Mount Diablo Hiking: Guide to the Best Trails and Views
Photo courtesy of John Morgan
Mount Diablo hiking offers visitors a breathtaking perspective unlike any other. Despite its modest height (summit at 3,849 feet), California’s Mount Diablo is second in the world (after Kilimanjaro) for offering the farthest views in all directions.
The reason is that this formation in Mount Diablo State Park lies in the middle of a valley, while all of the nearby hills are lower in altitude. On a clear day, you can literally see for hundreds of miles.
The best time to take advantage of Mt. Diablo’s privileged position is fall through spring, especially on the first clear day after a winter storm. Summer at Mount Diablo State Park can be hot, and smog in the valley tends to obscure the views.
Mount Diablo hiking can be enjoyable at any time of year though, as there are many miles of trails and interesting sights throughout the park.
The View from the Top
At the peak is a stone visitor center building and obersvation deck built by the California Conservation Corps during the 1930’s. On a clear day, you can see the Pacific Ocean and the Farallon Islands to the west. The tallest peaks around the San Francisco Bay Area are also visible:
- Mount Tamalpais to the west at 2,571 feet
- Southeast to the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton at 4,213 feet
- South to Mount Loma Prieta in the Santa Cruz Mountains
Other major landmarks include the delta to the northeast formed by the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Much further north, you can spot Mount Lassen in the Cascade Range at 10,466 feet.
To the east, the high ridges of the Sierra Nevada rise above California’s Central Valley. Using binoculars, you might even be able to spot Half Dome in Yosemite National Park!
About the Park
Mount Diablo is a sacred place for California’s first inhabitants and the mountain forms part of the creation or genesis stories of a number of California Indian tribes.
Today, the state park preserves much of the natural beauty of the area while hosting many tourists, hikers, campers, and bicyclists. In fact, bicyclists seem to outnumber the cars on the climb up the main road to the summit, in this popular park.
Don’t worry, though. Mount Diablo hiking offers plenty of space along the myriad trails for your own piece of serenity!
Our Favorite Mount Diablo Hiking Route
Mount Diablo hiking offers enough miles of trails to explore for days, while being close enough for Bay Area hikers to be back home before sunset.
Here is our favorite hike at Mt. Diablo State Park:
Loop Around the Peak(6.6 mile loop | around 4 hours of hiking | moderate)
This loop around the summit shows you the many angles and lofty views that Mount Diablo hiking has to offer.
If driving, climb Summit Road after reaching the Junction Ranger Station. About halfway to the peak from the ranger station, park at the large overlook area near the Juniper picnic area and campgrounds.
(If it’s your first time to Mount Diablo, then try visiting the summit first. Drive all the way up Summit Road and park at the parking area just below the summit. Learn about Mt. Diablo’s history and ecosystems at the visitor center and take in the best views from the observation deck. When you’re satisfied, head back down the road to the Juniper picnic area.)
Start your Mount Diablo hiking adventure by enjoying the views from the Diablo Valley Overlook. From here you can see San Francisco’s Golden Gate. Head northwest along the Deer Flat Fire Road.
At the junction, veer right onto Meridian Ridge Fire Road. Continue along Meridian towards the northern side of the peak. Don’t forget to stop often to take in the fabulous views!
Continue past the Eagle Peak trail marker and take a right when you reach Prospector’s Gap Fire Road. At this point, you are almost halfway around the loop.
At an open four-way crossing, stay to the right and up North Peak Trail. Keep taking right-hand turns and you’ll stay on track! The North Peak Trail narrows but is a popular spot for Mountain Bikers so keep an eye out.
Close to the main Summit Road, the Summit Trail takes you on a quick 15 minute (or so) jaunt to Mount Diablo’s Summit at 3,849 feet. Visit the visitor’s center and observation deck to get the widest views in all directions.
When you’re ready to head back, head about 1/3 of a mile down Summit Road until you find the Juniper Trail crossing. Turn right and Juniper Trails takes you back westward to the parking area at Mount Diablo Valley Overlook.
Add in two peaks for a full day hike(10 mile Round Trip | around 5-6 hours of hiking | strenuous)
Mount Diablo hiking isn’t all about the summit. There are a number of lower peaks within the park that offer unique perspective of the area, as well as off-the-beaten-track hikes.
