Diablo Foothills: Borges Ranch-Castle Rock-Pine Canyon-China Wall Trail Hike

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

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Diablo Foothills is an imposing gateway to the beautiful parklands of Mt Diablo State Park and Walnut Creek Open Space. The Foothills 1,060 acres are valued for their striking geologic formations, their sweeping panoramas of the San Francisco Bay Region and the rural quality of the adjacent rolling grasslands. Besides panoramic views of the mountain and its surroundings, it contain interesting geologic features, beautiful wildflowers in season, and a variety of bird and animal life.

 Adjacent to Diablo Foothills is Castle Rock Recreation Area located in a scenic canyon along Pine Creek. The area is dominated by oak woodlands and prominent sandstone formations. Vegetation varies from grassland and oak savannah on the hills to riparian and oak woodland in the valley. Pine Creek flows through Pine Canyon and is within the eastern portion of the Walnut Creek watershed, which drains 150 square miles of central Contra Costa County into San Francisco Bay. (http://www.ebparks.org/parks/diablo_foothills)

Begin this hike from the eastern edge of Walnut Creek’s Shell Ridge Open Space at Old Borges Ranch

Head north on Borges Ranch Rd towards the lower parking area.

Mile 0.1-at the trail post: turn right onto the unmarked trail. The trail winds alongside the main road to the next trail junction.

Wildflowers along the trail:

Mile 0.3-at the Borges Ranch Trail post: turn right-the unsigned trail goes slightly uphill before winding around the open space area to Diablo Foothills Regional Park.

Mile 0.4-at the Shell Ridge/Castle Rock Trail junction: go straight to Castle Rock Trail. The trail drops down the hillside towards Castle Rock Rd with sensational views of Mt Diablo.

Mile 0.6-at the Diablo Scenic/Castle Rock Trail junction: turn left and continue downhill towards the paddocks at the equine training facilities.

Mile 0.7-at the trail post: turn right onto Castle Rock Trail. The trail goes alongside the horse facility and parking lot on Castle Rock Rd.

Mile 0.8-at the  Castle Rock/Diablo Scenic Trail junction: turn left to stay on Castle Rock Trail. The fire trail slightly rises above Castle Rock Regional Recreation Area with views of the seasonal pool, volleyball courts, softball field and picnic areas.

Wildflowers along the trail:

Mile 0.9-at the Castle Rock Trail post: go straight and continue on a single track trail around the Diablo foothills. The trail drops down towards Sulphur Springs to the next junction.

Mile 1.5-at the Fairy Lantern/Stage Rd Trail junction: turn left onto Stage Rd Trail. The broad road leads up to the defunct spillway at Pine Creek Dam.

Stage Rd Trail travels south through scenic Pine Canyon with close up views of the beautiful sandstone formations pocketed with holes around Castle Rock. Currently the entire rock area at Castle Rocks-east of Stage Rd Trail and Pine Creek is off limits til July 31 for protection of peregrine falcons during their nesting season.

Wildflowers-look for the endemic Mt Diablo Globe Tulips!

Mile 1.9-at the Buckeye Ravine/Stage Rd Trail junction: go straight to stay on Stage Rd Trail. The trail tucks underneath the shaded woodland along Pine Creek; you will come upon a bench, it looks like the perfect spot to just sit. You can look across Pine Creek to enjoy the dramatic view of the sandstone monoliths and its intricate patterns of small caves and holes that serve as nesting sites for the falcons.

Mile 2.1-at the Little Yosemite/Stage Rd junction: go straight onto Stage Rd towards Mt Diablo State Park boundary. At the trail gate-the road exits the regional park area into Mt Diablo State Park.

Mile 2.2-Stage Rd continues along the gorgeous lush Pine Canyon with a few creek crossings.

At the next trail post-go straight to stay on Stage Rd to Park Boundary; the creek crossings lead to the reed-filled Pine Pond.

Enjoy the displays of wildflowers!

Mile 3.2-at the Burma Rd/Stage Rd junction: go straight to stay on Stage Rd. The road exits the woodland out to oak studded grassy hillside with thickets of blackberry bushes.

Mile 3.6-at the Dusty Rd/Stage Rd junction: turn right onto Dusty Rd to Wall Point Rd. The fire road moderately rises for half a mile from the canyon to Pine Ridge.

Enjoy the gorgeous variety of wildflowers!

Mile 4.1-at the Dusty Rd/Wall Point Rd junction: turn right onto Wall Point Rd to Briones Mt Diablo Trail. Wall Point Rd travels up and down from Pine Ridge with scenes of splendid oaks dotting the scenic grassy hillsides. The tall grass dances and flows with great fluidity as the brisk winds blows through the pale gold hills-it’s very calming!

Wall Point Rd cuts across the ridge to before dropping down into the valley.

More wildflowers!

Mile 4.6-at the Wall Point Rd/ Briones Mt Diablo Trail junction: turn right onto Briones Mt Diablo Trail. The trail turns NW through the mustard fields around the rolling hills with the Castle Rocks visible to the north.

