Falls Trail Loop at Mount Diablo

For anyone who has hiked in Mount Diablo’s blistering summer heat, it seems almost impossible that there could be even a single waterfall on that mountain, much less an entire trail dedicated to numerous falls.  The Falls Trail is a 1.15 mile point-to-point trail located somewhere amongst the maze of paths on Mount Diablo’s north slope.  We hiked the Falls Trail as part of a 7-mile loop, beginning and ending at the Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center.

Trailhead Directions and Red Tape: The visitor center parking area is located at the south end of Mitchell Canyon Road in Clayton, CA. Google Map link to trailhead. Parking is $6 and the gate opens at 8:00 am.  It’s also possible to hike from the trailhead at the Regency Gate.

Distance: 7 mi | Elevation: +2000 ft / -2000 ft | Download gpx

Trail Description: It rained for most of last week (thanks El Niño), making Saturday the perfect time for a waterfall hike.  I always heard there were waterfalls at Mount Diablo, but I had never actually seen any of them before.

We got a relatively late start – leaving the house at around 9am.  It was raining steadily as we drove to Clayton.  I was silently debating whether or not this outing was a good idea, but the rain mostly stopped as we reached Mitchell Canyon.  We paid our $6, parked, and started up the trail.  Very quickly our trail turned to mud. I was sad to see my brand new, brightly colored running shoes get instantly caked in brown muck.  Oh well, they weren’t going to look new forever.

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We followed mostly dirt mud roads until we reached the Falls Trail: Murchio Road (1 mile) → Donner Canyon Road (1.3 mile) → Cardinet Oaks (0.5 steep mile).

Flowers near the Donner Cabin site.
Flowers near the Donner Cabin site.

In stark contrast to the wider dirt roads, the Falls Trail is a narrow single track path with steep drop-offs to the side.  It was fortunately far less muddy so we had good traction.  We could see several falls as we contoured around the hillside.

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Somewhere halfway down the trail, we came around a bend and found a woman precariously clinging to an unstable slope about 20 feet above us.  We asked if she was okay and mentioned that maybe she had gotten off the trail a little…?  Her friend quickly appeared and explained that we could reach an even better waterfall if we scrambled up the slide.  With little hesitation, we made our way up the same stupid slope.  It was definitely worth it.  A narrow and somewhat unstable path took us to the best waterfall on the entire trail.  We would have completely walked past this had we not run into these people.  Rob thanked them on our way down.

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Lunch break. Stretching while sipping tea.
Lunch break. Stretching while sipping tea.
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Looking back at the last fall on the Falls Trail.

After reaching the end of the Falls Trail, we took the Middle Trail (0.5 mile) to Meridian Ridge Road.  At this point, we turned the wrong way and ended up back on Donner Canyon Road.  We didn’t want to walk the same trail twice, so we left the road (after 0.25 mile) and took the Tick Wood Trail (0.45 mile) to the Back Creek Trail (0.6 mile) which eventually led us back down to Mitchell Canyon via the Coulter Pine Trail (0.5 mile).  If this sounds confusing, it’s because there are SO MANY trails on Mount Diablo.  A map is highly recommended.

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As we got back down to the lower elevations, the geology changed and the trail once again became extremely muddy.  I was sure at least one of us would go down.  Rob glissaded (while screaming) several yards down one slope, but somehow he managed to stay on his feet.

After our hike, I tried to wash my shoes in the creek next to the parking lot.  My efforts were futile.

It started raining again as we drove home – perfect timing!

More Info: There’s a cartooney but fairly comprehensive trail map in the pdf brochure for Mt. Diablo SP. If you plan to visit this park a lot, a better trail map is available at REI:

Mount Diablo State Park Trail Map - 6th Edition

6 thoughts on “Falls Trail Loop at Mount Diablo”

  1. Man, I would have never known that was there. I have been on my road bike up there several times, but it never looked that pretty. Another great travelog in the books. (Sorry about your spiffy new shoes Christa) I am vicariously living through your adventures now that I am nursing a new business in West Sacramento. Hope we can meet now that we are closer. Thanks for the new adventure! Lorenzo

    1. Diablo looks like a difficult (but fun) place to road bike! The trails on the north side are a different world. There are very few people out there, even on days when the summit is packed. West Sac is very close. Let’s go for a hike or grab a beer sometime.

  2. I realize this is over a year later but thought maybe you would know…are dogs allowed on the falls trail? I know they aren’t at the regency gate but thought maybe at the Mitchell Canyon center gate they are. I’m not finding a lot of info online about it.

      1. Thank you! I did eventually find a great guide that gave me tons of info, including no dogs 🙁 I’m going this weekend to check it out! Hiking from the Regency gate hope it’s easy to follow.

Any thoughts?