Mount Diablo State Park
Two Trails in Mitchell Canyon
Neil Wiley

On a good day, it’s over an hour’s drive to Mount Diablo, but worth the trip. It’s impressive. On a clear day you can see it from a hundred miles away, and from one of its twin peaks you may see the Farallon Islands, the Sierra Nevada, Lassen Peak, and our own Loma Prieta. And yes, you can drive right up to the castle-like Summit Building, built with sandstone blocks quarried in the park. Enjoy the visitor center, museum, and observation deck.

But the mountain is only the tip of the iceberg. Below are more than 20,000 acres with 162 miles of trail that take you through a multitude of landscapes and diverse environments—giant sunny meadows and shaded forest, easy creek-side walks, challenging mountain climbs, and changes in elevation from 335 to 3,849 feet.

Do you like unusual rock formations? See igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock from 190 million to 10 million years old, fossilized remains of ancient sea creatures, and volcanic rock. Visit the caves and tunnels of Rock City. Climb Sentinel Rock. Hike up to Mitchell Rock to see an outcrop of pillow lava that was transported up from the Pacific Ocean.

A quiet walk through a forest reveals oak and riparian woodlands, chaparral, live oak maples, pines, and buckeye. Although wildflowers are best seen in the spring, you’ll find interesting plants and flowers any time of year.

Are you a bird-watcher? More than two-hundred species of birds have been sighted, including hawks, warblers, tanagers, orioles, bluebirds, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and great horned owls. Over sixty species of butterflies have been seen.

The park has its share of critters, including bobcats, lizards, tarantulas, and snakes. Observe but do not pet.

With so much to see over so many miles of trail, where do you begin? If you are a hiker, I recommend reading a 154-page paperback, Hiker’s Guide to Mount Diablo State Park. This book, published by the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association, offers comprehensive descriptions of fifty hikes, with color photographs, topographic maps, and profiles that show hike distance, difficulty, and cumulative climb. For information, call the park at 925-673-2891 or visit, buy your copy for $15, and start reading.

I’d loan you my copy, but I’ve started my own hiking campaign. I began with hikes two and three. (Hike one features the unique Mount Diablo Globe Tulip best seen in spring.)

The book says that hike two to 1080-foot high Mitchell Rock is one of the most popular walks in the park. It also said that it was easy. I didn’t see another hiker on a weekday mid-morning, and it was a bit of a climb.
Starting at the Mitchell Canyon trailhead you walk a few yards south, than climb steeply up Oak Road to the left. Up on the plateau, watch on the right for a single track. The sign says in big letters TO EAGLE PEAK TRAIL, but above in small letters it says MITCHELL ROCK TRAIL.

There are several other trails, some unmarked, that take you up through a meadow to the main single-track all the way to the top. Either way, you travel a winding path through brush with occasional shade and views. In places it gets rocky, slippery, and less defined, but the switchbacks are interesting. At the top, I found some good views, but the wind almost blew my hat off. It’s easier walking down, but don’t hurry. It’s easy to trip. The round trip is only 1.4 miles, but the rocky climb to 1080 feet is a good workout.
The Northern Meadows hike follows a pleasant 2.2 mile loop. Starting at the northern end of the lower parking lot, it follows along Bruce Lee Road with a gentle rise to a large meadow on a plateau. As you curve back along Bruce Lee Road, the view opens to reveal a glorious panorama of mountain peaks. You feel small as you follow the trail to a right turn on Coulter Pine Trail, a right on Oak, and a left on Murchio.

Not surprisingly, a right turn on Water Tower Road brings you by a large old but photogenic water tower. Just beyond the tower, watch for a steep and narrow single-track path called Bruce Lee Trail on the left that leads back to the parking lot.

We have only 48 more trails to go. If I don’t get to them all, I hope some of you finish the job, especially number 50, the Mount Diablo Marathon, a 26-mile-plus hike with a cumulative climb of 9,666 feet that loops around the entire park. Enjoy.

To reach the trailhead, take Interstate 680 north to a right turn on Ygnacio Valley Road, right on Clayton Road, and right on Mitchell Canyon Road to the end. (For your GPS, the address is 96 Mitchell Canyon Road, Clayton, 94517.) A small visitor center is open on weekends and holidays. Vehicle fee for this entrance is $6, or $5 for seniors. The vehicle fee for the North or South Gate entrance is $10.