Mt Diablo: Perkins Canyon-Perkins Creek-Volcanic Dome Trail Hike

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

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Mount Diablo State Park is one of the ecological treasures of the San Francisco Bay Area. Every season in the park has its special qualities. Discover them for yourself, from the mountain’s 3,849-foot summit to its beautiful wildflowers, extensive trail system, fascinating wildlife, and distinctive rock formations. *1

Unless you’re an equestrian or live in Morgan Territory, chances are you’ve never visited Perkins Canyon, at the northeast corner of Mount Diablo State Park. On maps, trails seem short and confusing and it’s not clear where to park. You’ve been missing out. Trail loops are short but fascinating, there is great history and geology, really diverse wildlife and spring wildflowers, two historic rock dams, one of the most beautiful creeks in the State Park—and an easily accessible volcanic dome. *4

Begin this hike from the wide pull-out on right side of Marsh Creek Road about 1.3 miles beyond Regency Drive in Clayton. There is an emergency call box with a big blue sign-CC M 16. Enter through the unmarked park gate onto the unsigned Sharkey Rd.

At Marsh Trail/Sharkey Rd junction; go left onto Marsh Trail. The broad fire road runs parallel to Marsh Creek Rd as it goes upward on a moderate grade through the oak woodland. The trail drops down from its high point towards Miwok Rd. The trail is named for Dr. John Marsh (1799-1856). He owned a nearby ranch called “Los Meganos” (Spanish for “sand dunes”). He was the first American settler in Contra Costa County. John descended from an old New England family and was a graduate of Harvard College. In 1837, he obtained a grant from the Mexican government that contained 13,316-acres at the foot of Mount Diablo, now the geographic center of Contra Costa County. John married Abbie Tuch Marsh in 1851 and subsequently built the “Stone House” about four miles West of Brentwood. In 2002, the State of California acquired the 4,000-acre Cowell Ranch adjacent to the Stone House to create one of the newest Parks in the State. John was brutally murdered and robbed on September 24, 1856, while driving his buggy on the road from one of his ranches in Martinez. *2

At the trail junction, turn right Miwok Rd. It goes uphill towards the transmission towers where the pavement ends. The trail drops downhill on a gentle grade as it travels across the grassland. Miwok is translated as “people” or “Indian people” and identifies any one of several different Native Californian groups. Native Californians lived in the area of Mount Diablo State Park for over 5,000 years before the arrival of the Europeans. *2

At the next trail junction, turn left onto Olympia Trail. It cuts through the oak woodland before leading you out across the open grassland. O”Olympus”, the mountain throne of the Greek gods, and “Olympia”, the site of the Olympic games, repeatedly have been used for American place names. Such is probably the case here. However, the local legend persists that this peak was named for “Olympia Beer.” Before the area was annexed to Mount Diablo State Park, the Concord/Mount Diablo Trailride Association built many of the trails around Mount Olympia. The Association’s trail builders supposedly stashed Olympia Beer along the trail to refresh themselves after a hard days work. Today, alcohol is not permitted in the Park. Leopold Schmidt founded Olympia Brewing Company in Tumwater, WA in 1896. Since 1983, it adopted the enduring slogan: “tis the Water.” Unfortunately, the last can of Olympia rolled off the line on May 27, 2003. Olympia Brewing Company is now history. *2

Stay on Olympia Trail, it continues back through the woods before exiting out along the equestrian facility to the Oak Hills Trailhead parking area.

Go straight onto Oak Hills Trail, it turns south as it runs parallel along the west side of Morgan Territory Rd towards Perkins Canyon meadow with grand views of North Peak and the old mercury mine pond. Starting in the 1860s, mercury was mined just north of here. During World War II, the operation became the largest producer of mercury in the United States. *3

The trail continues across Dunn Creek to the Diablo Mines trail junction, turn left to stay on Oak Hills Trail as it continues across the open oak-studded grassland.

At the next trail post, go straight to stay on Oak Hills Trail to the next junction.

