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Clayton, California, United States

North Peak at Mount Diablo State Park

Skip the summit crowds and see Mount Diablo's North Peak. Strenuous 10-mile hike.

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 (14 votes, 9 reviews)
Difficulty: Difficult
Length: 10.0 miles / 16.1 km
Duration: Full day
Overview: If you're bugged by the existence of a parking lot atop Mount Diablo -- the East Bay's signature peak -- you're probably just the type to check out nearby North Peak, which gets far fewer visitors and offers just as many awesome vistas.

My favorite path to North Peak is definitely the hard way: five miles and over 3,000 feet of climb on some of the steepest trails in the Bay Area. The struggle has rewards beyond knowing you've walked from near sea level to one of the highest accessible points in the region. In springtime, the hillsides light up with wildflowers; in winter, rains cleanse the skies so you can see the snow-capped Sierra peaks hundreds of miles away; in autumn, tarantulas prowl the trails in search of mates. Summer's about the only time when it's too hot to attempt this hike.

This hike also has a bonus: a jaunt along the Mount Olympia Trail, notorious as one of the steepest in the Bay Area.

If you've got the legs for it, this is among the East Bay's must-hike routes. For peak-bagging purists, a hike to the main summit adds another three miles and 800 feet of elevation gain.

Tips: This is a truly strenuous hike; don't try it if you're not up for long miles with lots of climbing and tricky terrain. Watch for poison oak on narrow single-tracks. Rattlesnakes may dwell in rocky areas. If you see one, give it plenty of distance.

What to Bring:
A map, available at park entrances and from the State Park Store
Plenty of water; there's none on the trail (it can be filtered from streams, but only in winter and spring, before they run dry.)
Trekking poles if you use them.
Sunscreen: most of this hike is unshaded.
A windbreaker: it gets very blustery at the top.
Layers: you'll sweat all the way up, so you could catch a chill on the way down.
A first-aid kit with blister treatment: the hard, dry miles can do a number on your feet.
Snacks to replenish your energy supply.

Points of Interest


First climb: Mount Olympia

The hike starts from the Mount Diablo State Park trailhead in the East Bay suburb of Clayton (see driving directions for getting there). There's no fee to park here, but you'll spend plenty of energy on the hike up.

Just past the trailhead gate, Donner Canyon Trail begins on your left. Take this trail and stay on it till it ends after about 1.5 miles at Cardinet Oaks Road. Climbing on this section is fairly mild; it gets mean soon enough.

Go left on Cardinet Oaks Road, which dips down to a creek crossing (which may be ankle deep during rainy season), then start climbing in earnest. After about 1.2 miles on Cardinet Oaks, the Olympia Trail marker appears on your right. Turn there.

This is when the real climbing starts. Olympia Trail zizgags up the hillside on a narrow single-track, then enters open terrain. After about a half-mile you'll hit the Zippe Trail junction, a left turn that'll get you to the Mount Olympia summit in about a half-mile. Your other option is to stay on Mount Olympia Trail, which is slightly longer. Both are calf-burner steep, so it's really a coin flip on which is the best route.

Second climb: North Peak summit

After you've rested up at the Mount Olympia summit, it's on to North Peak. The Peak dominates the landscape so you know which way to go: just find the North Peak Trail and start walking.

North Peak Trail is a narrow, .8-mile stretch of single-track on a steep, rocky slope. This is one of my favorite Bay Area trails, but don't be lulled by the scenery: a slip here could be a bone-breaker.

Once you get to North Peak Road, it's a left turn and another steep climb to the summit. The radio towers might not seem like much of an improvement on the masses of humanity at the main summit, but they reassure me that I'm not the only one crazy enough to be up here.

Return leg: three options

From the North Peak summit it's about .8 mile down to Prospector's Gap, where you have three choices, depending on how strong you feel:

a) If you're gassed, take Prospector's Gap Road, which is mostly downhill, for 1.3 mile to Meridian Ridge Road, then bear left and go another .3 mile to Murchio Gap, the next major trail junction on this route.

b) If you've got a bit more climb in your legs, the Bald Ridge Trail offers a much prettier 1.3-mile route to Murchio Gap.

c) If your legs feel fine, it's 1.5 miles (one way) to the main Diablo summit, which has running water and flush toilets. Mind you it's 800 feet more elevation gain.

From Murchio Gap, it's all downhill for 2.6 miles along the Back Creek Trail, which tracks due north from the gap (a left turn if you're facing north). Back Creek Trail is another Mount Diablo gem, steep and rocky in parts, but generally a pleasure to hike.

Back Creek Trail takes you back where you started; expect to be exhausted but at least a bit elated at finishing one of the region's essential hikes.
Pictures in this guide taken by: tommangan, Alamobrad, frhuey, edgarstiles, EwaSkB, gregg777, szr, inko10k, Stuart_Green, claffey
I've done this hike twice and thoroughly enjoyed it. The trail is steep and challenging, particularly the last few hundred yards up the fire road (how the hell they get ANY vehicle up this is beyond me) is SO steep that all of our group slipped and fell on the almost 45 degree slope on our way down.

But I would like to urge readers in search of the steepest climbs in the Bay Area to visit Henry Coe State Park, which has several climbs including the infamous "shortcut" up to Mount Sizer, Steer Ridge, and more that are just as steep, longer, and harder. There's a saying that one does not go to Henry Coe to train for the Sierras, but one goes to the Sierras to train for Henry Coe that is not too far off!

Visited on Mar 01, 2013

by JMT2017 on Jan 11, 2016
This hike is definitely not for the weak. While the elevation change is large, but not absurdly high, it is divided into multiple interspersed very steep components that get your heart rate and your legs burning. The trail on which you hike changes from gravel, to rocks, to grass, which keeps the trail from getting stale. If you're also a fan of being out in the sun, then this trail is definitely for you.

