Summit Trail to Rock City, Mount Diablo

Last month, my wife and I made our first visit to Mount Diablo since moving to the Bay Area. It's sort of crazy that it took us four years to make the visit, because the view from the top of Mount Diablo is famous, and we are junkies for gorgeous mountain-top vistas. Mount Diablo State Park has a number of popular trails, which range from intermediate to fairly strenuous. We decided to do a hike not actually on that list: the start of Summit Trail to Rock City, and back.

Since that trail plan doesn't actually take you to the summit, we drove to the top (and then back down again) before starting the hike. Note that you have to pay $10 to drive to the top. The summit has a visitor center and an elevated rooftop where you can soak in the view. In all honesty, we were a bit disappointed with the view from the top. It's certainly expansive, there just isn't much to see - just a whole lot of desert. Maybe the view is more impressive when a horrible drought doesn't have a death-grip on California, or maybe we were just spoiled by our recent trek to the vistas of Mount Talloc, but it seems more likely that the view is just famous for being expansive rather than beautiful... or interesting. Sorry, Mount Diablo. Here's a picture of us at the top:


That said, Mount Diablo does have something amazing that makes the trip worthwhile: Rock City. I have never seen rock formations like those in Rock City anywhere else, and on top of being uniquely beautiful, they make for some very fun rock scrambling. Plus, if you have kids or can't hike there yourself, you can drive directly to Rock City and park for no charge, and then let your family loose to rock scramble for a bit.

Here's a quick shot of my wife and I from our lunch spot:


We started our hike at the Summit Trail trailhead, which you can find right at the park entrance:

To drive to the top, you just continue driving up South Gate Road. Unfortunately, the parking at the trailhead is abysmal. It's actually at the rear of a residential area, and the neighborhood has clearly had problems with park visitors clogging up their streets - the area near the park has a "No Parking" sign every ten feet. We had to park about half a mile back from the trailhead and walk through the neighborhood to get there. And even then I was semi-worried someone was going to have us towed or something out of spite.

About half of the length of the trail is just a fire road, which isn't anything special. Note that you make most of the elevation gain early on, and then it levels out. The rest of the path is a nicely wooded trail of novice difficulty. There was one very confusing portion where it pops you out in a camping area. You'll want to turn left and walk straight up the road. From there, you'll see a sign to pick the trail back up, which bizarrely takes you through peoples' (probably occupied) campsites.

All in all, to be perfectly honest, the hike and the summit were both sort of mediocre. The other trails in the park sound like they may be far more interesting. But, whatever you do, don't miss Rock City. Rock City rocks.

Ben Hilburn

Ben Hilburn

bits, nibbles, bytes, and words
D.C. Metro Area