As those in the Bay Area know, hiking in Mt. Diablo State Park in eastern Contra Costa County can be brutal during the summer months, but when fall approaches and the temperatures drop, it offers plenty of rewards.
One of the best hikes for seeing not only the park, but also views in all directions, is primarily a moderate hike, but with some butt-kicking strenuous places that will provide a good cardio-vascular workout. The hike is approximately 7 miles — allow 3-4 hours.
There are two main entrances to Mt. Diablo State Park — the North and South Gate. Details here. Our hike will start from the parking lot of the Juniper Trail Campground, which can be reached from either entrance. We’re going to circumnavigate the 3,849- ft. peak of Mt. Diablo in a clockwise direction.
From the parking lot, walk into the Juniper Campground (which is an excellent place to spend the night if you’ve come prepared; reservations recommended). Fill your water bottles at one of the faucets in the campground because you won’t find potable water along your way.
Our trail starts on the Northeast corner of the campground, just across from the large restroom, on a wide, dirt, fire road, which is the Deer Flat Road. Soon there is a fork in the road — we continue, keeping right on the Deer Flat Road (2,120′). Right away you are taking in wide-angle views to the north and west. At the next fork, again stay right, now on Meridian Ridge Road heading toward Murchio Gap. The trail initially descends, then does a short, but steep ascent.
Continuing on Meridian Ridge Road at the next marker, we head toward Donner Canyon Road for .45 mile (but do not descend into Donner Canyon!). The trail is still wide, and now downhill. At the next marker, continue on Meridian Ridge to Prospectors Gap Road. Take a right onto Prospectors Gap Road (dirt/wide) toward Prospector Gap.
This is the stretch where we get to do our interval training; the trail is very steep, then reduces its gradient, and then climbs steeply again to Prospectors Gap at 2,960′. Just when you feel you can’t take another step, you reach the gap, hit the “T” intersection, and collapse beside a trailside tree that provides shade for a lunch or snack break.
After catching your breath, take a right onto North Peak Trail. North Peak Trail ascends (more gradually) to the Summit trail in just over a mile. You’ll enjoy the more intimate surroundings of this narrow, single-track trail as it rounds the mountain and you gain views to the east and then the south. (Bicyclists and others have created unofficial trails through here — please stay on the official trail and help prevent erosion problems.)
When you reach the roadside pullout on Summit Road (at Devil’s Elbow) for cars and a display board with park map, you have a few choices for completing your hike. You can take the .4 mile trail to the summit and the Summit Visitor’s Center (well worth your time), or you can road walk about 8 minutes, uphill to the right, until you reach the “Trail Xing” sign and then go left again on the Juniper Trail.
This portion of the trail, also called “the Trail through Time,” is a delightful change of scenery. It’s mostly a gentle descent on a footpath, with some interpretive signs, and in a mile you will reach a large picnic area and your vehicle.
- Bring hiking poles if you have them. The trail is not only steep in sections, but also rocky.
- Wear sunscreen and appropriate headgear — UV comes through whether sunny or overcast.
- Wear layers. Not uncommon to have fog at one time and wind at another.
- Know what poison oak looks like in all of its stages. Although the trail is currently very well brushed and the poison oak easily avoided, it is alongside the trail much of the way.
More hikes on Mt. Diablo are available at the Mount Diablo Association’s website.
The new, 6th edition, map and interpretive information of the Mt. Diablo trails is available online. $7.50. as well as the Visitor’s centers and entrance stations.
Mt. Diablo State Park map
Entrance fees: $10 per car; $9 seniors 62 and over.
Family campground fees are $30.00 – Juniper, Live Oak and Junction Family Camp Sites (all seasons); $2.00 Senior Discount (off Camping Fees)
Part 2 of Perfect season for hiking Mt. Diablo will introduce you to some of the wildlife of the area — and information on upcoming docent-led hikes.
Last hiked: 9/17/2010