San Francisco Top Trails
Excerpted from Top Trails: San Francisco by David Weintraub
CHALLENGE YOURSELF: This circuit of 3,849-foot Mount Diablo will challenge even the most experienced hiker with what the Sherpas of Nepal call "many many up, many many down." Pick a cool fall day and pack plenty of water to enjoy this premier, view-packed Bay Area trek!
Finding the Trail
From Interstate 680 in Danville, take the Diablo Rd./Danville exit and follow Diablo Rd. 3 miles east to Mount Diablo Scenic Blvd. Turn left onto Mount Diablo Scenic Blvd.which soon becomes South Gate Rd.and go 3.7 miles to the South Gate entrance station. Continue on South Gate Rd. another 3.2 miles to Park Headquarters and a junction with North Gate and Summit roads. Turn right onto Summit Rd. and go 2.3 miles to Diablo Valley Overlook, a large parking area at a sharp bend in the road, just above Juniper Campground. The trailhead is on the north end of Diablo Valley Overlook.
From the north end of the parking area, follow either of two paved roads downhill into the Juniper Campground. From the point where they join, continue walking northwest on a gated dirt road, signed as Mitchell Canyon Road but called Deer Flat Road on the Mount Diablo State Park trail map.
Passing Burma Road, left, you continue straight and then bear right as the road descends via well-graded S-bends, giving you a look at Mount Diablo's 3849-foot summit, your goal. The road levels out in a little valley named Deer Flat, one of the prettiest spots on Mount Diablo, especially in fall when bigleaf maple, California wild grape, and poison oak add touches of color to the scene. Soon you come to a junction marking the end of Deer Flat Road. Here, Mitchell Canyon Road goes left, but your route, Meridian Ridge Road, turns right and heads for Murchio Gap.
Descending on a gentle grade from Deer Flat, the route turns north and begins to climb as it skirts Bald Ridge. With the grade now steep, you pass Deer Flat Creek Trail, left. A relentless climb in the open brings you to Murchio Gap, an important junction with many trails. Clockwise from the left as you face north, they are Deer Flat Creek Trail, Eagle Peak Trail, Back Creek Trail, Meridian Ridge Road, and Bald Ridge Trail.
You follow Meridian Ridge Road east and gently downhill to a junction. Here Meridian Ridge Road turns left, but your route, Prospectors Gap Road, goes straight. Where the Middle Trail joins from the left, near Big Spring, you descend slightly to within earshot of Donner Creek. Now comes a steep, rocky climb as you struggle toward Prospectors Gap. A final pitch brings you, with relief, to Prospectors Gap. From here, Prospectors Gap Road drops steeply in front of you; North Peak Road heads left to North Peak; and your route, the North Peak Trail, goes uphill and right.
The trail, rutted and rocky in places, climbs across an open hillside and soon merges with an unsigned trail, right. As you switchback across a ridge, you are rewarded with a stunning 180-degree view, which takes in the west Delta, the Central Valley, Livermore, Pleasanton, the Sunol/Ohlone Wilderness, and Mission Peak.
Now the route turns west toward Devils Elbow, a sharp bend in Summit Road. From here you can see the Summit Museum and communication towers on Mount Diablo's summit. As you reach pavement at Devils Elbow, turn sharply right and begin climbing the Summit Trail, which rises through chaparral to the summit's lower parking area. To reach Mount Diablo's 3849-foot summit from the lower parking area, turn right and follow either of two paved roads about 0.2 mile uphill.
After resting and enjoying the scenery, retrace your steps to the lower parking area, then continue walking west across pavement until you find a trail post marking the Juniper Trail, a single track heading downhill from the edge of the parking area. From here, make a steep, rugged descent on loose dirt, rocks, and railroad ties to Summit Road. Cross carefully, turn right, and walk uphill a short distance to a trail post, left, marking the continuation of the Juniper Trail.
You drop via a series of switchbacks and then continue to descend along the crest of a broad ridge, with a sea of chaparral on both sides of the trail. As the route flattens out at a saddle, you come to a junction with a trail to Moses Rock Ridge. A trail post with an arrow pointing left directs you to the continuation of the Juniper Trail, which descends through groves of bay and juniper to the parking area.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication