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Mt Diablo Summit Trail

Mt. Diablo summit from south gate rd via summit trail
Date: 4th June 2017
Duration: ~5hrs (start: 6:15 am, end: 11:15 am)
Distance: ~12 miles (out-and-back)
Elevation: ~3200 feet
Difficulty: Strenuous on a hot day.
Trailhead: Summit trail trailhead (S Gate Rd right at the automatic gates).
Parking: Tricky, find parking on S Gate Rd.
Trail: Summit trail trailhead -> summit Trail -> rock city -> summit trail -> Mt. Diablo summit.
 

Notes
  • Best suited for trail running, mountain biking or for a nice hike during the winters. Ample water required if you plan to hike up to the summit and back on a hot summer day. I’d suggest starting the hike as early as 6am in the summers.
  • Rock city area is a great place for kids not just by age but also by spirit.
  • Wildflowers can be found along the trail during late spring and early summer.
  • Mt. Diablo visitor center at the top - Timings (open 10am - 4pm)
Links: State Park website, Map PDF, MDAS

Rock city area
 
Mt. Diablo Summit                                                                        Near rock city
This hike is one of the many mid-range hikes around the bay area in terms of both difficulty and mileage. The scorching heat of the sun can definitely bump the difficulty level up especially in the summers. Hiking reconnects me to nature and taking time for the serene beauty to sink in slows me down but this was a quick one. East bay (San Francisco area) hills offer ample trails for various outdoor enthusiasts - hikers to runners to mountain bikers and they are categorized by overlapping hills and valleys blanketed by abundance of grass. Rattlers and lizards find this terrain most suitable for life happily criss-crossing the trails around Mt. Diablo state park. Pretty near to the south entrance there are large boulders and sandstone formations carved by wind, rain, and time that make up a city of rocks aptly named “rock city” . The nearby Live Oak Campground (quarter mile out from rock city) is a great place for a weekend getaway. Hiking around rock city is also a great way to study the signage that explains the history of these wonderful formations.

  
         Near rock city area                                                      Nice chimney to climb up                      Views from half way up on the trail
Flora and fauna in the Mt. Diablo area
Diablo (Spanish) translates to “Devil” in English and the story behind the name is rather interesting. Wikipedia covers the history of Mt. Diablo in depth, enough to fulfill your inquisitive desires. This state park welcomes trail runners, mountain bikers and hikers out for a challenge. If you are hiking the summit trail like we did, its a steep climb from rock city (We - Kaustubh, Anshuman and I). The arid weather is very evident in the fauna visible along the trail. The browns lined with few green shrubs provides this desert perspective to the place. The summit trail criss-crosses the summit road multiple times making emergency exits possible during most hikes in the Diablo area.

Devils’ elbow 3480’; one of the intersections of the summit trail with the road marks proximity to the summit which is perched at 3849’. It was 8:56am by the time we reached the top putting us at around ~2hr 30mins one way (6 miles) accounting time for photography and a bunch of fooling around in rock city. Summit road goes all the way to the summit which makes the summit a touristy destination catering to motored weekend getaway enthusiasts. During the day it's almost impossible to find a spot at the very tiny parking lot here. At 8:50am just ~50mins after gates open, the summit wasn’t too bad. We had the observatory deck to ourselves for a brief amount of time.

The place where the old hotel stood during olden times along the mud road to the top -  now the summit trail 
The visitor center up here houses a ranger station and a small museum. It also plays a movie of the park during its working hours which is between 10am and 4pm. Since we were here by 9am, we did not get to spend time at the visitor center. On a clear day in winter, you could see the white snow capped sierras if you looked to the east/north-east and the Golden Gate bridge if you looked in the west/north-western direction. This day was clear enough to see the mountains but the sun was pretty bright. Carrying sun shades would definitely be a good idea along with binoculars if you plan to spend some time at the summit and hope to see the far away mountains

Since we wanted to be back home for lunch, our descent was quick. The entire hike took us about 5hrs and we covered about 12 miles that day.

View from the summit of Mt. Diablo