Bay, making it a popular destination.
KENNEDY-LIMEKILN AREA -- There are three distinct areas within Sierra Azul. The most popular is the Kennedy-Limekiln Area, accessible from Kennedy Road in Los Gatos, and from Highway 17, adjacent to Lexington Reservoir County Park and St. Joseph's Hill Open Space Preserve. The 2,920-acre area includes 15 miles of trails, providing hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians with some excellent, strenuous loop trails. The popular Kennedy Trail/Limekiln Trail loop covers over 14 miles, and includes nearly 2,000 feet in elevation gain. For a shorter, but still energetic hike or ride, try the five-mile Priest Rock Trail, with an 800-foot elevation gain. Leashed dogs are allowed only on the trails in the Kennedy-Limekiln Area. Bicyclists: there is a 15 mph trail speed limit and helmets are required at all times.
MT. UMUNHUM AREA -- The Mt. Umunhum Area features the 3,486-foot mountain named after the Ohlone word for "resting place of the hummingbird." This 11,646-acre area marks the southern end of the entire District, and includes the former Almaden Air Force Base, which was part of the early-warning radar network built during the Cold War. There is no public access to the top of Mt. Umunhum due to toxic contaminants, physical hazards, and intervening private property. The District is working with the federal government toward a cleanup of the site, and intends to eventually restore the area to a more natural condition that is suitable for public access.
The 6.2-mile Woods Trail, which starts at the Jaques Ridge parking area, takes visitors over the top of 3,000-foot Mt. El Sombroso, through deep ravines with shady, cool groves of madrone, and into the Kennedy-Limekiln Area trail network. The Woods Trail also provides a less strenuous out and back experience since it is fairly level over the first three miles. From the parking lot one can also cross Hicks Road and enter Almaden Quicksilver County Park. There is also a half-mile trail leading to Bald Mountain, a grassy hillside offering expansive views of the Almaden Valley and the Mt. Hamilton range to the east. Dogs are not allowed in the Mt. Umunhum Area.
CATHEDRAL OAKS AREA -- Access to the 2,160-acre Cathedral Oaks Area is limited pending additional land acquisitions and subsequent trail development. This area, located southwest of the Kennedy-Limekiln Area, is surrounded mostly by private property, making public access unavailable at this time. Because of the limited access, there is no formal trail system. As the District continues to acquire property in this area, a trail system will be developed to accommodate safe, secure public use, free from worry of accidentally encroaching onto private property.
HOW TO GET THERE
Kennedy-Limekiln Area: Parking is available at the Lexington Reservoir entrance to Sierra Azul, accessible from Highway 17. From southbound Highway 17, take the Bear Creek Road exit, cross over the highway, and go 0.4 miles north on Highway 17 to Alma Bridge Road. Proceed across the dam to the parking area (there is a parking fee) at Lexington Reservoir County Park. From the parking area, visitors can continue on Alma Bridge Road a short distance to the Limekiln Trail trailhead (gate #SA22), on the left side of the road. The Priest Rock Trail trailhead is a short distance further on the road (gate #SA21), also on the left side. The trailhead for the Kennedy Trail is accessible from Kennedy Road in Los Gatos, approximately 1.5 miles west of its intersection with Shannon Road, at gate #SA01. There is very limited parking at this trailhead.
Mt. Umunhum Area: The Jacques Ridge parking area is located near the intersection of Hicks Road and Mt. Umunhum Road. Exit Highway 85 at Camden Ave. (From southbound 85 turn left on Camden Ave. From northbound 85 turn left on Branham Avenue and then turn left on Camden Ave.) Travel on Camden Ave. about 1.6 miles. Turn right on Hicks Road. Travel on Hicks Road about 6.3 miles. Turn right on Mt. Umunhum Road. The Preserve parking lot will be on the right. The Woods Trail trailhead is adjacent to the parking area.
During daylight hours only, Mt. Umunhum Road is open to public vehicle traffic up to the point where it is blocked by gate #SA08, located 1.6 miles from Hicks Road. After-hours (from 1/2 hour after sunset until 1/2 hour before sunrise), Mt. Umunhum Road is closed (from its intersection with Hicks Road) to all public use except for resident and authorized vehicles.
At gate #SA07 on your left, on your way up Mt. Umunhum Road immediately before reaching gate #SA08, there is roadside parking for two or three cars on the right side of the road. The Bald Mountain Trail trailhead is on the left. Public hiking and bicycling access continue up Mt. Umunhum Road for 1.3 miles past gate #SA08, to the point where the road enters private property. Although it is not gated, this point is well marked with private property signs on the sides of the road, as well as symbols on the road surface. Do not travel on Mt. Umunhum Road beyond this point. The land is private property and entry is trespassing.
Above gate #SA08 and before the start of private property there is a multi-use trail, Barlow Road that starts from Mt. Umunhum Road at gate #SA09 and descends to Woods Trail.
Equestrians: Please note that horses cannot pass through gates #SA07, #SA08, or #SA09.
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Closures in Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve (posted 7/22/2011)
IMPORTANT: Please be aware that seasonal trail closures may change from day to day without notice, based on changing weather conditions. Also note that during winter storm season high waters can make creek crossings hazardous, so plan your outing accordingly.
Last updated on: 3/11/2014