A few members of my team could not make it up all the way making us cut the hike short, which speaks to how difficult this hike is; not for beginners. That being said, if you are a regular hiker, this is both a fun, challenging, and rewarding trip!

Visited on May 02, 2015

by olshansky.daniel on Jul 05, 2015
This hike is an absolute must, and I agree with aseeburger that the hike lives up to its billing as a strenuous hike, I took 5 hours to complete it, and usually do 10 mile hikes like this in under 4. I also agree with aseeburger about trekking poles, the 100 dollars I spent on trekking poles the day before was so worth it!

I parked at the end of Regency Drive (make sure you get a Good map, you may have to stop by the Mitchell Canyon Vistor Center for that, I was unable to find a good topo map with marked distances for the park online). The reason you need a good map is because once you get to Trail Ride Road, the trails do not show up on Google (funny thing, I had 4G coverage nearly the entire hike...) until you get to the North Peak Road, which is a good 2000 feet in elevation and a few miles you have to navigate blind, although it is somewhat of a straight shot admittedly.

Best thing was, I did not see a soul until I got to North Peak, a solid 2 hours in (and 3000 vertical feet)! Saw some deer, and heard a lot of wonderful mountain quiet. Getting to the top of Mount Olympia and seeing the desolate, gorgeous view was the highlight of the hike. North Peak, with all of the communication installations stuck on the top was kind of a let down. Not worth the STEEP hike up from North Peak Trail, unless you just want to bag the peak IMO.

Start early (Mitchell Canyon Visitor center is open at 9 on weekends) and enjoy the solitude of the hike (until you get close to Diablo and can hear the shouts from the tourists on the top...)

Wonderful hike, will do it again soon!!!

One thing that peeved me was the mountain bike tracks on the hiker only trails. Some bike tracks I saw were in VERY tight single file terrain with steep drop offs. If I had been unfortunate enough to run into one of them at the wrong spot it could have been disastrous. Fortunately I did not, but it kind of ruined the enjoying nature part when I kept worrying about getting knocked off the trail at the next turn by a illegal biker. Not a game changer, just a downer.

Visited on Nov 15, 2014

by SanFranBayHiker on Nov 16, 2014
This was my first experience in Mt. Diablo State Park. I was looking for a good all day hike to take in and this one fit the bill. The ascent isn't very bad. There were a few spots where I got fairly gassed, but was able to complete it without too much trouble. The descent on the other hand was brutal. Steep trails with loose rock that cover most of the descent had my knees screaming at me toward the end. Coming back down the road right before North Peak summit was downright scary, very steep and almost all loose rock. If I do this again (and I probably will) I think I'll skip that ascent, the North Peak is pretty marred by radio towers and such anyway. The highlight of the trip for me was actually Mt. Olympia summit, it's just a summit should be, nothing else there with beautiful views all around you. Most of the trails are very cozy and beautiful, but be careful of the poison oak which is very close to the trail in certain places.

Overall a very fun hike. The descent makes me knock it down a star due to the sheer amount of loose rocky steep trails destroying my ankles and knees.

Visited on Apr 20, 2014

by belt983 on Apr 20, 2014
I made the mistake of going to the wrong gate but decided to follow the same trails with some adjustments. I parked at Juniper campground and went down all the way down via some other trails & back creek trail to start over. Climbing on Olympia peak with tired legs was tough. North peak has a very tough 200 yards section where I slipped once while coming down but no damage done :) North peak to main summit was OK but it felt very tough as I was exhausted by then. I am giving it 4 stars as the trail is not well marked at times and there are no restrooms or places to rest till you reach main peak summit. Overall it was very satisfying.
Visited on Mar 15, 2014

by cmishra on Mar 16, 2014
Absolutely loved this trail. Took an easy pace with a first time climber and even hit the summit of Mt. Diablo. The description was right saying if you took bald creek trail back you would be exhausted but it is worth it. The views from all over this area were incredible. I cant wait to hike it again. Be prepared to be out there all day though.
Visited on Sep 06, 2013

by Swamp_Donkey on Sep 07, 2013
Just came back from that trail, including the main peak of Mt. Diablo - 14 miles in total. One thing people need to remember is if there are a few routes to the top, the shortest one is likely to be the steepest. This route sounds scary because of the mileage, but out the really steep parts are about a mile in total, the rest is fairly mild.

The views were amazing. It's good to wear layers because there are some cold and windy areas and some hot and dry. Some trails on the way back are cut into clay, so I guess they could get very muddy after rain.

Overall, it's a great way to spend a day, highly recommended.

Visited on Feb 17, 2013

by rmoskalenko on Feb 18, 2013
Good hike. Note that the fastest way back to the trailhead would be Prospector's Gap->Middle Trail->Meridian Ridge->Donner Canyon. You didn't list that possibility, bit it's way more direct than back creek. Another possibility you didn't mention is the all-fire-road return, which goes prospector's gap->meridian ridge->donner canyon. For those who didn't bring trekking poles.
Visited on Aug 11, 2012

by OnTrails on Aug 11, 2012
This was a beautiful hike - but the description wasn't kidding when it said it's strenuous and a tough climb to the top. Once you get there, the view is amazing.

It was the perfect temperature despite being early Summer. The way back down (option 1) is still a tough scramble down and over loose terrain and at times, steep declines. If I would do anything differently, it would be to bring trekking poles - these would've been huge and prevented the few slides I took when getting back down.

Overall, beautiful. But definitely make sure you're in good enough shape to handle it.

Visited on Jun 09, 2012

by aseeburger on Jun 09, 2012

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