Mt Diablo: Donner Canyon-Cardinet Oaks-Falls-Donner-Wasserman-Hetherington Trail Hike

Friday, November 11, 2016

View the entire Google Web Album

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. 

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. *1

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 keep to the left onto 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 Cardinet Oaks/Meridian Ridge junction, turn left onto Cardinet Oaks Rd towards the Park Boundary, the fire road turns eastward as it drops slightly downhill to a creek crossing.

Cardinet Oaks begins to climb with steep grades as it  traverses along the side of the mountain.

Tarantula sighting!

The fire road continues uphill with moderate grades and grand views of the surrounding peaks and canyons.

At Falls Trail junction, go right, The single track trail heads southward into Wild Oat Canyon with superb views of the chaparral-covered mountain.

The trail drops into the canyon with views of the waterfall!

Falls Trail continues through the canyon with views of the geological features of uplifted rocks around Mt Diablo.

The trail travels deeper into the canyon as it drops down to the next creek crossing. Continue around the bend to the next mini waterfall.

At this point, turn around and reverse your way back along the Falls Trail to Cardinet Oaks.

Turn right onto Cardinet Oaks Rd, it continues with a moderate climb up to Wasserman Trail junction.

Turn left onto Wasserman Trail, the gentle downhill travels along the northerly slopes of the mountain through the dense brush and stands of pines and manzanitas.

Wasserman Trail drops down through the lower grassland area to Donner Trail junction.

At the trail junction, turn left onto Donner Trail to Hetherington Trail. It travels across the open grassland before weaving around the lush riparian woodland along Donner Creek.

The creek crossing leads to the Hetherington Trail junction.

Turn right onto Hetherington Trail to Donner Canyon north. The trail continues along the creek towards Donner Canyon Rd.

Stay on Hetherington onto the small footbridge across Donner Creek.

At the trail split towards Donner Canyon, go straight onto the Donner Cabin Site Trail, it continues along the creek to the Donner Cabin Site.

Turn right onto Donner Canyon Rd, the fire road heads north along the creek through the oak-studded foothills back to Regency Gate.

Hit the trails in search of the falls around the mountain’s rugged canyons with a challenging hike from Donner Canyon up to Cardinet Oaks Rd. Follow the single track Falls Trail along the exposed mountain slopes into the Falls Area and enjoy the wonderful views of the cascading falls as well as sweeping panoramic views of Clayton Valley!


5.81 Miles with 1228′ of elevation gain
Max elevation: 1529′
Time: 2.5 hours with a stop
Hike: Challenging with steep grades
Parking: Free street parking at the end of Mountaire Parkway in Clayton.
No facilities & no water. Descend steep trail to the park gate below.
Bring water & food/snacks

Weather: Cloudy-hazy skies. Temps ranging from the low-mid 70’s with NW 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.

Directions: Regency Gate > S-Donner Canyon Rd > L-Cardinet Oaks Rd > R-Falls Tr > Go about 0.5 mile > U-Falls Tr > R-Cardinet Oaks Rd > L-Wasserman Tr > L Donner Tr > R-Hetherington Tr > R-Donner Cabin Site Tr > R-Donner Canyon Rd > Regency Gate



Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s