Mount Diablo stands tall over the San Francisco Bay Area. At 3,849′ it is not the tallest peak in the area, but it is one of the most prominent. Surrounded by low-lying hills, Diablo looks even more impressive. In fact, in 1851 it was established as the baseline and meridian for land surveys covering two-thirds of California and all of Nevada.
Getting to the Mitchell Canyon Staging Area
The Mitchell Canyon Staging Area opens at 8:00 am and has a $6 vehicle entry fee. When we arrived, the fee was self-service. Put a check or cash in the provided envelope and tear off the stub to put on your dashboard. Getting there isn’t difficult. The address is 96 Mitchell Canyon Rd, Clayton, CA 94517 and you can get turn-by-turn directions via Google Maps.
One amusing sight at the staging area? A rafter of wild turkeys roaming freely. Maybe several groups totally one hundred or more. I’d never seen so many in one place.
Hiking Mount Diablo
Start up the Mitchell Canyon Fire Road, turning left onto the Eagle Peak Trail after about one-tenth of a mile.
This single-track trail has a lot of variety, from grassy hills to rugged, rocky sections through scraggly forest. As you climb, the views begin to open up. After hiking two miles and climbing your first 1,000 feet, you reach Twin Peaks – good spot to pause and soak in the views.
From Twin Peaks, the trail follows closely along the ridgeline for another mile to Eagle Peak.
When you reach Eagle Peak, you’ve already bagged two peaks and you’re just getting warmed up! There’s a summit register at Eagle Peak, though I didn’t see a blank page in the two or three in the can.
From here, the ridgeline heads downhill (yes, you’re going to give up some of that hard-earned elevation) before climbing again towards the saddle to the left of Mount Diablo known as Prospector’s Gap.
Several trails converge at Prospector’s Gap, so this is another good place to take a break and make sure everyone get’s headed in the right direction – specifically the North Peak Trail towards the Summit Trail.
The views on the North Peak Trail were spectacular, and we were getting close enough to the summit to make out details in the tower.
The Summit Trail actually threads it’s way through a forested section between the loop road that cars take to and from the summit. Nothing to get too excited about, other than the realization that: A. You’re not walking where the cars are driving, and B. You’re very close to the summit.
When you finally reach the summit after 7 miles of hiking, you’ll likely see young children being chased by their parents and road bikers in their spandex tights. You’ll be one of the few who actually hiked to the top, but don’t let it go to your head. You still have to hike back down.
Spend some time in the visitor center, and be sure to go upstairs where you’ll find the actual summit of Mount Diablo. Yes, the highest point of the “rock” that is Mount Diablo is actually inside the visitor center, which was built around (and above) it.
The top of the visitor center has a viewing platform where you can point out many landmarks. In fact, according to Dan Stefanisko, supervising ranger at Mt. Diablo State Park, you can see 35 of the 58 counties in California on a clear day. There is even a direct line-of-sight to the summit of Half Dome in Yosemite, 135 miles away.
Heading back down, follow the Summit Trail downhill to a junction with a trail to the Juniper Campground. When you reach the campground, you’ll follow the Mitchell Canyon Fire Road to the right (northwest). You’ll follow this double track trail all the way back to the the Mitchell Canyon Staging Area.
Along the way, there’s plenty to see. To your right, you’ll see the ridgeline you climbed earlier. We saw an old mine, huge fungus, and the beginning of wildflower season.
It was delightful to see water cascading down Mitchell Creek.
The last two miles are an easy hike, though after the first 13 miles, your feet might disagree. Finally, you’re back at the Mitchell Canyon Staging Area. The loop is complete.
Mount Diablo Trail Map & Elevation Profile
Mount Diablo Resources
- Bring the Ten Essentials. I highly recommend bringing GaiaGPS with the map for the area downloaded in advance. The web of trails and roads near the summit can be confusing.
- Mount Diablo State Park is open from 8am to sunset.
- There is a $6 vehicle entry fee to park at the Mitchell Canyon Staging Area. If you arrive before the visitor center is open, you deposit your fee in check or cash in the provided envelope and put the stub on your dashboard.
- The summit visitor center is open daily from 10am to 4pm, and is worth a visit. It’s also the only way to reach the actual summit of Mount Diablo – you’ll find it sticking through the second floor of the visitor center!
- This trail is part of the NorCal Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. Join today!
- Post-hike libations? We headed to nearby Calicraft Brewery in Walnut Creek.
Mount Diablo Weather Forecast
Conditions at the summit can be very different. It can even get snow during winter months. Check here for more detailed summit info.
Originally hiked on January 26, 2018 with Karl Doll (@alpharoaming).
Sonu Negi says
Great write up. Do check my blogs on trekking in Indian Himalayas.
Jeff, This is a great article, we printed this for our hike yesterday. But there are some details that are missing that you may consider adding to your article around directions. Here is the details while still fresh in my mind.
Once you get past the initial fire road gate, take a Left to Oak Road and within 0.1 miles, make a Right to Mitchell Rock Trail. The first major intersection is at the end of Eagle Peak Road. Here you will have to look for a small trail that leads into thick bushes. This is the Ridge Trail. This is really very steep climb and you may be all alone on this part of the hike. The rest of your direction is good. On the way back look for sign to Juniper Trail to the campground. This is a fire road all the way back to parking lot. Overall it took us close to 8 hours to complete the loop in close to 100 degree weather (July 28th). Thanks again for this article.
