Location: Mt. Diablo State Park in Clayton, CA
Distance: 13.2 mile loop via Mitchell Canyon Road
A day use parking permit was required for this hike. We parked at the Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center entrance and there was a $6 fee to park a vehicle. It’s a CASH-ONLY fee. There’s no change either, and I learned this the hard way by giving up my entire $10 bill to park.
*As a side note, if you are taking I-80 East back home, there is a toll that is also cash-only. If you don’t have cash, there’s a toll violation that will cost you $30 via mail. Yep, learned this one the hard way, too.
Sunscreen, water (32oz. bottle each), snacks, shorts, a tank-top, hiking shoes, and my backpack were all needed for this hike. We each brought jackets, but soon into the hike we realized that it was too warm for them.
The Mt. Diablo trailhead is located about an hour and a half away from where I live. Since the Mitchell Canyon Road entrance opened at 8:00 a.m., we had planned to leave at 6:30 a.m. However, we didn’t get on the road until about 7:00 a.m.
When we arrived at the parking lot for the trailhead, we went into the Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center to get some directions and a map on how to navigate our way to the summit. Here’s the map we used. I apologize for the folds:
Since it is a loop trail, there are two ways to get to the top of Mt. Diablo. We took the route that goes straight up a canyon, also known as the Back Creek Trail route. The descent route took us through Juniper Campground and from there, we took the fire road all the way back down to the parking lot.
The first part of the trail was very easy, and we came across many trails that lead to various destinations. The trail system in Mt. Diablo State Park is very well maintained and there are several alternative hiking options that range from easy to strenuous. Along with hiking trails, there are also several mountain biking and equestrian trails.
After scaling the side of the foothill, we reached the base of a canyon, which is where we started our climb. This hike is very difficult in terms of how strenuous the uphill climb is. Although the majority of this part of the hike was shaded, there are very few breaks (flat terrain) once we started making our way up the mountain. We stopped every once in awhile to take a water break. Once we got to the top of the canyon, we realized that we had a second mountain to climb – or at least half of one.
After hiking up the first canyon, we hiked the face of Mt. Diablo all the way up to a road via the Summit Trail. This road, we soon realized, gave access to cars all the way up to the summit; meaning that we could’ve driven to the summit… But who wants to do that when you can have the experience of hiking it, right?
We still had a half a mile to hike to the summit, but once we made it to the top, it was quite a relief. The views were incredible, despite it being really smokey from this year’s forrest fires. We walked to the top of the crowded lookout, also known as the Mt. Diablo museum, and took in the breathtaking views.
When we left the summit about 30 minutes later, we walked down to the far end of the lower summit parking lot to the trail that took us to the Juniper Campground. Once we got to the Juniper Campground, we found the restrooms and were also able to fill up on water again. From here, we walked to the end of the campground and found the fire road. This part of the hike is beautiful and has amazing views. The section of the fire-road before we hit the flat terrain was extremely steep and my toes and knees were burning. I was grateful for the break of uphill climbing, however. If you’re into trail running, the fire road is perfect for that (we ended up jogging a half a mile). With about a mile left of the hike, we hit the flat terrain and enjoyed the relaxing rest of the hike down to the parking lot.
Once we reached the car, we realized we were covered in dirt (and a little sunburned). I was so relieved to finish the hike, but also felt extremely accomplished. In total it took us about 5 hours and 55 minutes to complete the whole hike (the trail guide suggests that it takes about 6-9 hours to complete, so it’s best to start as early as possible!).
We drove home, and luckily were going the opposite direction of the Labor Day traffic. Although this hike was difficult, I hope to do it again sometime soon!