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Mount Diablo

Mount Diablo State Park

Mount Diablo State Park Links:

June 6th, 1999

14.0 miles
3800 vertical feet
Total Time: 8:15

Rating: 6/10

Directions:   View Driving Map

Jennie, Joe and I hiked in Mt. Diablo State Park.

We started our hike at the Mitchell Canyon Road entrance to the park, near Clayton. Jennie and I (along with others) had done part of this hike before, hiking past deer flat and then looping back. This time, however, we would continue past the flat and all the way to the peak and back.

The hike along Mitchell Canyon Road is steep in places. It's a wide fire trail which follows Mitchell Creek. The trail isn't right next to the creek, however. The creek is protected by vegetation which doesn't grow on the fire trail, leaving us unshaded much of the way. We passed an older couple along the way. When we told them we were going to the top, the gentleman said we should have gotten an earlier start. It was about 11am at this time, but I figured we had plenty of time. I estimated 8 hours for the hike, and the sun wouldn't set until 8:30pm. Still, this did mean we did the bulk of the climbing during the hottest part of the day. I wouldn't do this in July or August!

These trees were plentiful in the meadows; this one is next to the switchbacks on the way up

As we climbed the gentle switchbacks higher and higher, we got better and better views of Mitchell Canyon and Clayton in the distance. Wildflowers dotted the side of the trail. Blooming trees were placed here and there along the side, as well. A handful of hikers and a few mountain bikers passed us. Soon we found ourselves at Deer Flat, where we rested on some stumps while Joe made his first moleskin attachments.

Whereas before we'd turned left and started the loop back, this time we turned right onto Deer Flat Road and continued up, up toward Juniper Campground. More switchbacks lead us up a steep climb. We stopped briefly to let a ranger drive past us. When we reached the top of the switchbacks and went over the ridge, we had a view to the northwest of Ygnacio Valley and Walnut Creek.

The trail is mostly flat from here on to Juniper Campground. As the winds began to pick up, we enjoyed the views to the west. We stopped here at a picnic table and had lunch. The campground and picnic table are very close to South Gate Road. After lunch, we continued along the Juniper Trail, which is singletrack which skirts the road. Grasses and occasional thorns tugged at our socks. Below, we could hear what sounded like some sort of event -- voices sounded out over a public address system, next to a parking lot. This may have been the Diablo Country Club, but I'm not sure.

The unfortunate thing about the Juniper Trail is that it heads down. Unfortunate? Well, that meant that we'd be doing even more climbing to recoup the altitude we'd lost. We ended up losing about 200 feet of elevation before we started climbing again. The trail goes in and out of the trees crossing South Gate Road and turning into the Summit Trail.

We passed a large water tank and came to a campground at the intersection with Green Ranch Road. There's water and outhouses here. Beyond the campground, the trail climbs through a maze of 6-foot high bushes. The ground is covered almost completely by small rocks. We saw one biker come down the trail, though I'm not sure if he belonged there -- it seemed very dangerous to me.

Sign at Devil's Elbow -- 46 miles to go! (yes, it really says that)

We reached Devil's Elbow, where we had a great view of the summit building a few hundred vertical feet above. Shortly, we reached the lower parking lot, turned right, and headed up the trail right between the two roads which go between the summit and the parking lot. It's a pleasantly shaded, not too steep trail, in contrast to the 17 percent graded pavement on either side. When we emerged from the bushes, we were standing next to a communication tower, with a great view of the mountains and valleys to the south. From there it was a few more steps to the interpretive center. I believe this museum is new to the summit. It has some very nice displays, including a 3-d topographic map which showed us where we'd been and where we still had to go. We'd basically circled the western flank of the mountain, and would descend along the eastern side, doing a big counterclockwise circle.

Me and Jennie at the top

We enjoyed the view from the top (elevation 3849), refilled our water bottles, used the restroom facilities, and enjoyed a snack. Many people who'd driven to the top milled about enjoying the views. But we were soon (at about 3:40pm) on our way down.

We retraced our steps back down to Devil's Elbow, then turned left onto the North Peak Trail. This is more singletrack, in and out of the bushes. We had a view of the North Peak (elevation 3557) much of the way. We again had to share the trail with mountain bikers. While they are allowed on this stretch of trail, I wouldn't ride it myself -- too narrow, with too many other users, and a lot of blind turns.

At Prospectors Gap we were faced with the Prospectors Gap Road fire trail, or the narrow singletrack Bald Ridge Trail. Both would take us to the same place, but we took the Bald Ridge Trail. By numbers it would appear slightly less steep, and we wouldn't have to worry about mountain bikers. Unfortunately, it was also very narrow and brushy. It's a very sparsely used trail, and the undergrowth scratched and clawed at us every step of the way, while the small rocks and loose dirt tried to take our feet out from under us. Not only that, but the trail went up and down. Nevertheless, we soon found ourselves on top of the bald (i.e., brushless) ridge, and it was decent going the rest of the way down to Murchio Gap. Prospectors Gap Road, we would find, would actually descend below Murchio Gap before climbing back up to it. Still, given the choice again, I think I'd choose Prospectors Gap Road. The Bald Ridge Trail reminded me too much of the Brushy Peaks trail (see Bald Mountain hike).

We viewed the Eagle Peak trail, then continued down the Back Creek Trail. This starts off wide, about 5 feet wide, with wooden steps. But it, too, soon deteriorates into a narrow, brushy, steep, eroded trail. We basically encountered almost no one from Prospectors Gap to Back Creek Road. I doubt these trails are much used!

The Back Creek Trail follows, of course, Back Creek, crossing it a few times. Bugs buzzed us most of the way, causing our skin to crawl. They were apparently harmless, however, as I don't have any evidence of bug bites -- despite walking through dozens of them at a time. Near the bottom we reached Back Creek Road, a fire trail which would take us out to the open meadows again. From there it was left onto Coulter Pine Trail, back to the Mitchell Canyon parking lot.

It was a long hike, with some nice vistas. I wouldn't want to repeat the Bald Ridge or Back Creek trails, though. The park offers a lot more trails I haven't explored yet, and it would be nice to visit again...perhaps in winter sometime when the top gets a dusting of snow.

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