Mt Diablo: Donner Creek Falls Loop Trail Hike

Tuesday, February 15, 2017

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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.

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

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 and views of a rushing creek.

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 of a waterfall.

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!

For an added adventure, you can scramble up the hill towards the top of the falls. Caution-do so at your own risk and comfort level.

Enjoy the close-up gorgeous views of the upper fall and pond area!

Turn around and descend the steep hillside to the Falls Trail, it crosses the creek before winding along the narrow rocky mountain slopes.

Descend the trail and follow the path to the small open grassy knoll, it’s a fabulous place to stop for a light snack or lunch.

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.

At the Wassermann Trail junction: go left and continue on Wasserman; 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 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 a trail split towards Donner Canyon Rd junction.

Go right onto the unmarked Donner Cabin Trail; it goes along Donner Creek to the Donner Cabin Site.

Turn right at the junction and return on Donner Canyon Rd.

Stay on Donner Canyon Rd to Regency Gate and Mountaire Pkwy.

Hit the trails in search of the falls around the mountain’s rugged canyons with a challenging hike from Donner Canyon up to Meridian Ridge and Middle Trail. Follow the single track Falls Trail along the exposed mountain slopes and enjoy the sounds of rushing water and wonderful views of the falls as well as sweeping panoramic views of Clayton Valley!

Stats:
6.14 Miles with 1417′ of elevation gain
Max elevation: 1686′
Time: 3.5 hours with a couple of stops
Hike: Moderate-challenging
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-No amenities along the trails
NO DOGS ALLOWED

Weather: Sunny & warm with temps ranging from the high 50s to the mid 60’s with NE 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 and on-line at MDIA’s Store.

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

Directions: Regency Gate > L-Donner Canyon Rd > R-Meridian Ridge Rd > L-Middle Trail > L-Falls Trail > R-Cardinet Oaks Rd > L-Wasserman Trail > L-Donner Trail > L-Hetherington Trail > R-Donner Cabin Trail > R-Donner Canyon Rd > Regency Gate

Diablo Falls-001

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