What I like about East Bay hikes is their open spaces with long views of rounded hills. You can see for miles in every direction. Cloudy days are best, because most of these parks offer little in the way of shade. You’ll see lots of big sky, long views of hills sprinkled with oaks and occasional giant rocks, and sometimes, wonderful scenic views. It’s a good place to walk, ride a horse, or bike (although some trails are closed to cyclists).
Diablo Foothills Regional Park is a relatively small 1,060 acres. It links Castle Rock, Mt. Diablo State Park, and the undulating camelback ridges of Shell Ridge. Together these parks create more than 22,000 acres of open space.
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to explore this giant park complex is to hike from the south end of the Diablo Foothills. The hardest part is driving up Interstate 680, especially if you go during commute hours. But once you reach the town of Alamo’s Livorna Road (exit 43), it’s only 1.5 miles to the park’s tiny twelve-car parking lot on the left side of the road.
This staging area hosts two trailheads. One directly behind the parking lot takes you north to Foothills Trail. Across the road, a short walk on Serafix Road leads to the Serafix Trail that runs next to a gated community, and then connects with Alamo Trail. You can take either one to begin a loop of about five miles around the southwestern section of the park.
If you only want to see the China Wall and one of the best views of Mt. Diablo, choose the Serafix/Alamo Trail, and turn right on Hanging Valley Trail toward the border with Mt. Diablo State Park. Here, you’ll find a comfortable bench with a panoramic view of Mt. Diablo. Look over to the right. You’ll see one edge of the China Wall. Follow the trail to the intersection with Briones to Mount Diablo Trail. Turn right. You can follow a narrow cow path around the hill or go down the hill to a broad road to the right. Either one will take you to the China Wall.
I don’t think the wall looks like anything built by humans. The tall dark spikes of rock seem to have punched up through the earth’s surface, perhaps like the backs of giant dinosaurs. A more scientific description is that the wall is an eroded sandstone stratum tilted by the up-thrust of nearby Mt. Diablo. It is both weird and natural. Unlike a book or museum piece, you can touch the surface, inspect the entire length from any angle, and imagine the power that made it. If that is enough, you can retrace your steps back to the Serafix trailhead.
If you want to see more, walk back to the Hanging Valley Trail. Instead of turning left to the Alamo Trail, turn right on Hanging Valley. You walk over several ups and downs north through a wide valley with views to the east of lovely golden hills, and a parallel trail often enjoyed by horseback riders. (Equestrian staging is available at the Orchard Staging area at the north end of the park on Castle Rock Road.) Turn left on Stonegate Trail. As you climb up this trail, it narrows to a cow path until reaching a gate where you turn left for Foothills Trail, and a downhill walk to the Livorna Staging Area.
Some cautions. This park is more enjoyable on a cool cloudy day. Shade is limited. Be sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, and a hat.
There are many trails with minimal signing. Be sure you have a map. You can get one at the parking area, but to be safe, get a Diablo Foothills map online at East Bay Regional Park District (www.ebparks.org,). A compass would be helpful.