At the next Oak Hills Trail junction, turn right onto the unmarked Perkins Trail to Perkins Canyon. PERKINS CANYON is named for Solomon D. Perkins (l822- ?), a native of Missouri, purchased property in 1859 and farmed in the Morgan Territory area. *2  

Perkins Canyon is a great place to visit, with diverse wildlife and wildflowers, interesting human history, and one of the most beautiful creeks in the state park. It’s also the perfect place to study the effects of the 2013 Morgan fire, the largest fire on Mount Diablo since 1977. A steep-sided hill the shape of a mushroom top is the centerpiece of lower Perkins Canyon. It’s not a volcano. It’s a place where lava the consistency of toothpaste oozed up from underground, probably four or five million years ago. *3

The trail comes to a split, go straight to stay on Perkins Trail followed by a left at the next unmarked junction.


The single track trail continues through dense brush as you travel further south at Perkins Creek and the dome.

Perkins Trail ends at a beautiful historic rock dam at Perkins Creek.

Enter through the dam and follow the gorgeous dry creekbed upstream.  As interesting as the dome is, however, the creek is more so with rocks from the dome mixed with more colorful ones from the main peaks. Some rocks in the creekbed are separated by million of years of geologic history. Look for red chert, blue-green serpentine, and white-grey dacite. The creek brings down everything from above. *3

Perkins Creek is rock lined the entire length with one rock pool after another.

The dry rocky creekbed leads to the second historic rock dam.

More geological rocks can be found along the dry creek.

Continue through the upper gorge and follow the faint trail through the dense brush.

Cross the creek to stay on Perkins Trail, it steadily climbs out of the canyon through thick chaparral scrub, towering sycamores and gray pines. You are literally at the base of North Peak with views of the steep slopes to the west.

The trail shows some of the charred remnants from the 2013 Morgan Fire.


The single track trail continues uphill through dense vegetation on a moderate grade to the first highpoint.

North Peak is straight above the canyon to the west. Take in the expansive view of the steepest side of the peak with its communication towers at the top.


Perkins Trail continues upward through the thick vegetation and charred trees stumps to the junction at Ray Morgan Rd.

Optional out & back to trek: continue uphill towards the high tension power lines and cross over the gate onto private property. (Do so at your own risk)

The fire road leads up to the private Diablo Bowmen Archery Club.

Retrace steps back to Ray Morgan Rd junction. RAY MORGAN ROAD is named for Raymond H. Morgan (1933-1986). He lived in the Morgan Territory area. He served as the Fire Chief of the East Diablo Fire Protection District for 12 years and worked for this District for 26 years. Ray died in Clayton at the age of 53. His wife Helen, daughters Debra Finn and Renae Tharp, both of Antioch, parents Howard and Grace Morgan of Clayton, brother Ken Morgan of Napa, and two grandchildren, survived him. *2

Turn right onto Ray Morgan Rd, it drops downhill towards the solid dark chaparral and brush, that’s where you can turn left to follow the faint trail up to the volcanic dome to the overlook over Perkins canyon. It’s one of 18 nearby tertiary volcanic extrusions, magma veins which reached the surface (plug domes) or were exposed by erosion (plug necks). The sandy soils alert you to the decomposed volcanic dacite, which is high in silica.*4

The wooded mound of the volcanic dome stands at 895 feet. Make your way through the tall pines to the top. There is no marker of any sort. You can look over the edge and see the sheer drop into the steep canyon. From the top of the dome, there are good views from the north and south!

Make your way down from the dome to Ray Morgan Rd, the fire road leads back to Oak Hills Trail junction.

Return on Oak Hills Trail to the trailhead parking area.

A fox sighting along the road.

Continue north on Olympia Trail to Blaisdell Trail junction. Turn left onto Blaisdell, it climbs westwards up the mountain slope through dense brush. The trail is named for Harry Lee Blaisdell (1890-1964), superintendent of the Central Coast Division of the State Parks, and first “warden” of Mount Diablo State Park in the 1920s. Harry was a native of Massachusetts. *2

Follow the trail post, the single track travels across the grassy slopes with open expansive views of North Peak and the dense woodlands from the canyons out to Morgan Territory!

The trail continues uphill through the woods to the park boundary at the transmission towers.

At the Blaisdell/Crested Jay Rd junction, turn right onto Crested Jay Rd. The fire road drops down from the towers to the next trail junction.

