Mt. Diablo State Park (Submitted by Danville Mike)

Rising 3849 feet, Mt. Diablo dominates the East Bay skyline. From the summit, on a clear day, you can see much of Northern California. The official Mount Diablo Guide claims that from the top, you can view an area about the size of New York State. On a crisp winter day when the air is sparkling, you can see Mt. Lassen to the north, 165 miles away. During a recent visit I overheard a park ranger tell a visitor that with binoculars, you can see Half Dome. The Farallons are visible when not obscured by fog. San Francisco and Mount Tamalpais are easily spotted, even through a bit of haze. During a visit in mid-March, I could clearly see the snow-capped peaks of the Sierras. While the view is impressive, Mount Diablo’s viewshed is not among the world’s largest, as sometimes claimed, though it is probably among the largest in the lower 48. If you’re heading to the top, be sure to take a jacket, as it can be windy and cold up there.

The slide show I’ve prepared starts with a view of Mount Diablo from a distance (from Alamo, to be precise). Next up are several views from the South Gate approach to the summit. We finish at the top, with interior and exterior shots of the Visitor Center, and of course several shots of the view. I took these pictures in mid-March, 2008, and while the sky was bight blue, there was a bit of haze.

Legend has it that that Mt. Diablo is an extinct volcano, and I’ve heard it said that the Diablo or “Devil” name grew out of the mountain’s volcanic origins. While this might make a good campfire story, it’s more (sub)urban legend than historical fact. Whatever the origins of the name, the park offers a variety of activities, including hiking, cycling (road and mountain), camping, and horseback riding, provided you bring your own horse! Located in Contra Costa County, the park has two entrances. You can reach the North Gate entrance by exiting highway 680 at Ygnacio Valley Road and heading east to Walnut Ave. Go right, then right on Castle Rock Road, then left on North Gate Road. To reach the Sough Gate entrance, take the Diablo Road exit from highway 680 and head east to Mt. Diablo Scenic Road and take a left.

The roads to the summit are steep and narrow with many twists and turns. In several spots you’ll encounter vertigo-inducing drop-offs along the road’s edge, and there are no shoulders and no guardrails – just lots of air and gravity. Keep your speed down, and though you will be tempted to look out at the stunning views, keep your eyes on the road and be sure to watch for cyclists! They climb and descend in large numbers, and those on the way down are often traveling at high speed. Along the way you’ll see several turn-outs that offer stunning views. Some have signs identifying the distances to visible landmarks near and far.

The park is open from 8 a.m. until sunset each day. As of March 2008, a day pass is $6. There are a variety of camping and picnic opportunities. Altogether the park has 60 campsites. There are 3 family camping areas – Juniper, Junction, and Live Oak. Family camping is $15 or $20 per night, depending on the season. There are also 5 group camping areas with fees ranging from $44 to $111 per night. Camping reservations can be made by calling 800.444.PARK (7275). All camping areas offer picnic tables and restrooms. The Live Oak and Juniper areas also offer showers. The campsites are intended for tents, but RVs up to 20 feet long are allowed, though there are no hook-ups or dump stations.

The park offers over 25 picnic areas, many with restrooms and running water. Picnic reservations are also available. Here are some other basic park rules: alcohol is prohibited. Dogs are allowed only in developed areas – not on trails or fire roads - and they must be on leash at all times and kept inside a tent or vehicle at night. Skateboards and rollerblades are also not permitted. Rock climbing is allowed in certain areas such as Rock City and Castle Rock. For general park information call 925.837.2525.

Once you reach the summit, you’ll find a small parking lot. The main attraction is the Visitor Center and observation tower. This stone structure was a CCC project, completed in 1942, and the mountain’s true summit actually pokes up through the Visitor Center’s concrete floor! The center provides informative exhibits explaining the mountain’s geologic history and its ecosystem. You can purchase trail maps, guidebooks, snacks and drinks, sweatshits and t-shirts, hats, walking sticks, and other items The center is open daily 10-4. There’s also a large observation deck at the summit, complete with a telescope. For 25 cents, you can bring those distant landmarks a little closer.

If you like to hike, trails are numerous and excellent. The park is a wonderland of plant and animal species. Regulars in the park include coyotes, grey foxes, deer, feral pigs, rabbits, raccoons, gophers, squirrels, a variety of snakes, hairy scary tarantulas, and occasional cougars and bobcats. Birders can enjoy over 200 species, and if plants are your thing, there’s a wide variety of trees, wildflowers, and other plants located in grassland, chaparral, and savannah settings. Students of geology will also find much to interest them.

Hikers will find everything from short, relatively flat hikes that take about half an hour to challenging full day treks with substantial elevation variations. For an easy hike that offers outstanding views, take the Fire Interpretive Trail from the summit parking lot. It’s only .7 miles with gentle climbs. You’ll walk around the entire top of the mountain, taking in views in all directions. Drinking water and toilets are available, and this trail is wheelchair accessible. For a moderate hike, try the Rock City and Wall Point Summit trail. This 3.5 mile trek has 500 feet of elevation change and takes about 1.5 hours. The Mount Diablo Loop trail provides a strenuous workout over 9 miles with 2,200 feet of elevation change. This hike takes you around the mountain in about 5 hours.

Mt. Diablo State Park is a Bay Area jewel, and it’s one of the few places around that let you see this whole wonderful area – from the Sierras to the sea - in a single panoramic view. Be sure to visit if you get a chance!

   posted by : yosemitejudy on 3/28/2008 at 09:16 PM
This was wonderful Mike. My favorite side of Mt. Diablo is the Clayton side with it's rugged, deep canyons, amazing spring wildflowers (some found nowhere else in the world) and lovely waterfalls. Besides all the places you mentioned, I highly recommend hiking Mitchell and Donner Canyons. Both of these can be reached from the Clayton side of the mountain. (Follow Ygnacio Valley Road about 7 miles from the exit at 680 in Walnut Creek, turn right on Pine Hollow Road, go about 2 or 3 miles and then right on Mitchell Canyon Road and follow it to the end of the road right into the park) Thank you again so much for posting this great introduction to a spectacular place. I have a picture of Mt. Diablo on my desk here in New York and dream about getting back up to Rock City one day soon.--Judy

   posted by : JimW on 3/22/2008 at 09:09 AM
Great write-up Mike! Felt like I was there. Your photo slide show was awesome as well. I will definitely plan on taking the family for a trip over to the East Bay to check out Mt. Diablo State Park.

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