In California, there sure is plenty to keep an outdoorsman occupied. Some trails are harder to find than others. But adventure doesn’t have to be all about new discoveries. Sometimes the best experiences are the ones right in front of you.

Mount Diablo looms above San Francisco with its peak proving hard to miss. With low-lying hills all around it, Mt. Diablo stands out impressively. The mountain has been used as a meridian in land surveys in the Nevada state region since 1851.

Stretching 1,173 meters towards the clouds, it isn’t actually the tallest in the region, yet Mt. Diablo is one of the most recognizable features on the Californian skyline.


With a prominent stature that’s easy to spot when you are in San Francisco, it’s little surprise that people flock to Mt. Diablo, daring to take on the challenge.

So, let’s find out what’s in store there.

Basic Overview of Mt. Diablo

summit


3,849 feet

Trekking distance


13.2 miles

Elevation gain


3,529 feet

Estimated Completion Time


5-7 hours

Difficulty


Hard, Strenuous

Dog-friendly


No

Best time to go


Year-round

What Makes Mt. Diablo So Great


Just after a winter storm has come through, the Sierra Nevada mountains are picture-perfect, with their snowy caps giving Mt. Diablo and its neighbors the most incredible appearance anywhere in the bay.

Visitors to Mount Diablo State Park can reach the summit on foot, or by using a car or bike. But the latter options are really just cheating yourself out of a great adventure.

There are numerous weaving trails to choose from, which take in beautiful creek and waterfalls, jaw-dropping ridgelines and awesome valleys.

Adventurous couples, fun-loving families, and camping friends will love it here. Even adrenaline junkies who want to do some climbing or mountain biking will have a great time at Mt. Diablo.

If you want to ease yourself into the area, there is a self-guided tour that loops below the summit parking lot. This gives visitors the chance to learn more about the flora and geology in the local area.

There are over 400 types of plants and many animals roaming around some 20,000 acres in this expansive park. There’s even an added bonus for those who love watching spiders getting frisky, with a guided walk to witness the annual tarantula mating season in action.

How to Get to Mt. Diablo


You have a few choices here. You could take the easy option of driving to the summit, but that’s robbing yourself of many of the great hiking options. Doing that means you’ll miss out on the fantastic views along the way.

The best trail to take starts off at the Mitchell Canyon Staging Area. This is on the northern side of the State Park.

It climbs upwards, taking hikers through the rugged ridge-line that leads through Twin Peaks, Eagle Peak, and then to Prospector’s Gap, before you make the final ascent to the mountain’s summit.

We won’t lie. It’s challenging. But if you want those views, you have to earn them.

Coming down, you can opt for the route through Mitchell Canyon. It’s longer, but also much easier on the knees. While it’s no cakewalk, the scenery is worth it. 

The address of the Staging Area is at 96 Mitchell Canyon Rd, Clayton, CA 94517. It’s a straightforward journey there, which you can complete with Google Maps directions.

The Staging Area is open to the public at 8 AM, and it costs $6 for vehicle entry.

Best Trails at Mt. Diablo

So, you’re a hardcore hiker. You’ve conquered the main route, and are coming back for more?

Or you just want to avoid other tourists by checking out one of the less popular routes that most people don’t know about because you’re a super hipster like that.

Here is a brief rundown of the best of the rest at Mt. Diablo.


1. Mary Bowerman Interpretive Trail, Diablo Summit


When it comes to getting a solid introduction to this park, this is a great way to start. You can use the park road to reach the top and then hike around the Mary Bowerman Trail to get some great views without over-exerting yourself.

This short circuit is just under one mile and has some excellent panoramic views on a clear day. It’s perfect if you are with kids or someone with a few mobility issues who don’t feel like tackling a longer hike.

pros

  • It is a really easy hike.
  • Offers the same views that you can get at the summit, only with fewer people.

cons

  • Involves a long drive initially for a very short hike.
  • The park road leading to the summit is often closed because of snowfall.


2. Donner Canyon and Falls


It’s only a 5-mile loop, and it starts off pretty easy. However, you’re still going to break a sweat here. The trailhead starts gradually climbing up to leave a residential neighborhood below you. Moving along, with Creek on your side, you eventually cross it to ascend up a fire road. It’s steep here, so take care.

When you get up it, look out for Falls Trail. This little meandering pathway leads you through grasslands, giving you some pretty views of the waterfalls.

Finally, you’ll reach Middle Trail, which descends to Donner Canyon road. You can use that to get back to the beginning. Bonus tip: wear waterproof boots!

pros

  • One of the best hikes on Mt. Diablo, which even beginner hikers can do comfortably.
  • Plenty of greenery, including chaparral, vegetation, and woods.
  • Check Circle
    If it’s after a snowfall, it feels like an alpine adventure.

cons

  • You have to cross water on several occasions. Can be a muddy, messy hike, especially after a storm.
  • If you go in the summertime, it’s really hot, and there’s no water in the falls.
  • ban
    Some steep sections.


3. Curry Point and Balancing Rock


When you get to the staging area, you’re under no obligation to head straight for the summit of Mt. Diablo. It’s not going anywhere, there’s no rush!

If you fancy something different, check out this four-mile hike through some oaks and grassland. It has some beautiful wildflowers all year-round, and if you go in late spring, you’ll find blooming shrubs around the rocky chaparral.

pros

  • Easy hike.
  • Varied terrain with interesting rock formations.
  • Check Circle
    Trailhead begins halfway up the mountainside, making it less exhausting.

cons

  • Loops end after Knobcone Point, so you have to trek back on yourself.


4. Mitchell Canyon-Eagle Peak Loop


Starting at Mitchell Canyon, this loop climbs through fire roads and steep roads to Murchio Gap. Then it gets really exciting as you tread carefully along the narrow ridge of Eagle Peak. Try to fall as you admire the incredible views, then slowly descend the grade to come back on to the trailhead. It’s almost 8 miles in total, but one of the best ways to experience Mt. Diablo.

pros

  • From the creek all the way to the peak, it explores a lot of terrain types.
  • You see lots of plants and animals.
  • Check Circle
    Very peaceful around Eagle Peak.

cons

  • There are lots of steep sections.
  • ban
    Some tricky descents with loose rocks.
  • ban
    Not much shade, so avoid it in hot weather.

Tips for Mt. Diablo


Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or not, you’ll need to turn up ready to tackle Mt. Diablo. If you don’t, then it might not be such an enjoyable experience.

General Advice

Driver and Cyclists

Hikers

Mt. Diablo is Not the Devil

If you have a craving for the great outdoors in California and want to chase some waterfalls, then this is the spot for you. The park has plenty of trails to enjoy a peaceful afternoon on, and you and family can even enjoy a picnic or camping expedition.

With so much to offer, it’s little wonder that so many people come here to explore Mt. Diablo and the surrounding parklands. Some of the trails are a little challenging, but this place is heaven for outdoor adventure. Other places to consider are Hollywood Sign Hike or Ecola State Park.



Featured Image: CC0 Public Domain via Canva, with text, banner, and logo added.

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