Mount Diablo is an incredible 20,000 acre park, located in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s double pyramid mountain peaks stick out of the valleys like a sore thumb. It is an unusual geologic anomaly created by the force of tectonic plates. It’s park boundaries have created a safe haven for wildlife and has been a site of ongoing conservational efforts from invasive species removal to reintroduction of endangered, or locally extinct species. This has always been one of my favorite parks in the area, and there are so many reasons why this park is great, but let’s narrow it down to 13 for the sake of the title!
1. “13 Reasons Why” Was Filmed Here!
I’m hoping most people caught my title and thought of the recent Netflix show “13 Reasons Why”. It was filmed in the North and East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. Throughout the whole show I kept my eye open trying to recognize familiar spots, from Mountain View Cemetery, to the San Rafael Bridge, to Mount Diablo State Park! Late in season 1, you may remember the rock climbing scene between Tony and Clay. That was filmed in the Rock City portion of the park (see #11). As soon as I saw the landscape of the park, I knew exactly where they were! They also show a clip of the locally famous elephant rock, and the giant boulders that you yourself can climb all over.
2. It Has the Best View of the World
From the summit of Mount Diablo, you can see the most amount of ground on Earth. Well, second most… besides for Mt. Kilimanjaro. On a clear day you can see all the way into Oregon, and 80% of the state of California. These are insane statistics since this mountain isn’t even 4,000 ft tall! To compare, Mount Kilimanjaro is 19,340 ft, while Mount Diablo is only 3,849 ft. Being a product of tectonic collisions, it is ever-growing, however, it’s not likely to catch up to Mt. Kilimanjaro any time soon. The reason this summit has such a distant view is because of the low laying grounds in the surrounding areas. This allows visitors at the peak to see insanely far. While clear days are few and far in between in the Bay Area, the best time for a clear view is after a winter storm. On any other day, you should be able to spot the Golden Gate Bridge and the SF skyline!
3. It’s Less than an Hour Drive from SF
Many visitors of San Francisco, tend to venture out to the slopes of Lake Tahoe or the granite marvels of Yosemite. This park however, is only a 45 minute drive from San Francisco and can be explored in just a day! For those travelers on a shorter time frame, this is a great opportunity to see ‘a lot of the world’ in one trip.
4. Great for Wildlife Viewing and Birdwatching
Mount Diablo is a nature oasis from the expanding metropolis and suburban neighborhoods of the Bay Area. You can spot dear, burrowing owls, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, the more rarely mountain lions, and the recently re-introduced badger and ringtail cats. There are two seasonal attractions for wildlife lovers inside the park: the March of the Tarantulas and Peregrine Falcon season. From August- October, male tarantulas are on the hunt for love. During this time, you can join a guided tour and follow the herd (at a safe distance- for them and you). From February 1st to July 31st, the Castle Rock section of the park is closed for the Peregrine Falcon mating and nesting season. These protected predatory birds are highly territory and sensitive to disturbances. And while you wont be able to get too close to them, you will definitely be able to spot them high in the sky during your visit. Most wildlife can be viewed from Deer Flat, a 1.6 moderate hike from Juniper Campgrounds.
5. It’s a Biker’s Dream
Mount Diablo is a difficult 11 mile uphill ride. It’s bike trail is prized by many bikers. I, myself, could never imagine riding a bicycle up this curvy mountain road, or even down it! You’ll see bikers going 50+mph straight downhill. As you could have guessed, there are incredible bike races throughout the year on this challenging climb.
6. The In-Your-Face Geology
Mount Diablo was created by two converging earthquake faults. As you venture around the park, you’ll see evidence of this in the ancient lava rocks- typically colored green, and oceanic Jurassic and Cretaceous age rocks (90-190 million years ago) that are exposed near the summit. You can find fossilized seashells in the ancient rocks in the Fossil Ridge section of the park. Beyond the ancient stones are more recent sedimentary rocks that were formed within the last 20 million years, by the San Andreas Fault.
