If you are anywhere in the Tri-valley, chances are you aren't far from a nice view of Mount Diablo. Towering above all else, this ancient hump is easily the most spectacular geological feature of the east bay.
Despite this fact, Mount Diablo State Park is an area that I seldom visit. For some reason, getting there seems more daunting than it actually is. In my mind it's the grueling drive up the mountain that can be the main deterrent from making the trip.
Luckily, there is an alternative to driving the long ascent. Known mostly to locals of the area, Macedo Ranch offers an easily accessible staging area at the base of Mount Diablo. With a network of unique trails, Macedo Ranch offers the diverse flora and fauna of Mount Diablo without having to traverse all the way up the mountain.
To get there, head to the 680 freeway and exit at Stone Valley Road. Proceed east and drive all the way past Monte Vista High School. When you come to a four way stop at Green Valley Road, turn left. Follow Green Valley all the way until it funnels into the Macedo Ranch staging area.
As this location is semi-secret, parking should be more than ample. There is a $6 fee, which is payable using envelope permits provided near the bathrooms. Fill out the form, place the envelope with money in the nearby receptacle, and tear off the serrated permit to place on your dash. Now you're ready to hit the trails.
Note that there are no free maps of Mount Diablo State Park available at Macedo Ranch. To avoid purchasing one, print a map from home before you make the trip.
I suggest starting out on Wall Point Trail, which is right next to the pay station. This route is central, and offers access to many other trails.
Two of my favorite routes to embark on from Wall Point Trail are Stage Road Trail and Summit Trail. If you have the time and energy I would explore both, but if not, each makes for a full outing.
Stage Road Trail is the less strenuous of the two routes, and is mostly shrouded in shade. With a lack of drastic elevation change as well, this can be a fairly relaxing hike.
This trail also shadows Pine Creek, and at several sections the creek and trail cross. Boulders and logs form makeshift bridges at these points which can be used to tip-toe dryly across. If you have waterproof hiking shoes, I suggest wearing them to make any accidental slips a minor inconvenience.
Since it resides in a riparian environment, Stage Road Trail flaunts a wide variety of flora. Big leaf maple, oak, sycamore, and cottonwood are just some of the tree varieties you will stumble upon. Trees that are rare in other parks rise in abundance here.
Also along Stage Road Trail is Pine Pond. This reed-laden body of water is worth checking out as it is a hotbed for wildlife. At my stop here, I spotted a few frogs and a mallard duck taking a bath. Spend some time exploring the pond and you're sure to find something interesting as well.
Summit trail, my other favorite, offers a completely different setting. Instead of shade and flat land, this trail rises steeply under the baking sun. While this may not sound appealing, it has its perks.
Aside from the great workout of trekking uphill, Summit Trail is home to stunning views, and a wider variety of flowers than on Stage Road. Huge slabs of rock also dot the hillside, making for visually stunning terrain. Be sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection if you plan on tackling Summit Trail.
By no means are these two trails the only ones accessible from Macedo Ranch, just two I particularly enjoy. I invite you to print out a map and explore the area more fully, who knows, you may even discover a favorite area of your own.
If you’re like me and rarely take the opportunity to visit Mount Diablo, check out Macedo Ranch. It's easy to get to, and a nice change of scenery from the East Bay Regional Park system. So do yourself a favor, and visit the mountain that is never far from sight.
At a Glance:
Address: End of Green Valley Road in Danville
Hours: 7 a.m. – sunset
Best time to visit: Anytime, weather permitting
Great for: Hiking, biking, horseback-riding
Could be better if: You wear waterproof shoes