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Ten Short Pleasant Walks

Mount Diablo State Park
Text by Frank Valle-Riestra

Here are some easy but very rewarding walks that you may wish to take while visiting Mt. Diablo State Park. They have been selected for those of you who want to spend an hour or so - certainly no more than two hours - on a trail amidst the mountain's natural treasures, but who do not wish to, or cannot, take advantage of some of the more challenging hikes.

All of the walks are relatively level with some minor to moderate climbing. The footing is firm, and the trails can be negotiated in comfortable walking shoes. And you do not need to go all of the way in order to enjoy the beautiful environment. If you are limited in time, go as far as you wish and turn back.

The Trail Map Mount Diablo State Park and the new Hikers Guide to Mount Diablo State Park are now available available here at the MDIA Online Store as well as other interesting publications and items related to Mount Diablo. The trail map is also available at either the North Gate or South Gate Entrance Stations, the Summit Visitor Center, and the Mitchell Canyon Visitor Centers.

Please note: No dogs allowed in Mount Diablo State Park except developed areas.

Trail Name Scenic
Riparian Flora Birds History Fauna Butterflies Geology Interest
Mary Bowerman X X X X
Fossil Ridge X X  X X
Mitchell Canyon X X X
Pine Pond X  X X X
Juniper X X  X
Deer Flat Road X X
Castle Rock X X X
Donner Canyon X  X X
Mountain House X
Sentinel Rock X X


On north side of road by picnic table, just at end of one-way road on its descent from summit, above "lower" summit parking lot.

Trail Statistics:
Loop of 0.7 miles, level (follows contour; gentle climb at end). Completely encircles summit of mountain. Easy walk, one half hour without stops. Drinking water and toilets at lower summit parking lot.

A must for both the casual visitor and the nature student, this nature trail is best negotiated with the help of the Mary Bowerman Interpretive Brochure available in the Summit Visitor Center or pamphlet box at trailhead. The incomparable views of the California landscape far below are enhanced by the framing foreground of the unusual trailside vegetation, with fine flower displays in spring and early summer. Of primary interest are the various stages of vegetative recovery following the great fire of 1977. Spectacular rock outcrops of ancient Franciscan Complex rocks abound. The trail was built by the California Conservation Corps; the first one third is paved and is wheelchair accessible up to the Ransome Point overlook, a good place to spot distant landmarks from comfortable benches.


Uplands Picnic Area, adjacent to South Gate Road, at junction with small side road to Live Oak Campground. Trail starts as small road, badly paved, climbing hill steeply; there is a simple gate and sign barring public vehicles.

Trail Statistics:
1.2-mile round trip. Short steep climb at beginning. Easy walk.

The initial climb opens up imposing vistas of the massive main peak of the mountain, as well as of San Ramon Valley in the opposite direction. The road parallels the crest of Fossil Ridge - the adventurous may wish to scramble up to the rocky ridge, a sharp hogback (tilted sandstone layer with adjacent layers eroded away) with interesting exposed fossils, rock-garden-like appearance. Dramatic view of Black Hawk Ridge strata across Sycamore Canyon from small path beyond end of road. Good bird watching.


End of Mitchell Canyon Road, north entrance to park, near the town of Clayton. Park in staging area (water and toilets) - parking fee.

Trail Statistics:
Level except for slight rise and descent near trailhead. One mile to junction with Red Road, another mile to limit of level part. A well graded fire road.

Even a short jaunt into beautiful Mitchell Canyon is rewarding. The banks along the road display a large variety of wildflowers, almost like a museum display, from midwinter to the end of spring. Dramatic outcrops of red rock loom high overhead, and your step will liven up to the gentle watery tune of Mitchell Creek at trailside, well into late spring. The level part of the road is a nature trail, and your enjoyment of the natural features will be enhanced with the Mitchell Canyon Interpretive Brochure is also available in the Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center and in a pamphlet box at trailhead.. On sunny days, this is prime butterfly country.


Not long after your car starts its climb on North Gate Road, you will note a distant ridge that comes in from the right to meet the winding road. After a particularly sharp curve, the highway rises steeply toward the ridge, access to which is provided by two bright aluminum gates on opposite sides of the road, just after the white 3.0-mile marker and just before a brown 1,000-foot elevation sign. Limited parking is available in front of the lower (western) gate, which is the actual trailhead, or at the elevation sign beyond. No facilities.

Trail Statistics:
The round trip to the pond is only 1.6 miles, with a 400-ft. drop just before Pine Pond (and, of course, a 400-ft. climb on the way back). Trails up and down Pine Canyon from Pine Pond can be explored as far as one desires. Spend an hour, or spend the day.

The graded road crosses an oak savannah, with fine views of the gentle foothills of Mount Diablo - a good place just to lie in the grass to contemplate the sky. A sharp left at the next junction drops you down to the banks of the little lake, a habitat for a myriad of flying, swimming, crawling, and jumping creatures which constitute an incomparable living museum.


At Laurel Nook Group Picnic Area, in Juniper Campground, just where the campground loop road returns to meet the Summit Road. Drinking water and toilets.

