Mount Diablo: Falls Hike Loop

Sunday, March 15, 2015

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Mount Diablo has a forbidding image to many, in part because of its name. While creeks may dry in summer, the reality is that there are always cool canyons, and even on hot days cool breezes cross upper elevations. On the north side of the mountain are three large, wooded canyons. Because they’re protected from the sun most of the day, Donner, Back and Mitchell Canyons have among California’s best wildflower shows. The waterfalls in the upper reaches of Donner Canyon are icing on the cake. Save Mount Diablo worked with the State to preserve most of the three canyons in the mid 1970s, and helped acquire North Peak’s summit in 1980. (

In winter (rainy season) and throughout spring, the Falls Trail offers fine views of the mountains most spectacular attraction, several waterfalls up to 100 feet high. Spring also brings astounding displays of wildflowers, and the colorful rock formations are worth the trip at any time. The waterfalls dry up during summer and fall before the winter rains. the hike is not difficult, but some stream crossings are steep and slippery. In winter and early spring, roads at lower elevations may be muddy. Kindly refrain from scrambling to the falls. It is dangerous and damages the landscape.(

Begin this hike from the end of Mountaire Parkway in Clayton to the Regency Gate Trailhead at the north side of Mt Diablo.

Walk through the trail gate and stay on your left to Donner Canyon Rd; this fire road takes you across the lower oak studded foothills along Donner Creek.

At the Clayton Oaks junction: go straight to stay on Donner Canyon Rd. The road winds gently winds through the woodlands with great views of Diablo’s peaks.

At the Donner Cabin Site junction: go straight to stay on Donner Canyon Rd. The fire road continues through the wooded grasslands to the next trail split.

At the Hetherington Trail junction: continue straight on Donner Canyon Rd. The road abruptly kicks up with steep grades and increased views of Mt Diablo’s peaks to the trail crest.

At the Cardonet Oaks Rd junction: continue right onto Meridian Ridge Rd.

At the Middle Trail junction: continue left on Middle Trail; the narrow path snakes along the side of the mountain through dense wooded brush. A break in the vegetation offers glimpses of the chaparral covered slopes and fabulous views of Clayton Valley!

At the Falls Trail junction: go left to continue on the Falls Trail. The narrow path weaves its way up, down and around the mountain side with the sounds of a rushing creek.

Check out the early spring wildflowers along the trail:

The Falls Trail continues across another creek with a mini waterfall; the trail ascends through the manzanitas and dense brush to an open high point with wonderful views of Clayton Valley and Diablo’s peaks!

The trail drops down to another creek crossing and continues uphill along the mountain side with glorious views!

The Falls Trails winds down the mountain to the next creek crossing and water cascade.

Enjoy the phenomenal views of the valley and Diablo’s rocky landscape!

The trail continues winding along the narrow rocky slopes with moderate grades.

Descend the trail and follow the path to the small open grassy knoll; this is a fabulous spot to stop for a lunch break.

Enjoy the spectacular views of the rocky canyons, creeks, falls, expansive valleys and the Mt Zion quarries in the distance!

Descend the grassy knoll area to the next trail junction.

At the Cardinet Oaks Rd junction: go right and continue on Cardinet Oaks Rd. The wide fire road drops down from the high point to the next trail junction. Enjoy the views!

At the Wassermann Trail junction: go left and continue on the Wasserman Trail. The narrow path descends through the woodlands and brushes to the next trail split.

At the Donner Trail junction: go left and continue on a gentle descent through the grasslands on Donner Trail.

Donner Trail crosses over Donner Creek to the next trail split.

At the Hetherington Trail junction: go right and continue on the Hetherington Trail. The path cuts across Donner Creek to the foot bridge and comes to an end at the Donner Canyon Rd junction.

From this point, go right and take Donner Canyon Rd back to the start at the Regency Gate Trailhead.

Wildflowers seen along the trails: indian paintbrushes, blue witches, california poppies, shooting stars, mild maids, scarlet larkpurs, cobweb thistles, silver lupines, woolly sunflowers, virgin’s bowers, blue dicks, purple veitches and fremont star lilies.

Take time off from life’s hectic schedule and make this hike along the challenging scenic trails to the waterfalls. The views are well worth the effort!

Click here for the Falls Hike app for your smart-phone

6 Miles with 1564′ of elevation gain
Time: 3 hours with a couple of stops
Cool temps ranging from the high 50’s to the mid 60’s with NW winds.

Parking: Street parking at the end of Mountaire Parkway in Clayton. No facilities & no water. Descend on the steep trail to the park gate below.
Hike: Moderate-challenging
No Dogs Allowed

Diablo Falls Loop



  1. Nancy, You really do your homework for these hikes; they are a pleasure to read. And pictures of the wildflowers are great. Carole

    Thanks Carole! It’s a wonderful hike and the wildflowers are simply beautiful! Nancy


  2. You timed your hike perfectly for the wild flowers! I’ve never seen that variety on the times I’ve hiked up there. jim

    Thanks- getting to see all the wildflowers out along the mountain was a treat! Nancy


  3. Thanks so much Nancy. You really captured our hike

    Matt, You’re welcome-the group hike was fun! nancy


  4. Hi Nancy
    You might clarify that the photo is of a ranger on the ATV. Someone may think they can ride one in the Park.

    Thanks Ron, I’ve added it to the pic description. Plus thanks for providing me with the hike details! Nancy


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