7. The Hike that Takes You through 4 Different Terrains in One Mile
This is one of my favorite hikes in the park. It circles the top of the mountain, but as you change sides from North, South, East and West, the plants, wildlife, and geology changes with you. Each side has something new to offer. For example, the eastern facing side has a compile of large ancient, moon like stones which is the only area in the park where a certain lizard lives. (I’ve forgotten the name!! ) This trail begins near the Summit Visitor Center on the Mary Bowman Trail. The start of the trail includes a large variety of the native plants in the area, each appropriately identified by sign.
There are a few small waterfalls on the Northside of the park, only accessible by Mitchell Canyon Road. Water is a luxury in California, as it disappears in the summer and fall. The best time to capture the falls in action is late winter, early spring after lots of rainfall. I haven’t made it to the waterfalls yet, but I heard this past winter, they were gushing!
9. Astronomy & Camping
In the summer months, the park hosts astronomy nights once a month. This is the only time one can enter the park after dark. It’s a great opportunity to battle the city lights for a grand view of the stars, planets, and milky way. Camping is available year round, but astronomy night is the perfect time to get the most out of your trip.
Wildflowers typically bloom in April and May across the state. This past year has really blessed California with an abundance of water, which in turn, created a massive wildflower super bloom! Mount Diablo also took part in the super bloom with the state flower, the California Poppy. Keep in mind, the poppy is a protect flower and is illegal to pick. Also, while inside state park boundaries, all nature items, from flowers, leaves, animals, to sticks and rocks, are illegal to remove.
11. Rock City
One of the most popular areas in the park is Rock City. Here, you can find unusually large sandstone sculptures and caves carved by the wind. Historic evidence shows that it was once inhabited by the Native American, food gathering tribe, The Volvons. The most obvious signs of previous dwelling in Rock City are the grinding holes near the parking entry. These ancient mortar and pestles were used to grind plants for food and medicine. The most amazing sandstone sculpture is the giant Elephant Rock (pictured in #1). It is located on the park map, for those searching for it! Although this is where the rock climbing scene was filmed, areas like Climbing Rocks, and Castle Rocks are best for rock climbing.
12. Native People/Culture
The local Native Americans believed that Mount Diablo was the center of creation. The Volvon were one of the Bay Miwok tribelets living in area when European settlers ‘discovered’ the mountain. Every California Native American tribe who passed through the area found the mountain to be sacred. Nearly every tribe who passed by spent time here preforming ceremonies. To this day it is believed that Mount Diablo has magical and metaphysical powers associated with it’s land.
The Bay Area has unique microclimate which keeps the temperature close to 60° year round. In cities further out like Walnut Creek, where Mount Diablo is located, the temperate ranges on a slightly larger scale. It doesn’t snow within in 3 hours of the SF Bay, but one day this past winter, snow fell on the summit of Mount Diablo and remained on ground for a few hours! Enough time to get a few runs in with the old toboggan. It was a rare experience for locals and visitors alike.
Mount Diablo is one of California’s amazing state parks. It truly has something for everybody and should be on everyone’s San Francisco itinerary!
Tips for Visiting Mount Diablo
1. Bikers have the right of way on the roads. Give them plenty of space and only pass when visibility is good.
2. Ticks are present in the park, more so in summer months. Tuck your pants into your socks for extra protection.
3. Entry is only $10 per car.
4. The best time for:
Furthest Summit Views: After a Winter Rain
Waterfalls: Late Winter- Early Spring
Peregrine Falcons Breeding: February- July
March of the Tarantulas: August-October
Astrological Sightings: Year Round, Summer for Milky Way
Photography/Wildlife Viewing: Just After Sunrise, Just Before Sunset
5. Poison Oak is EVERYWHERE. Learn to identify it before you go!
6. Fire is a serious threat in California summers. Do what you can to prevent fires during your trip. If you come across a fire study, help out by sharing your photos! (see photo below.)
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