Turn left onto the unmarked Sattler Trail, it continues westward through the woods and grassland to Blaisdell Trail junction. This trail is named for William Henry Sattler (1909-1997) and his wife, Genevieve Sattler (1915-1999). For two decades, “Bill” and “Gen” were the quiet strength of Save Mount Diablo (SMD), the land trust they helped start in 1971. Bill was the Treasurer of SMD for almost two decades, and Gen was the Secretary. They both played a sentinel role in protecting the rugged open spaces of Mount Diablo from housing tracts. In l971, just 7,500- acres were protected as part of Mount Diablo State Park. Now, the Park¹s acreage is over 20,000-acres. Bill and Gen were married in 1950 and raised four children: Joyce, Carol, Edward and Albert. Bill was a partner in Sattler’s Appliance Stores (Concord) for 32 years. The business closed in 1990. *2

Go straight to stay on Sattler, it drops into the wooded canyon to the Quicksilver Trail junction.

Turn right to stay on Sattler Trail, it continues through the beautiful dense forest to the next trail post. Stay on Sattler Trail, it exits the woodland out to the open grassland before coming to an end at the paved Wise Rd.

Make a right on Wise Rd followed by an immediate left onto Sharkey Rd. The broad fire road travels across the grassland for the return to the trail gate off Marsh Creek Rd. SThis fire road is named for California State Senator William R. Sharkey (1879-1948). It was through his efforts that Mount Diablo was made a State Park and Game Refuge in 1921. Senator Sharkey was the author and sponsor of a bill in the California legislature that made it so. Besides being a legislator, Senator Sharkey was well known as a newspaper publisher and conservationist. *2

Take these trails less traveled and explore the far northeastern section of Mt Diablo to one of the park’s most beautiful creeks and canyons. You’ll enjoy the beautiful Perkins Canyon with its volcanic dome and the geologically rich Perkins Creek!


6.41 Miles with 1443′ of elevation gain
Max elevation: 1121′
Time: 3.5-4 hours with multiple stops
Hike: Moderate with some scrambling
Parking: There is a wide pullout area for parking about two miles beyond Regency Drive in Clayton. Look for the yellow emergency call box with the big blue sign-CC M 16
No facilities & no water.
Bring water & food/snacks-No water along the trails

Weather: Sunny & warm. Temps ranging from the low 60’s to the low 70’s with SW winds

*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 selected retail map distribution stores such as REI, Sportsbasement and on-line at MDIA’s Store.

Direction: Marsh Creek Rd Trailhead > S-Sharkey Rd > L-Marsh Tr > S-Miwok Rd > L-Olympia Tr > S-Oak Hills Tr > X-Dunn Creek > L-stay on Oak Hills Tr > L-Perkins Tr > S-onto Perkins Creek > L-unmarked Trail > S-Perkind Trail-L-X Perkins Creek > S-stay on Perkins Tr > R-cross park boundary gate to upper ridge > U-upper ridge to gate > R-Ray Morgan Rd > L-scramble up to volcanic dome > follow faint  trail through grassland and brush to top of dome > U-scramble back down to Ray Morgan Rd > L-Ray Morgan Rd > R-Oak Hills Tr > X-dunn Creek > L-stay on Oak Hills Tr > S-Olympia Tr > L-Blaisdell Tr > R-Crested Jay Rd > L-Sattler Tr > R-stay on Sattler Tr > X-Wise Rd > S-Sharkey Rd > Marsh Creek Rd Trailhead

1-Perkins Canyon





  1. So much local history behind the names of the trails. Fascinating to learn this. Great photos to boot. Thanks Nancy.


  2. I just hiked thru Perkins Canyon, and am bewildered. Of course, the trail is easy to find, and well marked, but I could not find the 2 dams mentioned. The Perkins trail goes down to a big creek bed (but not dry), which one crosses to start uphill. I thought the dams would be right there at the creek bed, but no luck. I checked both upstream and downstream about 50 yards.

    After reading your article again, I actually did the hike twice–figuring I must have taken the wrong trail. I hiked upstream for a while, but it gets pretty rough pretty fast.

    How in the world did I miss the dams? Are they still there?

    However, I did hike up to the lava “dome.” Tough to find a trail, but I persevered.


  3. Wow–Nancy was right–I just missed the turn off. It’s not marked, but still pretty easy, once you know where to look. Man alive what a great structure!

    Thank you Nancy!


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