Get ready for an incredible spring of wildflowers and other visual delights.
After five years of dry winters, Mother Nature has opened up the skies. And in doing so she has set the stage for what could be the most impressive spring in at least two decades.
And perhaps nowhere is the rainbow of natural colors as plentiful, intense and as uninterrupted by urbanization in the general 209 region as at Mt. Diablo State Park.
Now that days are starting to warm-up the hills below the 3,849-foot summit — the loftiest in the Bay Area as well as the Diablo Range of the Coastal Mountains — will soon be ablaze in color and sweet smells.
A few of the native wildflowers below Mt. Diablo include:
uCalifornia Golden Poppy: It is almost a year-round flower on Mt. Diablo with most blooms between March and October below 3,500 feet in grassy areas. The biggest treat are the mass blooms typically blanketing hillsides along the North Gate Road between mid-April and the early part of May.
uManzanita: The common shrub offers delicate pink or white blooms from December to March in delicate bell-like shapes. The rain and cooler weather may prolong the blooms until the end of March.
uChaparral Currant: This shrub also features pink flowers and has been in bloom since December at the lower elevations. To see them in bloom through about May near Mt. Diablo’s summit.
uMilk Maids: The white flowery plants are part of the Mustard family and will be in abundance until they start fading away in May.
uIndian Warrior: The striking reddish leaves start popping up among the pines at the lower elevations in March and then finish up blooming in April near the summit.
uShooting Star’s Mosquito Bills: The pink flowers appear in mass from mid-February through April.
uMountain Violet: The purplish flowers are common from March to May.
uJohnny-Jump-Up: Also found from March to May, they can’t be missed thanks to deep yellow blooms with streaks of black.
uJim Brush: The member of the California Lilac family offer blue blossoms from late March to early May.
uBuck Brush: A personal favorite of mine due to its scent that smells like freshly popped popcorn, it is now in bloom through late May.
Those are just a few of the wildflowers you can find on Mt. Diablo.
In reality, you don’t need to soak up wildflowers to have a visual feast visiting Mt. Diablo. This time of year the hills are a lush green compared to the golden hues of late spring, summer, and fall.
But for most the real visual treat is from the summit.
On a clear day with wind to keep the pollutants cleared out you can make out Mt. Lassen — a volcano that last erupted in 1917 — 180 miles to the northeast. Also on exceptional clear days you can make out the Farallon Islands 30 miles outside the Golden Gate in the Pacific Ocean as well as Sentinel Dome in Yosemite Valley.
Most days — unless it is foggy, raining or heavy cloud cover — you can make out the Golden Gate Bridge, the north and south San Francisco Bays, the Antioch bridge, the Delta’s maze of waterways, Tracy, Manteca, and Turlock, the 15-story Ripon water towers, as well as the San Joaquin River. Most of the time you can see the Sierra but the cloud cover to the east was low (about 5,000 feet) and fairly thick. With binoculars you can make out the Hat Mansion — the 30,000-square-foot home just southeast of Manteca’s Woodward Park.
Given where Mt Diablo is located you can understand why it is the main reference point for mapping much of Northern California.
There is a visitors’ center with functioning restrooms along with an observation deck at the summit. The actual summit can be seen inside the visitors’ center with the geological survey marker attached.
The drive to the top is pleasant but you can also hike. My favorite is parking at Rock City just inside the South Gate entrance. It is a moderate 7.8 round trip with a 2,257-foot elevation gain with an abundance of natural flowers.
Once to the top, I’ll cover the two or so miles round trip to North Peak just under 300 feet lower than Mt. Diablo. The hike up to North Peak can be strenuous in spots. The reason I mention it is getting to the halfway point — the gully between the two peaks — and turning back to the summit instead of continuing onto North Peak— is well worth it in the coming months. That’s because the down and back has some of the most varied wildflowers if you hit it just right. Just be careful of the poison oak if you wander off trail to get closer looks at the blooms.
The ascent and descent to the summit is also one of the most popular bicycle rides in the East Bay.
Rock City is a popular day destination — as well as camping — in itself. Rock climbers like testing their skills there. The sandstone creations carved by nature include Wall Point, Wind Caves, and the iconic Sentinel Rock.
One route up the sandstone monolith is easy enough for even kids to handle.
Given there are 20,000 acres within the state park, there are plenty of things to do and see especially with the approach of spring.