Mount Diablo, the jewel of the region, sits within Mount Diablo State Park, one of the ecological gems of the San Francisco Bay Area. This beautiful, natural wonder beckons visitors with special qualities in every season: stunning wildflowers, captivating wildlife, singular rock formations, amazing views and an extensive trail system that summons hikers back for repeat visits. Hiking Mount Diablo offers visitors breathtaking views in spite of its relatively modest height; at its summit, it is 3,849 feet.
Mount Diablo sits centered in a valley with its nearby hills at lower altitudes. The lone mountain rises abruptly from its surrounding, nearly flat terrain, giving Mount Diablo its unique advantage. Its far-reaching, panoramic views quite simply are amazing. Views from the mountaintop are second in the world for offering trekkers the farthest views in every direction; only Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro (at a mighty 19,340 feet) surpasses California’s Mount Diablo, a geographical reward that is pretty impressive, indeed.
Hiking Mount Diablo
Hiking Mount Diablo presents trekkers with breathtaking views unmatched by any other. Hiking to the peak of Mount Diablo is best done in the fall through spring, as summers can be hot at the park with smog in the valley obstructing views–thought there are many miles of trails that can be enjoyed year round. A word of caution: park hours are 8 a.m. to sunset. Gates shut at sunset and are locked at night, so be sure to exit the park before sunset or you risk being locked in.
Here are five moderate hikes in Mount Diablo State Park that are good scenic choices for frequent hikers. Also check out Audible Mount Diablo, which offers free, downloadable guides for strenuous-to-easy hikes that can be listened to on an MP3 player or smartphone while on the hike, or to enjoy while relaxing at home.
1. Mt. Olympia via North Peak – 4.6 miles
This 4.6-mile round trip on North Peak Trail is perfect for hikers who enjoy unlimited sky above and views into distant depths below. The trip involves a climb of 1,670 feet, mainly on the way back, and the descent (and climb back) is quite steep and slippery on loose rock. The path to Prospector’s Gap showcases wildflowers in the spring, and Mt. Olympia sits high above the surrounding landscape. Here you can sit and watch the tiny world below and the Central Valley’s great plains beyond. In winter, the mists roll up from the bottom of Donner Canyon, obscuring landscape visibility now and again.
2. Twin Peaks Mitchell Rock Loop – 4.9 miles
At 4.9 miles, the trail is a climb of 1,220 feet and incorporates Eagle Peak, Mitchell Rock and Coulter Pine Trails. This beautifully scenic loop is fine hiking any time of year, and passes through several distinctive habitat zones including meadow, chaparral, savannah and rocky summits. Eagle Creek Trail steadily climbs to meet Mitchell Rock Trail at the crest of Twin Peaks. Over time, visitors have created a maze of informal trails, but stick to the crest to descend to the lower Twin Peak and you’ll avoid any trouble. Pause to admire the vividly colored rocks at the end of the Great-Berried Manzanita that blooms January through February. Pay attention and take care as Twin Peaks has dangerous vertical drop offs.
3. Black Point Loop – 4.8 miles
This trail is 4.8 miles long with a 1,190-foot climb. It begins about one-half mile along the Mitchell Canyon Road Trail, and ends on Red Road. An exceptional trek through a little known corner of the park, the trail crosses several life zones, culminating at the summit of Black Point. In spring, the return trail paralleling Mitchell Canyon Road may shelter fine displays of the native Mt. Diablo Globe Lily. Beware of ticks along the way.
4. Eagle Peak – 6.3 miles
This 6.3-mile round-trip trail sits at the far end of Juniper Campground loop road, and has a total climb of 1,490 feet. This hike has everything: flower-scattered meadows, serpentinite minerals, rare plants and the sounds of bird songs along the way. Eagle Peak is a rocky area where hikers can admire the vastness of Contra Costa’s Central Valley, and a good spot to stop for lunch.
5. Olofson Ridge – 5.3 miles
Olofson Ridge is a 5.3-mile round-trip trail, with a 1,010-foot climb. After one mile along Mitchell Canyon, turn right on Red Road which climbs White Canyon. Here you will encounter rare wildflower species such as the Mt. Diablo Globe Lily and Wind Poppies, with their satiny, deep-red flowers and purple centers. Turn left onto Olofson Ridge Trail and follow the faint trail toward the summit marked “1609” on your trail map. Here you can rest on one of the outcrops and be mesmerized by the world of hawks, turkey vultures and kestrels, America’s smallest falcons, as these fliers put on a show.
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Melanie Graysmith is a writer, artist and educator based in San Francisco. She writes on adult education, art and lifestyle topics, and enjoys writing short stories and poetry. She is also a member of an independent filmmaking group. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.