If you want to add some mileage to the loop around the peak, turn left at the Eagle peak trail instead of passing it by.
This detour takes you on an exciting leg of trail along a “hog’s back” ridge. This trail leads to one of the lower summits in the park, Eagle Peak (2,369 feet).
After reaching the peak, head back the way you came until you reach Meridian Ridge Road. Keep following the loop until you get to Prospector’s Gap Fire Road and the intersection with North Peak Trail. Instead of turning right at North Peak Trail, turn left up an open ridge on North Peak Road.
This fire road leads you to another summit, North Peak, at 3,557 feet. North Peak also offers the opportunity to view the Sierra Nevada range far to the east.
To get back to the loop, just backtrack to the intersection and continue on North Peak Trail.
This route can make nearly a full day of hiking that can be strenuous purely due to the distance and the numerous ups and downs over many ridges.
Despite the challenge, the rewards are numerous and the Mount Diablo hiking is a satisfying, “been there done that” accomplishment that you will keep with you long after.
Other things to do and see...
For rock lovers and bouldering, Mt. Diablo’s unique geological formation houses Rock City, a site full of strange outcroppings and small caves. Rock City is fun for the whole family and can be found along Mount Diablo Scenic Boulevard, on the southern side of Mount Diablo.
Within Rock City, Sentinel Rock is like a mini Half Dome, featuring a stair climb and safety cables leading up to the top of a large sandstone peak.
Castle Rock Another unique sandstone formation lies in the foothills of Mt. Diablo southwest of the summit.
The Falls at Donner Creek At the northern side of the mountain, you can find a handful of gushing waterfalls following a heavy rain.
Most people wouldn’t expect waterfalls in this semi-arid park, so the falls are a fun sight, when they occur.
To reach the falls, park at the end of Regency Drive, from the town of Clayton. Take Donner Canyon Trail to Middle Trail to Falls Trail.
After a spell of rain, you may find a handful of 20- to 30-foot plumes spilling over the cliffs. Unfortunately, the trails don’t take you to the falls and you’ll have to enjoy them from a distance.
Photo courtesy of Naotake Murayama
How to Get to Mount Diablo Hiking Trails
Mount Diablo State Park has two main entrances for driving to the summit: the North Gate accessible from the city of Walnut Creek, and the South Gate, from Danville.
To reach North Gate Road, from Interstate 680 in Walnut Creek, take Ygnacio Valley Road east and turn right at Oak Grove Road. After a few blocks turn left onto North Gate Road.
To get to South Gate Road, take the El Cerro Blvd./Diablo Road exit in Danville from Interstate 680 and head east on Diablo Road. After about 2.7 miles, turn left onto Mount Diablo Scenic Boulevard, which meanders up the foothills and eventually runs into South Gate Road.
(Rock City is right near the intersection of Mount Diablo Scenic Blvd. and South Gate Road.)
Both the North and South Gate Roads meet at the junction ranger station, where parking is available. The station is also a good spot to park if you want to make a quick hike up to the summit and back, taking the Summit Trail (about 2 hours, round trip).
View Larger Map
From the ranger station, the two roads become one called Summit Road which ends just below the visitor center at the summit.
Besides the main roads, there are a few staging areas in the foothills around Mt. Diablo, which offer great opportunities for exploring the many sides of the park. (The fees at these staging areas are also generally lower, so you can save a few bucks.)
1. Macedo Ranch Staging Area, near Danville: Good starting point to visit Castle Rock.
2. Mitchell Canyon Interpretive Center and Ranger Station, at the end of Mitchell Canyon Road, south of Concord. This is a good spot for a hike up to Eagle Peak or to Donner Creek.
3. Regency Drive, south of the town of Clayton. There is a staging area at the end of Regency Drive that’s great for exploring the northern side of Mount Diablo, as well as visiting the falls at Donner Creek, when they’re flowing.
Other Mount Diablo Hiking Details...
The state park charges $10.00 per vehicle at the park entrance kiosks.
Gates are open from 8:00 a.m. to sunset, year round.
Dogs are only allowed on paved roads and developed areas; they aren’t allowed on fire roads or hiking trails.
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