Mile 4.9-at the Briones Mt Diablo/Little Yosemite Trail junction: turn left to stay on Briones Mt Diablo Trail and take the low trail through the open grassy valley meadows with a few isolated oaks.

Mile 5.2-at the unsigned trail split: go left onto China Wall Rd. The road turns south and continues across the valley with the China Wall rock formations coming into view.

Soon enough your destination comes into view: a terminally eroded sandstone stratum, tilted into vertical position by the upthrust of Mount Diablo. With adjacent strata eroded away more rapidly, the remnant is, indeed, a wall-like structure running over hill and dale, just like its man-made equivalent in China. Take time to examine the grotesquely convoluted formations, sculpted by an imaginative Mother Nature; small paths made by previous explorers facilitate your examination. Note that the area encompasses other similarly eroded strata, none quite as spectacular as China Wall. (http://www.mdia.org/site/docs/Franks-Favorite-Hikes/China-Wall-Hike.pdf)

Mile 5.4-Turn around when you reach the pond. At Mile 5.3-go slightly to the left and make your way across the level valley towards the golden hill that sits west of the wall.

Mile 5.5-at the unsigned trail split-turn right and continue on the single track trail that winds around the hill between a couple of lone oaks. The single track emerges onto Briones Mt Diablo Trail as you near the trail gate on the left.

Mile 5.7-go left: enter thru the trail gate and continue on Briones Mt Diablo Trail for the short drop into the valley.

Mile 5.8-at the Serafix/Briones Mt Diablo Trail junction: go straight to stay on Briones Mt Diablo Trail. The trail climbs gently through the dry landscape before descending towards the stock pond.

Grazing cattle can be seen making their way down to the water hole as you continue around the valley hills.

Mile 6.6-at the Stonegate/Briones Mt Diablo Trail junction: go straight to stay on Briones Mt Diablo Trail to the next junction.

Mile 6.7-at the Buckeye Ravine/Briones Mt Diablo Trail junction: go straight to stay on Briones Mt Diablo Trail.

Mile 6.9-at the Buckeye Ravine/Briones Mt Diablo Trail junction:  go straight to stay on Briones Mt Diablo Trail and continue to the trail gate at the Fairy Lantern/Briones Mt Diablo Trail junction at Mile 7.0.

Mile 7.0-at the trail gate: go straight to stay on Briones Mt Diablo Trail. The trail cuts across the valley with scenic views of the rolling hills and grazing cattle before reaching the next trail gate.

Mile 7.3-enter thru the trail gate: at the Briones Mt Diablo/Borges Ranch Trail junction: turn left onto Borges Ranch Trail. The trail drops down from the low ridge to the parking lot at Borges Ranch.

This is a fabulous hike through Diablo Foothills Regional Park to Mt Diablo State Park. You’ll enjoy the sandstone formations at Castle Rock Rec Area and the quiet stroll through Pine Canyon along Pine Creek. Cross Pine Ridge and sit for awhile at the eroded sandstone stratum known as “China Wall” before returning north through the pale golden hills to Borges Ranch.

Take some time to walk around the old homestead ranch. You’ll see a blacksmith shop, outbuildings, old farm equipment , a couple of barns and a farm area with goats, sheep, pigs and chickens. The corrals are still in use for rounding up cattle-Yee-haw!

Wildflowers seen on the trails: butter lupine, mayweed, mustard, yarrow, winecup clarkia, ithuriel’s spear, yellow mariposa lily, bellardia, thistle, morning glory, sweet yellow clover, elegant clarkia, bush monkeyflower, spring pods, purple vetch, smooth hawksbeard, milk thistle, scarlet pimpernel, golden monkeyflower, purple salsify, deer weed, california blackberry, glassy onion, blue-eyed grass, mt diablo globe tulip, blue dicks, indian paintbrush, dandelion, white spring flower, blow-wives, california poppy, true baby stars and silver lupine

*The use of a trail map is essential. The current edition “Mount Diablo Trail Map” is available for purchase at the park entrance stations, Summit Visitor Center and Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center in Mt.  Diablo State Park. They are also available at REI and on-line at MDIA’s Store.

7.5 Miles with 936′ of elevation gain
Time: 3.5 hours with a stop
Hike: Easy-moderate
Weather: Sunny, warm  and breezy with clear blue skies. Temps ranged from the low 60’s to the mid 70’s with brisk NW winds.

Parking: Old Borges Ranch at 1035 Castle Rock Rd, about 1/2 mile past Northgate High School. Turn right off Castle Rock Rd and take the signed single-lane to Borges Ranch. No fee-water & restroom available on site.
*Bring plenty of water & food/snacks. No facilities-No water along the trails
Dog Friendly-Diablo Foothills Regional Park area-No Dogs Allowed at Mt Diablo State Park

View the interactive RGPS route map & profile

Old Borges China Wall

Diablo Hills

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