This creek-to-peak 7.8 mile Diablo loop begins at Mitchell Canyon and climbs
on fire roads, easily then steeply to Murchio Gap. Here the fun really begins
on a rollicking single-track excursion over knife-edged Eagle Peak. From
the exposed peak top, enjoy views of the park, then continue downhill at
an often steep grade, back to the trailhead.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
7.8 mile strenuous loop hike.
Mostly exposed, with some pockets of shade.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
Too hot in summer. Best in late winter and early spring.
From I-580 in Alameda County exit #19b onto CA 24. Drive east about 12 miles
on CA 24 to the I- 680 split, then exit #46b onto Ygnacio Valley Road. Travel
east on Ygnacio Valley Road about 8 miles, and turn right onto Clayton Road.
Drive south about 1 mile, then turn right onto Mitchell Canyon Road. Continue
to the trailhead at the end of the road, about 1.5 miles.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates for Trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, and restaurants back near I-680 in Danville. The park has group
campgrounds and individual campsites, but the campgrounds are accessed via Summit Road. Visit MDIA's
website for more info.
A few designated handicapped parking spots across from the start of the
trail, and the first 0.18 mile of the trail is suitable for wheelchairs.
Lots more parking just downhill in a big paved lot. $6 entrance fee. Restrooms,
pay phone, and maps a little further uphill at the Summit Visitor Center
(a Fire Interpretive Trail brochure is usually available at the start of
the trail). Gas, restaurants, and stores in the town of Danville, near the
680 exit on Diablo Road. There is no direct public transportation to the
No bikes or dogs. Horses are technically permitted, but you will probably
not encounter any on this trail. The park is open from 8 a.m. to 45 minutes
The Official Story:
Mount Diablo page
Mount Diablo Ranger Station 925-837-6129
is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco,
by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order
this book from Amazon.com.
Download the park
map pdf from CSP's website.
Mount Diablo (& Surrounding Parks) map, published by
Mount Diablo Interpretive Association, is invaluable (order at http://www.mdia.org).
Mount Diablo Interpretive
Association offers many featured hikes and events that explore Mount
Diablo. You can also order maps and books through them.
Diablo is a good source of current events on the mountain, including
the progress of preservation campaigns.
David Weintraub's East Bay Trails features descriptions of
several Diablo hikes, with accompanying maps (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Mitchell Canyon-Eagle Peak
in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Mitchell Canyon is a popular
staging area for long Diablo hikes. From here you can make an all-day excursion to Diablo's
summit, a 14-mile round-trip from 590 to 3,849 feet and back again-one
of the Bay Area's toughest day hikes. The trek to Eagle Peak does not
have the same caché as the bottom-to-top hike, but I prefer this
shorter loop. When the long trek to the top of Diablo nears the summit
area, you'll commonly cross paths with loads of visitors around Juniper
Campground and hear and see cars on a trail running parallel to Summit
Road, jarring contrasts to the quiet found on most of the mountain. Eagle
Peak is peaceful and lonely, far from the developed parts of the park,
and provides excellent hiking with awesome views.
Begin from the trailhead on the signed Mitchell
Canyon Trail. As you pass through the gate, pick up the Mitchell Canyon
Trail Interpretive Guide, an excellent accompaniment to the first 2 miles
of this hike. The broad fire road starts out climbing gently through grassland
dotted with blue, coast live, and valley oak. At 250 feet, Mitchell
Rock Trail begins on the left, the return leg of this loop. Continue
straight on Mitchell Canyon Trail.
In spring you may see sticky monkeyflower,
Chinese houses, paintbrush, and Ithuriel's spear in bloom along the trail,blended through a mixture of oaks, pines, and chaparral plants, including
sagebrush, California coffeeberry, poison oak, and pitcher sage. At 0.6
mile, Black Point Trail departs on the right. Continue on Mitchell
Canyon Trail, where the trail's namesake creek runs along the left
side of the fire road, and pockets of riparian trees willow and alder
Swallowtail butterflies were out in abundance
on a May hike, along with variable checkerspots and mylitta crescents,
flitting to and fro. In spring look for Mount Diablo fairy lanterns, a
yellow globe lily found only on and around Mount Diablo. On other Diablo
hikes I had seen a few of these fairy lanterns, but all along the length
of the Mitchell Canyon Trail I saw dozens and dozens of them, as well
as staggering amounts of wind poppy, a beautiful four-petaled orange flower.
On the right, Red Road drops down from Black Point at 0.9 mile-once again,
continue on Mitchell Canyon Trail.
