5 Reasons Why You Should Hike The San Francisco Bay Area's Tallest Mountain

Catch the best views of the Bay.

By: Rachel Davidson
January 2, 2016

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If you live in the Bay Area, you’ve probably seen Mt. Diablo looming over from the far stretches of Contra Costa County. As isolated as it is impressive, Mt. Diablo boasts one of the widest reaching views in California. From its summit you can see the Sierra Nevadas to the east and even Mt. Shasta, 181 miles north.

At that height, hiking to the top is no easy feat. The most popular base-to-summit route takes you 13.2 miles and 3,323 feet of elevation gain over challenging desert terrain. It’s truly one of the most demanding peaks in the Bay Area, and makes for a hell of a day hike. Here’s why you should go hike Mt. Diablo as soon as possible.

Photo: Christian Arballo

1. It’s a great hike to check off your Bay Area hiking list

Most San Francisco locals have hiked Mt. Davidson and ventured across the Golden Gate to explore the endless trails around Mt. Tamalpais, but Mt. Diablo is the only peak in the Bay that will bring you up to 3,849 ft. above sea level. For adventurers who know their California high points, that makes Diablo the tallest mountain in the Bay Area by well over a thousand feet.

Though the Diablo Range extends for miles east and south, Mt. Diablo is a standalone summit whose notability is unmatched by its neighboring hills. The next time you see Diablo on a postcard, calendar, or other San Francisco memorabilia, you’ll not only be able to recognize the distinctive peak, but you’ll have full bragging rights of the view from the top.

2. It’s easy to get to

Each of its entrances – the north Mitchell Canyon trailhead, the north Regency Road trailhead, northeast Marsh Creek Road trailhead, or the south entrance – are all within an hour’s drive from San Francisco. Its sprawling base and scattered trail systems mean there are plenty of places to explore, without too many people crowding into just one area.

Alternatively, if the prospect of hiking the length of a half marathon really dampens your day - there’s an even easier way to get to the top. The south entrance road will guide your vehicle straight to the summit visitor center, without any blood, sweat, or tears shed.

3. You can hike it year-round

In fact, it’s smarter to hike in the East Bay during offseason winter months. Summer promises sunny skies, but temperatures can spike by noon to over 100 degrees. Hiking in the winter allows you to take your time, enjoy the views, without racing to the next source of water. Plus, if you time it right, you could catch the rare and unique experience of the only place you’ll be able to see San Francisco Bay Area snowfall.

If you do decide to try out Mt. Diablo in the summer, be sure to start as early as possible and bring two to three liters of water per person. It can be a grueling 6-9 hour day, and I promise, you won’t want to be caught without sunscreen.

Photo: Christian Arballo

4. It’ll get you ready for bigger climbs

Mt. Diablo is used as a training playground for Bay Area hikers, mountaineers, ultra marathoners, and more. Its 3,323 ft. elevation gain and 12-13+ mileage equates to almost exactly half the distance to that of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. While Diablo is nowhere close to this 14,505 ft. mountaineering achievement, it does serve as stellar preparation for this and for other high-altitude pursuits.

For the even more intense (or insane) adventure folk, the Mount Diablo Five Peaks hike takes people up the neighboring Mt. Olympia, North Peak, Mt. Diablo Summit, Eagle Peak, and Twin Peak in a grueling 5,000+ elevation gain and 16.1-mile day. Who knows, maybe you’ll catch the itch after your first Diablo summit and find yourself setting your sights even higher the next time around.

5. The views

Any trail you choose ascending or descending the mountain is sure to grant you with outstanding views from every direction. The summit visitor center is outlined with stonewalls and cemented telescopes for sightseers to view hundreds of miles worth of land from every angle. You won’t quite be able to capture all of its beauty in a photo, but you are definitely encouraged to try.

As is usually the case - the pain is certainly worth the gain. Mt. Diablo will unquestionably earn your respect by the time you reach the top. Your legs might be screaming and your shirt may be soaked in sweat, but every ounce of you will feel thankful once you see that sprawling California landscape beneath your feet.

Cover photo: Christian Arballo

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.