Trail Statistics:
1.2 miles to lower summit parking lot, 720-ft. elevation gain.

A nicely graded, intimate trail built by the Youth Conservation Corps just before the 1977 fire. Switchbacks (avoid slippery shortcuts) facilitate the climb through the dark oak-laurel forest, survivor of many a fire, to Moses Rock Ridge. Bear right through vigorous chaparral to reach interesting rock outcrops supporting a variety of stunted, tundra-like plants. Fine views through the silvery branches of fire-scarred chaparral. Trail crosses main road and winds up at parking lot. Return trip is all downhill. Wonderful for photography. Allow two hours.


At far end of Juniper Camp loop road. There is a parking area just at the point where road begins its turn at the far end of the loop near the restroom facilities.

Trail Statistics:
Deer Flat Road runs an essentially level course for 0.4 miles to its junction with Burma Road. This part is an easy walk.

The pleasant walk highlights fine views into San Ramon Valley across grassy slopes, emerald green in the springtime, some of the most spectacular California poppy displays on the mountain. The thick grasses thrive in the deep soil of the steep slumps below you, erosion products of the summit rocks. Each season brings new color surprises - the golden grasses against the deep blue sky in summer, and the same grasses, now a silvery gray, bathed in the mists of winter.


By large "Castle Rock Park" sign at the end of Castle Rock Road (an extension of Oak Grove Road, Walnut Creek). Park in spaces in front of sign. Trailhead is opposite the horse stables, at "Diablo Foothills Regional Trails Access" sign. Facilities in Castle Rock Park; foot traffic through privately leased park is allowed.

Trail Statistics:
A level walk of 1.5 miles (one way) takes you to the best overview of Castle Rock, a spectacularly eroded pinnacle looming high above. A Regional Park trail from the trailhead skirts the Castle Rock Park facilities and meets the old stagecoach road to Mount Diablo. Follow this road along Pine Creek; it runs along the boundary of Diablo Foothills Regional Park up to the State Park gate and to the Castle Rock overlook just beyond.

Not far beyond the trailhead the road enters a cool, mature oak forest, a refuge in the hot days of summer. Pine Creek meanders through the forested meadows, and the road crosses the stream several times, requiring some careful balancing on stones in the stream. Butterflies abound in sunlit clearings. Raptor nests can sometimes be spotted with binoculars in the sandstone cavities of Castle Rock high above.


From direction of Concord, drive through Clayton to Regency Woods. Turn right on Regency Drive and drive to the dead end, with parking on the street beyond the last houses. Walk down to the trail below; the park gate is a short distance toward the mountain. No facilities.

Trail Statistics:
0.9 miles, one way, on level road. An easy walk, but road is muddy in winter and early spring.

A popular trail with local residents - families with strollers, joggers, kids on bikes. The attractive environment is dominated by the view of the principal peaks of the park, rising sharply from the meadows at the base. In spring in particular, the sight of the rushing waters of Donner Creek meandering through flower-strewn emerald green grasslands is unforgettable. The road eventually enters an oak savannah..


At upper end of loop road, Junction Picnic Area, opposite ranger station at junction of North Gate and South Gate Roads.

Trail Statistics:
Junction Trail joins Summit Trail after 0.2 miles; the site is about 200 yards beyond on Summit Trail. A steady climb of 200 feet. Facilities at Sunset Picnic Area and the Junction Ranger Station.

You are on the old stage coach road that went up to Mountain House, a resort and weekend goal for Bay Area residents some 100 years ago. As you climb toward the site, the distant views of the coastal ranges slowly vanish, and you enter an imposing bowl-like enclosure in the heart of the mountain, encircled by grassy cliffs and the wilderness forest. Today the wide, level site is used to store park maintenance materials; no trace is left of the old hotel. You will have to let your imagination picture the excitement that the arrival of the stage coach must have engendered a century ago.


From South Gate Road, drive down into Live Oak Campground (Rock City area). Park in picnic area and walk up the paved loop road to campsite No. 20. The trail begins just behind it.

Trail Statistics:
The distance to the top of Sentinel Rock is only a few hundred yards, but the walk is a bit of a scramble and a stiff climb of about 200 feet, most of it up the carved steps of Sentinel Rock. Facilities in campground.

Sentinel Rock is one of the most popular destinations in the park; yet, for such a prominent feature it is extraordinarily difficult to spot. The steep (and a bit frightening) climb, aided by steel cables, is well worth the effort, for the little fenced platform at the top offers fine views of the weird Rock City wilderness in all directions. The trail brings you to the very base of the rock. Here turn right on a badly eroded trail and climb until the trail veers toward the rock on your left. There is a maze of trails here, but the idea is to circle to the eastern base of the rock where the stairway starts. Kids (of all ages) will have a ball, but be sure everyone stays behind the cable barrier! After the climb, take the opportunity to explore the astounding landscape of Rock City; there are no real trails, but you cannot get too hopelessly lost. Well gripping shoes or boots are essential.