Alfred Wayne Penn says
Great commentary on a trail I love. Living in Walnut Creek, I used to prepare for backpacking in the Sierras on the slopes of Mt. Diablo. This trail complex was a great favorite, with fine views at a number of places along the trail. After a couple of strokes, I can only remember those earlier times, but this pictorial essay on that hike brings me back well remembered spots along the way. Thanks so much!
Joyce Chin says
Wrong trail names, but the map is correct – people are getting lost trying to follow these directions. After .1 mi. on Mitchell Canyon Rd., turn left on Oak Rd., Right on Mitchell Rock Trail to Twin Peaks, continue staying right at the junction with Eagle Peak Trail; cross the fire road and take the single track Bald Ridge Trail on the left to Prospector’s Gap. Go right on Prospector’s Gap Rd. a few feet, then right on North Peak Trail and right then uphill on Summit Trail. (I do trail maintenance along this route and regularly run into people who are confused by the directions…follow the map, as several trail names are missing from the above instructions..I have listed the correct trail names here. Some of the confusion is that people don’t understand how to read the trail signs. The large name on the trail sign is where the trail is heading TO. The small name above the large name is the name of the trail.
David Morris says
Great hike – much more enjoyable (and tougher) than my usual route to the summit from Regency Drive in Clayton. Just a shame to find a tick stuck to my arm when I got home!
The perils of hiking on a narrow trail with lots of foliage nearby.
Hopefully I’ll have better luck in future!
Jeff Hester says
Yikes! I don’t like ticks. I’ve been luck so far (knock on wood), or maybe they just don’t like me. Great reminder to check when you’re done hiking.
Linda Switzer says
Can I use my senior pass, the National Parks and Federal Recreational Land Pass, to park for free or
for a discount?
Jeff Hester says
Hi Linda! Unfortunately, the national pass won’t work at state parks.
Ed Morrison says
SPEAKING OF TICKS: One of my most challenging mountain hikes, would be in California, doing Mt. Diablo, the hard way; up its spine from its beginning. It started out with a hilarious incident: we had to walk through a few hundred yards of tall grass, to start the trip. About three quarters of the way through the grass, I looked down to see a bunch of ticks, climbing up my pant legs. We stopped and brushed them off of us and then tucked our pant legs into our socks, to prevent them from crawling up our legs themselves. As we were doing this, a family of hikers, all dressed in matching white outfits, passed us on the trail. We were dressed in our usual, mountain climbing garb, in other words old clothes we wouldn’t mind tearing up on the climb and my filled with holes hat I always wore on climbs. I warned the family to watch out for the ticks, to
which they gave us snooty looks of disgust. It wasn’t even a minute later, that we started hearing the screaming from the two kids with them. We had been breaking the trail for them and in doing so, were sweeping the grass free of ticks. When they took the lead, they got to sweep the grass free of the little blood suckers. I would have felt sorry for them, if it wasn’t for the looking down their noses at us. Instead, we all got a good belly laugh at their expense; the memory still brings a smile to my face.
Hello Jeff: apart from the confusion over the trail names, nice review of this trail. I’m a local, and have hiked Mt. Diablo numerous times on different trails over the years. To my chagrin, I didn’t know the actual summit is located inside the tower at the top, even when I was inside the building. totally missed that sign. One thing your readers should know: Mt. Diablo isn’t suitable for hiking year round. It gets really hot and dry in the summer, like one commenter said, it can reach 100 degrees in the shade. Hikers have to have a high tolerance for heat, or else start before sunup, bring lots of water, and take rest breaks in the shade often. We had a bad wildfire season this year (2020) so I would be cautious hiking there during times of extreme fire danger.
Sandy Boucher says
How near the summit can one get by car?
And how does one do it?
Jeff Hester says
There is a road that goes nearly all the way to the summit. At the summit is a building (the summit block is actually INSIDE the building). There is a visitor center and observation deck. Of course, driving to the top doesn’t deliver the same satisfaction as hiking up. 😉
This is a great article, we printed this for our hike yesterday. But there are some details that are missing that you may consider adding to your article around directions. Here is the details while still fresh in my mind.
Once you get past the initial fire road gate, take a Left to Oak Road and within 0.1 miles, make a Right to Mitchell Rock Trail. The first major intersection is at the end of Eagle Peak Road. Here you will have to look for a small trail that leads into thick bushes. This is the Ridge Trail. This is really very steep climb and you may be all alone on this part of the hike. The rest of your direction is good. On the way back look for sign to Juniper Trail to the campground. This is a fire road all the way back to parking lot. Overall it took us close to 8 hours to complete the loop in close to 100 degree weather (July 28th). Thanks again for this article
Jen Davies says
Does anyone know if they really don’t open the gates at Mitchell Canyon until 8am? I’m hoping to start earlier than that to beat the heat.
Hi Jen! Did you get your answer about if the gate opens before 8am? I too am hoping to beat the heat. Thanks, Yvonne