As the canyon broadens
slightly, views begin to unfold uphill to the left of rocky, steep-sided
Eagle Peak. The fire road begins to climb with a bit more purpose, somewhat
shaded by coast live oaks and a few big-leaf maple, buckeye, and California
bay. At about the 2-mile mark the grade picks up significantly, and although
there are some nearly level stretches, the climb is a long, sustained
one. Stay alert for cyclists descending. On warm days every bit of shade
and cooling breeze are welcome. With the creek left behind in the low
reaches of the canyon, the surrounding slopes are dry, and host many chaparral
plants, with coulter pine, sagebrush, ceanothus, goldenbush, cercocarpus,
poison oak, toyon, sticky monkeyflower, and black sage prominent. There's
plenty to look at along the trail, particularly in spring, when a variety
of flowers bloom, including linanthus, paintbrush, lupines, onions, mule
ear sunflower, and clarkia. Views continue to open up to Eagle Peak on
the left, and out of the park back to the north. The ascent, following
a series of sweeping curves, seems never-ending, but abruptly the grade
tapers off slightly, then the fire road sweeps right and reaches a flat
on the right at 3.4 miles. Two picnic tables provide rest spots.When
you're ready, press on uphill at a moderate pace through oaks and pine
to Deer Flat junction at 3.5 miles. Deer Flat Road continues to climb
toward the summit on the right, but follow our route, Meridian Ridge
Road, as it swings left.
The fire road descends through oaks, pine,
poison oak, and California hoptree, offering a break from all that climbing.
The relief is short-lived though, for once the trail crosses Deer Flat
Creek it begins to ascend steeply. The Deer Flat Creek Trail (not shown
on the map) slips off to the left at 3.8 miles, offering an alternate
route to Murchio Gap. Continue on Meridian Ridge Road, ascending
past a grassy slope on the right, where California poppies bloom in big
patches in April.
The trailside vegetation shifts to chaparral,
with lots of yerba santa, manzanita, pine, and chaparral pea enjoying
the sunny exposure. The climb ends at Murchio Gap at 4.2 miles, where
trails depart in every direction: the Deer Flat Creek Trail doubles back
to the left, and traveling clockwise, the Eagle Peak Trail begins next;
then the Back Creek Trail; the continuation of Meridian Ridge Road; and
the little Bald Ridge Trail, across the road to the right. Turn left
onto Eagle Peak Trail.
The slight path skirts a rock outcrop,
climbing through ceanothus, chamise, yerba santa, black sage, goldenbush,
and hoptree. As Eagle Peak Trail starts to descend, loose
rock on the path presents a challenge-if you've brought a trekking pole
you'll definitely be glad. When you reach the saddle there's a brief level
respite as the trail punches through thickets of chamise. Look to the
left for a view of the Mitchell Canyon Trail's snaking uphill route, and
back to the right for views of Diablo's summit area. As the trail begins
to climb again, you'll enter a rocky and grassy area, where juniper and
pine are common, and in early May, tons of clarkia, buckwheat, and jeweled
onion brighten the grass as it begins to fade to gold. The ascent over
these exposed slopes is sharp, with a couple of very rocky sections. Finally
at 5 miles, you'll arrive at the top, 2,369 feet (unsigned, but obvious).
There's remarkably little real estate here, and the peak slopes drop sharply
off this knife-edge ridge. You'll surely want to pause and enjoy the views,
which encompass the entire northern part of the mountain, including the
summit and North Peak, as well as rolling ridges on the right and left,
and hills well off into the distance. In winter, with strong binoculars
you might be able to see the waterfalls dropping out of Donner Canyon.
On my May hike I observed a horned lizard that scampered a few feet from
me, almost perfectly camouflaged in the surrounding tan pebbles. Birdwatchers
and butterfly enthusiasts could spend some time on this peak, watching
hawks and swallowtail butterflies soaring or fluttering overhead. The trail clings to the ridge
top, then drops off to the left, beginning a descent. There are more steep
rocky patches to traverse, as the Eagle Peak Trail swings through some
shaded areas where you might notice currant blooming in winter. Mostly
the hillsides are cloaked in an army-green coat of chamise, black sage,
and toyon. Continuing down the sloping ridgeline, a second peaklet is
crossed, and the trail just keeps dropping. At 5.9 miles Eagle Peak Trail
swings sharply right, descending off the east side of the mountain. Here,
continue straight, now on Mitchell Rock Trail.
The narrow path rises, then drops to the
side of a red outcrop on the right. Some pine shade the trail as you make
a transition into a mixture of grassland and chaparral. Look for a good
variety of flowers in spring, including California poppy, coyote mint,
mariposa lily, Chinese houses, paintbrush, milkweed, owl's clover, and
blue-eyed grass. Although the trend is firmly downhill, there are a few
short easy uphill stretches. The trail veers off the ridgeline into pure
grassland, and other than a few forays through chaparral patches, stays
that way all the way downhill. You'll pass Mitchell Rock, a pillow basalt
outcrop, on the left. By mid-May, thigh-high grass crowds the trail as
it weaves downhill, reaching a junction with Coulter Pine Trail at 7.6
miles. Turn left, continuing on Mitchell Rock Trail.
After a few feet you'll reach a junction
with a trail on the right leading to Bruce Lee Trail. Continue straight
on Mitchell Rock Trail, and descend through blue oaks and grassland
to a junction with Mitchell Canyon Trail at 7.8 miles. Turn right and
return to the trailhead.
Total distance: 7.8 miles
Last hiked: May 19, 2003