November 27, 2015
Falls Trail Loop at Mt. Diablo State Park
Total distance: 5.2 miles
Shopping on Black Friday? No thank you, never! Instead I took REI’s advice to “OptOutside” and experience the outdoors.
Joining me the morning after Thanksgiving were my oldest and youngest sons, Joseph and Andrew. Pierre, Andrew’s friend, accompanied us.
The trail conveniently began at Regency Gate located at a dead end of a residential neighborhood in the city of Clayton. Entering the park through this location meant a shorter drive from my parents’ home (where I was visiting for the weekend) and no entrance fee.
The hard-packed clay footpath lay beneath the shade of oak trees. It followed Donner Creek, a currently dry creek bed—not a good sign since it was the waterfalls that we wanted to see. Well-marked trail junctions kept us on the correct route through Donner Canyon.
We passed the site of the historic Donner Cabin (not related to the doomed Donner Party) that was destroyed by fire years ago; then rounded a bend and let out a collective sigh. The trail became steep as a staircase rising 1,300 feet in elevation.
Quail, hidden beneath the bushes, rustled in the dead leaves. The information board’s warning of mountain lions in the area flashed through my mind, but it was the wrong time of day for an encounter.
The trail twisted and turned up the hill. At the top we looked back and saw the chipped away side of Mt. Zion located in the Clayton Quarry.
The Falls Trail cut to the right leaving behind the wide road. Herein began the loop trail on the east side of the canyon. It was sunny and dry and continued to climb uphill.
The path narrowed drastically, often hugging the edge of the mountain, leaving me feeling a little dizzy. The loose shale tread added to my uneasiness. Joseph stopped many times and waited as I took baby steps around the curves of the slender trail.
Looking down at Wild Oat Canyon from the sketchy trail, I was unsure if we should go farther. After a pep talk from the guys, we carried on around the canyon loop.
Although a recent storm passed over the area days prior, the rainfall was not significant enough to add much water to the creeks. We stepped over dry beds and Joseph climbed the rocks where water should have been falling.
Below one of the dry falls sat a piece of a skeleton from an unknown animal. I find it interesting how often I see animal skeletons while out hiking.
The trail became more comfortable to walk on the west side of the canyon. It was damper, shadier, wider and cooler.
As we neared the bottom of the canyon, we heard water trickling through Donner Creek. The trail yo-yo’d up and down and eventually reached the wide and comfortable path. On the verge of turning green, the voluptuous curves of the foothills came into view as we made our way back to the car.
I loved this hike even though we did not see waterfalls. It challenged my fear of heights. It required me to pray for courage and trust myself. It spurred an interest in learning about the history and geology of a mountain whose shadow I lived near for decades. Most important of all, it allowed me to experience the outdoors and explore the beauty of Mt. Diablo with my sons. I can’t wait to go back!