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Taking in the 209 & much of NorCal

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Sawyer Urbatsch and Ashley Greer check out the natural displays inside the summit visitors’ center.


POSTED January 7, 2012 1:55 a.m.

MT. DIABLO — The best place to take in all of the 209 is without a doubt high atop Mt. Diablo.

In less than 90 minutes from the South County you can be standing atop a peak that geographers claim one can see more of the earth’s surface from its summit than anywhere else in the world besides the 19,340-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.

Mt. Diablo is not nearly as lofty at 3,849 feet. But given what you can see both scanning the horizon and hiking among the 19,000 acres that comprise the state park you can savor sights and an ecological system that is a unique Northern California experience.

There are three ways to enjoy the trip to the summit - driving, bicycling, or hiking.

Virtually every day of the year that Mt. Diablo isn’t closed due to the occasional heavy dusting of snow or borderline hurricane force winds, bicyclists will be making their way up the relatively steep and windy road to the summit. It calls for patience in the part of motorists given the fact the going is slow on two wheels and there is an abundance of blind curves. But then again, a drive up to the top of Mt. Diablo is something that is best taken slow and easy so you can savor the sites.

The best way to enjoy all that descending to Mt. Diablo’s summit has to offer is to take “The Grand Loop.” It is a seven-mile round trip hike that will allow you to take in all vistas Mt. Diablo has to offer over a 1,700-foot elevation gain.

To reach the trailhead from the Northern San Joaquin Valley, take Interstate 580 to Pleasanton/Dublin where you will then head north on Interstate 680. Take the Diablo Road exit in Danville and go east for three miles until you reach Mt. Diablo Scenic Boulevard where you will turn north. This will lead you to the South Gate Road and the south entrance where a day use fee of $10 per vehicle is collected.

South Gate Road turns into Summit Road and covers 8.5 miles to the Laurel Nook Picnic Area. You can park at the Diablo Valley Overlook. Follow the marked Juniper Trail that starts at the picnic area. “The Grand Loop” is a series of trails and fire roads that follow a meandering course to the summit.

This hike will give you arguably the best view of the Central Valley. One would think the summit itself would but the observation deck atop the museum is closed due to leaks in the roof effectively depriving those who prefer to enjoy the vistas simply by driving to the top short-changed when it comes to the Central Valley and parts of the Sierra.

Ideally the optimum viewing time from atop Mt. Diablo is in January or February on a clear cold day typically created when brisk north winds clear the Central Valley. On such days you can take in a snow-capped Mt. Shasta as well as a white draped Mt. Lassen some 200 miles away at the far northern end of the Sacramento Valley and make out the distinct granite that is known as Half Dome in Yosemite Valley.

But even on winter days when the fog is still lingering in spots the view is incredible. You can make out the Golden Gate Bridge and Farallon Islands on the western horizon and a host of familiar landmarks in all directions.

A stop at the museum is a must. The displays describe four distinct ecological systems found within the park’s boundaries ranging from wildlife to plants.

You can also study displays that delve into the distinctive geological formation you will find on Mt. Diablo. What makes it distinctive is that as you climb you cover successively older rocks. That’s because much of the sedimentary rock found on Mt. Diablo was part of an ancient sea bed that has been tilted, turned upside down, and pushed up by a plug of hard red Franciscan rock.

There are numerous hiking opportunities including some that will take you to waterfalls. The complimentary Mt. Diablo View distributed at the entrance gates has a rudimentary trail and road map. Your best bet though is to purchase more detailed topographic trail maps available at the entrance kiosks or the museum at the summit.

— Dennis Wyatt

managing editor

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