Mt. Diablo: Falls Trail Loop

IMG_1969I took a hike up Mt. Diablo last Saturday with some good friends of mine. We hiked the Falls Trail Loop which is a 6 mile loop of moderate difficulty. I’ve lived in the East Bay for many years and this is the first time I have ever hiked Mt. Diablo. I’ve driven up to the top of Mt. Diablo several times during summer months when it is very hot and dry. I think that is why it has never really appealed to me to take a hike in this park. However, during the winter and early spring water falls appear and you can view these falls on the Falls Trail loop. The falls make for a much more appealing and interesting hike.

We started our trip at 7:30 a.m. departing from the park entry at Regency Drive and following the Donner Creek fire road. I won’t repeat the directions of the trail, but you can find more information about the hike here and a map of the trails here. Hiking during this time of year the trails are a bit muddy so I would suggest a mid-height hiking boot to provide some ankle support rather tennis shoes.

After a moderately steep inclination, the trail narrows from a wide fire road, to a small single-track trail and you begin to feel like you are really going somewhere. The elevation increases and some great views of the city of Clayton and the brushed covered areas below can be seen. At this point in the hike you can also hear the water from the creek below rushing by and see a glimpse of the falls as shown above. Continuing on the narrow trails takes you though some thickly covered areas where moss covers rocks and hillsides in a vivid greenish-yellow color. Ahead, the creek washes over the trail and this is the first place where you cross water on the hike. The creek is narrow and very shallow but adds some interest to the hike. We crossed the creek three times over the entire hike, some places the water is deeper and wider than others.

After crossing the creek and hiking over the hill about another 1/10 mile we come to another crossing which has the first water feature indicative of a water fall. A group of moss covered rocks which the creek washes over. Above this is another similar feature of a larger scale which I did not get pictures of. We stopped here for a bit to take some pictures, have a quick snack, and enjoy the scenery.

While we rested I realized that there is much more to Mt. Diablo than meets the eye from a distance. From far it doesn’t look like much more than scrub brush and dirt. Once you get inside on the trails however I saw a lot more than I expected. I also realized that Mt. Diablo is a great place to train for longer hiking expeditions. While the Falls Trail loop is a moderate hike, there’s a network of trails some of which I suspect can be quite strenuous.

IMG_1987After a short break we continued on to find the next fall. A short hike and we were there. For the size of the falls in Mt. Diablo this next fall is medium in size and has a small pool of water at the bottom. It’s not grand in size but adds a lot of interest to the hike. We stopped here again to take some pictures. I noticed the wind had kicked up a bit and the temperature dropped in this area. It’s best to be prepared with at least a light wind-breaker if you are going to take this hike. While you may remain warm while hiking, stopping to take pictures allows your body to cool off. I put my jacket back on at this point and kept it on for the remainder of the hike. We snapped a few pictures and carried on.

IMG_2003The next and final fall we came to is the largest of the falls viewable on this loop. I am not sure if this is the grand-daddy of all falls on Mt. Diablo but it is the largest of the ones we saw on our hike. Getting viewable access to this fall was a bit of work in itself. We had to climb up some very soft dirt on a steep incline to get up and over the creek and then navigate over wet, slippery rocks up the creek a bit to even see the fall. This is where having some nice lug soled boots comes in handy. Once there I stood on a steep face of soft dirt to get the picture to the right.

The fall is a long, and narrow fall that funnels water down a face of rock and into a shallow pool at the bottom. It’s hard to capture the true experience of being there in a camera lens but this is worth seeing at least once if you plan to hike Mt. Diablo. For a back yard destination this is a great hike.

We stopped here for awhile, taking pictures and enjoying the scenery before heading out. We navigated back down the creek, and slid down the steep hillside to get back to the main trail. This point is the highlight of the hike, the last, and largest fall to encounter. I took my last look around and then continued ahead on the main trail. We are also at the highest elevation of the hike as well and I was glad to realize the remainder of the hike is mostly down hill. We still have about three miles of hiking ahead of us from this point.

Not having any more falls to take pictures of I began taking pictures of whatever flowers I encountered. I have no idea what these are but here’s what I saw on this hike.

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A couple more miles and we had finally made it back to the trail head. The entire hike took us about four hours, including the time we took to stop and take pictures. On our way out it was about 11 a.m. and we saw quite a few people just starting the hike. Many didn’t even know where they were headed and I was surprised at how many I saw that seemed ill prepared for a hike, not even carrying water. Some I saw had two walking staffs and a full pack on. If you are going to take this hike I would recommend a minimal amount of gear. Here’s what you should have:

  1. Water – recommend 32 oz., minimum 16 oz.
  2. Cell phone – In case of emergency.
  3. Snack – energy bars, sandwich, etc.
  4. Trail map
  5. Mid-height hiking boots or rugged athletic shoes.
  6. Camera
  7. Light jacket

All of this fits nicely into a small day pack.

It’s also very helpful to know where you are going. You can find a map of Mt. Diablo trails at http://www.mdia.org/PDF%20Files/MtDiabloBrochure.pdf. Print it out and take it with you on the trail. A map is also posted on a board at the park entries but it’s better to have the map with you on the trail. Trail indicators are posted throughout the park to help guide your way as well. Heed the warnings on the signs. While it is rare you will
see one, keep an eye out for rattle snakes. Snakes are cold-blooded and they will warm themselves on rocks and gravel roads in the morning sun.

I suspect the falls will dry up shortly, so get out there and take a look before they slow to a trickle and the weather gets too hot. It’s definitely worth the trip. You can find more pictures of the hike here.