Mt Diablo: Donner Canyon-Middle-Falls-Cardinet Oaks Trail Hike

Monday, March 5, 2018

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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. 

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.

Stay on your left to Donner Canyon Rd; this fire road takes you across the lower oak-studded foothills along Donner Creek. The road winds gently through the woodlands with great views of Diablo’s peaks.

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, turn right onto Meridian Ridge Rd to Middle Trail.

At the Middle Trail junction: continue left on Middle Trail; the narrow path snakes along the side of the mountain through the densely 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 mountainside with the sounds and views of a rushing creek. The 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 mountainside 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!

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 left and continue on Cardinet Oaks Rd to Donner Canyon Rd.

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

5.5 Miles with 1397′ of elevation gain
Max elevation: 1691′
Time: 3 hours with multiple 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
Weather: Sunny & cool with temps ranging from the mid-high 50s 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.

Directions > Regency Gate > S-Donner Canyon Rd > R-Meridian Ridge Rd > L-Middle Tr > L- Falls Tr > L-Cardinet Oaks Rd > R-Donner Canyon Rd > Regency Gate


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