DANVILLE — Peer to the southeast beyond the toothpicks that dot the Altamont Pass in the form of wind turbines and you could make out Ripon’s imposing twin water towers.
Some 170 miles to the north from atop Mt. Diablo you could barely make out Lassen Peak where California’s last volcanic eruption occurred in 1915.
Below was the twisting Delta where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers converge while the snow-capped Sierra provided a dramatic background.
On Saturday, fog hid the Golden Gate Bridge and the Fallon Islands.
Mt. Diablo — without a doubt — has one of the most impressive viewsheds in California, if not the continental United States. Mt. Diablo boosters contend it is second on earth only to Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa. Whether that is hype, one thing is for sure — in terms of most people being able to enjoy 100 plus mile views in all directions, you will be hard pressed to find a place on earth that matches Mt. Diablo.
And perhaps no times are the views of the Great Central Valley, Bay Area and beyond as clear as they are now thanks to rain and windy days.
But there’s much more to the 20,000-acre Mt. Diablo State Park whose South Gate entrance is just an hour away from Manteca than million dollar views from the summit of its namesake peak with an elevation of 3,849 feet and a prominence of 3,109 feet when viewed from the east from Manteca, Lathrop, Stockton, Tracy, Ripon, and Lodi.
On Saturday leaves and buds were roaring back from a winter’s slumber and four years of hardly any rain. The early birds among spring flowers were just starting to unfold. The drive to Contra Costa and through the town of Danville to the South Gate entrance road was shrouded in fog. But once you passed the old South Gate entrance along the park’s boundary at 570 feet you were looking down on valleys stuffed with fluffy fog ringed by green hills reminiscent of a lush spring in Ireland. In a month or so, the hills will revert to burnt gold studded with countless oaks.
In the coming two to three weeks wildflowers will start blanketing the hills, making a hike along the extensive trail system teeming with wildlife and distinctive rock formations even more pleasant.
It is why now is the best time to check out the highest peak jutting upward on the horizon as you look toward the Bay Area. And that is true whether you decide to drive all the way to the peak, bicycle up it or hike.
Rock City is
I’ve finally done all three ways after hiking Saturday starting at Rock City, about three quarters of a mile past the entrance station and at about 1,400 feet. I opted not to do the somewhat longer Summit Trail hike that starts with a marked dirt path just north of the final home where Mt. Diablo Scenic Boulevard morphs into South Gate Road. The Town of Danville and the state park system has eliminated all roadside parking in the area.
Rock City with its numerous rock formations, Indian grinding rocks, and numerous short trails along with camp sites and picnic areas is the most popular destination in the park save for the view from the top.
It is not too difficult to find the Summit Trail. Even if for some reason you miss the sign posts and believe you are lost, you really aren’t since the Summit Trail and the road to the top weave their way to the summit. The trail itself is a collection of single-file paths, fire roads, and short stretches of access roads.
It took me almost two hours on the dot to cover the 2,400 or so net gain to the summit. Thanks to the road and trail crossing more than a few times, you can park even higher up or depart from campgrounds at 2,200 and 3,000 feet.
After summiting Mt. Diablo I couldn’t resist tackling North Peak (elevation 3,557 feet) topped with transmission towers. North Peak taunts you to try it as it stands a little over a mile away as the crow flies dominating the view to the east.
Summit museum open
from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
On the way to North Peak is a seventh-tenth of a mile trail to Mt. Olympia (2,964 feet). Much of it is steep and requires Class 2 rock scrambling to summit. I wanted to be back in Manteca by 4 p.m. so I passed on bagging the third summit of the day.
North Peak, though, isn’t for the faint-hearted. A lot of casual hikers gave up Saturday ascending the access road long before it got to a stretch near the top that requires slow, sure-footed moves for a hiker while four-wheel drive vehicles would find it a struggle.
A number of Mt. Diablo regulars say they hike — or jog — the North Peak trail to the point where it is in the gully between the two points to access a variety of trails that wander back to the lower elevations into unspoiled territory away from cars.
There is no water on the trail so keep that in mind. Sunscreen is also important.
The Summit Building and Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is an observation deck complete with coin-feed stationary binoculars. If you have binoculars bring them instead.
Rock climbers like Castle Rock with its numerous climbing rocks. Fossil Ridge offers close-up looks of fossils preserved for hundreds of thousands of years.
If you opt to drive to the top, be prepared to share the road with plenty of bicyclists.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email@example.com