Mount Diablo is a small mountain just east of the San Francisco area in Contra Costa County. With its summit at 3,849 feet, Mount Diablo is visible from parts of the Bay Area and offers splendid views from the top. With lush surroundings consisting of more than 90,000 acres of conservation land, Mount Diablo is a natural treasure that is easily accessible from the Bay Area. We know you can drive to Mt. Diablo State Park, but can you drive to the top of Mount Diablo?
You can, in fact, drive your car to the top of Mount Diablo. You will have to pay a vehicle access fee of $10 at the South or North Gate entry point to the park. Once you’re in, you can drive your car all the way to the mountaintop to take in the magnificent view.
Superlative as it may sound, the view is, in fact, magnificent. Mount Diablo has one of the best viewsheds in California. On clear days, one can see the Sierra Nevada range and the city of San Francisco in the distance. Sharp-eyed visitors might be able to spot Sentinel Dome in Yosemite. You can see amazing and beautiful things from this mountain.
Getting to Mount Diablo’s Summit
Situated about forty miles to the east of the city of San Francisco is Mount Diablo State Park. Depending on your exact starting point and the traffic conditions you encounter, expect to spend about an hour and a half in the car on the way to the park. The North Gate Road entrance to the park is in Walnut Creek, with the South Gate Road entrance in Blackhawk.
Note: You can enter the park at the Macedo Ranch & Mitchell Canyon Staging Areas for a $6 vehicle entrance fee, but neither of these locations has vehicle access to the summit.
Mount Diablo rests at the center of its eponymous state park, surrounded by rolling hills and lush greenery. Mount Olympia sits just northeast of Diablo; a large geological monument known as Elephant Rock sits to the south-southwest. While the mountain is relatively small at only 3,849 feet, the surrounding terrain provides exquisite scenery from the peak.
The beautiful scenery entices many to make the trek to the peak, the first stop on their visit. Visitors can drive their vehicles directly to the top of the mountain and park at the visitor’s center. The visitor’s center hosts exhibits on the natural history of the area and has an observation deck that is accessible to visitors.
Be sure to bring a camera because you’ll want to capture the splendor of the view: it attracts more than 350,000 visitors a year. While we don’t know precisely how many drive to the summit, it’s safe to say this is a popular drive.
While it’s popular to drive to the top, drivers should exercise caution. The paved road – known as the Mt. Diablo Scenic Boulevard – attracts many mountain bikers, and you must attend to the rolling hills, steep turns, and occasionally narrow passes with caution.
Hikers and picnickers will enjoy the opportunity to pull off of the scenic boulevard and enjoy all manner of outdoor activities. There are 520 miles of hiking trails in the state park, and many of them are accessible from the scenic boulevard. There are some places to pull over and enjoy the view for those who are in no rush to make the summit.
Mt. Diablo State Park has several visitor facilities that include parking, restrooms, and showers. Campers can enjoy a variety of campsite options at locations across the park, and RV enthusiasts will find access to camping locations at the state park. Families can enjoy the view, lunch in the picnic areas, and hike the trails when staying in the park for a while.
When is the Best Time to Drive to the Top?
The view from the top of the mountain obviously has a complex relationship with the local weather. Meteorological conditions such as haze or fog can obscure the view – or amplify it in a different way, if one enjoys dramatic weather. That said, most people want to see a clear view, and in ideal circumstances, you can see more than 200 miles from the top. Usually, you will find that the best conditions for the long view to be the day after a winter storm. The cool, clear air provides perfect conditions for viewing the scenery.
What Can You See from Mt. Diablo?
You can see the Farallon Islands, the observatory on Mount Hamilton, Mount Loma Prieta, and even the Sierra Nevada in perfect conditions. Mount Shasta, however, is obscured by the curvature of the Earth. Also visible is the city of San Francisco and even the Sentinel Dome in Yosemite.
Overall, you can see more than 8,539 square miles from the mountaintop. The visitor center’s observation deck is open from 10 to 4, so your best chances for excellent views will be during this window. Sunrise will cast a shadow to the west; visitors may find the city silhouetted behind the sunset in the late afternoon.
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Does it Snow on Mt. Diablo?
Mount Diablo does see snow, but not a whole lot: snowfall averages about 1.2 inches a year. The snowfall is inconsistent; the mountain does not see snow every year, and when it does, it is generally on the higher points of the mountain. That said, the weather station on Mt. Diablo is situated about halfway up the mountain; it is possible that there has been higher snowfall.
The roads to the peak are not generally covered by snowfall, but in 2020 park rangers had to close the road due to snowy conditions. When the snow flies, roads can be slick – as mentioned, they are also curvy and hilly – so motorists should exercise caution when the conditions are wet.
Bay Area Answers Fun Fact: Mount Diablo’s past is steeped in mystery, from the story of the mysterious lights aiding Native American escapees to frequent reports of mysterious black panther-like creatures. The Black Diamond Mines is also rumored to be haunted by an assortment of ghosts.
Is Mt. Diablo a Volcano?
While it may look like a volcano, Mt. Diablo is not volcanic in origin and cannot erupt. Rather than forming from volcanic activity, Mt. Diablo was formed by compression and uplift where two fault lines converge. The plates on which the mountain rests continue to shift and grow, causing Mt. Diablo to grow by about 5 millimeters a year.
The mountain previously contained seams of coal and glass sand, but these resources were mined to exhaustion. Visitors can now enjoy the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve on the land once used for these resources.
Why is Mt. Diablo called Mt. Diablo?
The name of this mountain underwent several iterations before it was formally declared to be Mt. Diablo in 1850. In 1805, some Native Americans escaped from the Spanish in the vicinity of the mountain. The Spaniards reported seeing mysterious floating lights aiding the Native Americans as they fled into the thicket. The brush was dubbed with the Spanish moniker Monte del Diablo, and the name soon referred to the area more broadly.
Before the arrival of the Spanish, the local people had named the mountain in several regional dialects. Early Ohlone settlers named it Tuyshtak, meaning “At the Dawn of Time,” a reference to the spiritual significance this mountain held. The Sierra Miwok people called the mountain Supemenenu. Newspapers in the 1800s made reference to a Native name of Kahwookum that was actually made up by locals for the mountain and had no connection to any native language.
Are There Mountain Lions on Mt. Diablo?
Mountain lions are beautiful, graceful animals, but they can be dangerous to hikers. While there might be mountain lions ranging through the area, there is not a well-documented, consistent presence of mountain lions on Mount Diablo. Hikers should take the usual precautions in the woods, and if you do see a mountain lion, you should never approach it.
Can I Fly my Drone at Mt. Diablo?
Photo drones are increasingly popular with many types of people these days. Affordable, fun to fly, and with good quality video and photo capture, drones are the perfect photo companions for a park such as Mt. Diablo. Unfortunately, due to their potential negative influence on the park experience, drones are not allowed on state park grounds.
Coming Down from the Mountain
Mount Diablo is a gem of the Bay Area. San Franciscans and visitors to the Bay Area can experience some of the best hiking, sightseeing, nature watching, and camping out there with a relatively short trip. For those who prefer to experience the outdoors in a more tame fashion, the drive to the summit is well worth the trip – the view from the observation deck is a once-in-a-lifetime scene.
Between the vista, the drive, and the plethora of activities available in Mount Diablo State Park, this is a place worth visiting. And one of the best methods to experience this park is to roll down the windows and cruise to the visitor’s center at the top. Hop in your car, motor on out to the mountain, and enjoy the splendor.