Four Ways to See Mount Diablo
From waterfall hikes and mountain bike tours to rock climbing and hang gliding, Mount Diablo has something for everyone this spring.
Photo by Scott Hein
With spring upon us, it’s time to take advantage of the bright days and warmer evenings to soak up the East Bay’s natural beauty. One of the best places to experience the season is on Mount Diablo.
Unlike summer, when devilishly high temperatures make activity on the mountain less-than-comfortable, spring is brimming with plant life and fresh air, perfect for trekking up Diablo’s 3,849-foot summit for views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and Mount Lassen—or biking down. With easy hiking and biking trails and craggy rocks perfect for climbing, Mount Diablo offers a range of activities for both the adrenaline junkie and the novice outdoor adventurer. With the help of Save Mount Diablo, we've rounded up the best spring activities the mountain has to offer, from hiking and biking to rock climbing and paragliding.
Park hours are 8 a.m. to sunset daily.
This time of year, spring wildflowers are bursting into bloom, blanketing Mount Diablo in pops of vibrant color while central California Oak trees begin to leaf out and shade many of the state park’s trails. The (Donner Canyon) Falls Trail becomes one of the most popular for its access to small but majestic waterfalls—at their best after a heavy rain.
The Falls Trail: about 6 miles round trip; relatively easy with some steep switchbacks
Start at the trailhead at the end of Regency Drive off Marsh Creek Rd and hike along Donner Creek through oak lined paths, stopping to enjoy views of Clayton and Suisun Bay before reaching Cardinet Junction. Look for California poppies and early wildflower blooms along the trail as well as quail, rabbit, and deer. Geology enthusiasts should keep their eyes peeled for California's State rock, the Serpentine, found near the junction of Donner Canyon Road and Meridian Ridge Road. After a short but steep climb, the series of falls within Donner Canyon comes into view, including one with a 20-foot cascade. Pack a lunch because nothing beats a picnic surrounded by thundering falls. Continue across the streams that feed the falls before looping back to Cardinet Junction and finally to the trailhead.
Save Mount Diablo offers free downloadable audio and GPS tours for some trails here, as well as detailed descriptions of the Falls Trail and the Summit Trail, and information about free guided hikes led once a month.
For those looking to cover more miles and reach some of the mountain’s more remote areas while experiencing a challenging and thrilling mode of exercise, try Mount Diablo by bike.
“Right now is one of the most spectacular times to ride because everything is so green and the wildflowers are blooming,” says Ken Mozek, San Ramon Valley High School’s mountain bike coach. “Mount Diablo is a very unique place once you get up there. There’s some great views and wildlife.”
The SRVH Mountain Bike Team uses Mount Diablo as its training grounds from January to May, biking there twice a week. Here’s Mozek’s pick for the best beginners ride.
The Creek Ride: 1-1.5 hours; easy, fairly flat but fun ride with several creek crossings.
This fire road offers moderate climbs balanced by fun downhills and at least seven creek crossings canopied by trees. From Macedo Ranch, take Wall Point Trail for a short climb. Then hop on Briones Mt Diablo Trail for another short climb before a fun downhill. Stay on Briones Mt Diablo Trail, where benches mark the halfway point and serve as a great spot for a picnic lunch. Once you’re recharged, get back on the trail, which eventually veers right for another steep but short climb up to a gate. Get ready to speed down a few hills toward Stage Road, which runs along a creek and requires seven plus crossings. At the next fork, head right and climb out of the valley to Dusty Road. At the next fork, stay right, pass through a gate for one more short climb and relish the last downhill. Make a final left at the next fork and continue down to Macedo Ranch.
A more hands-on approach to exploring Mount Diablo involves grappling with the parks geologic formations. Diablo has two main areas for rock climbing: Boy Scout Rocks near Rock City at the park’s South gate and Pine Canyon closer to the North gate. Pine Canyon, however, is closed February to June for raptor nesting.
Rock City is a fun place for kids and adults, consisting of large sandstone formations and small caves. Scramble to caves that have been carved by strong winds or climb to the top of Sentinel Rock for a sweeping view of the tree-filled valley below.
For slightly more experienced climbers, Boy Scout Rocks offers top-roping as well as a few bolted routes for climbers to play on. Scale the chimney of the unfortunately-named Butt Face Rock or either of its two faces for that I-just-summited-a-big-rock feeling of accomplishment.
For extreme thrill seekers who want to experience Mount Diablo in a new way, nothing surpasses the adrenaline rush of paragliding the wind around the mountain’s peaks to get a bird’s eye view of the landscape.
“The view is absolutely amazing, you can see forever,” says Juan Laos, tandem gliding instructor and founder of Advanced Paragliding. “We’ve soared with eagles on Mount Diablo many times.”
While Mount Diablo is an advanced, pilot-only site which requires fliers to be a member of one of the area’s gliding clubs, such as the Bay Area Paragliding Association, you can bypass this members-only rule by taking a $250 introductory course through Advanced Paragliding, which is followed by a complimentary tandem flight over Diablo.
Hike with your gear to one of Mount Diablo’s designated launch sites at Juniper Campground, begin a downhill run to inflate your glider’s wing, and you'll be weightless in no time. According to Laos, the best weather for paragliding is just before or just after a storm when the air is not too windy.
Advanced Paragliding also offers a complete beginner-through-advanced package that enables one to paraglide Mount Diablo solo once successfully completed. (925) 284-4166, advancedparagliding.com.