With its looming peak and devilish name, it’s hard to imagine Mt. Diablo having a softer side. But winter’s rains bring an unexpected boon: four watery cascades spill off the mountain’s northern flank. And getting to them is half the fun. Start the 5-mile hike (round-trip) with a gentle climb up Donner Canyon Road, passing an old cabin site and large oak trees. Follow the rushing creek before ascending an open slope that offers uninterrupted views of the Irish green canyons and hills leading to Mt. Diablo’s summit. Then take Middle Trail, a narrow path that ducks through manzanitas, until it links up with the Falls Trail, which skirts the side of the mountain. Parts of this path seem better suited to goats, so take your time and watch your step. The upward climb rewards with increasingly better perspectives on the falls. Take a break on a grassy knoll and enjoy huge views of the northern valley. Don’t wait to make this visit—these falls usually dry up by late spring and are best after a steady rainfall.
TIP: Quench your thirst afterwards at the Clayton Club Saloon. With cowboy boots hanging from the ceiling, the scene is Old West at its best.
To reach the waterfalls loop trail: From Walnut Creek, take Ygnacio Valley Rd. 8 miles east to Clayton Rd. Stay on Clayton Rd., which turns into Marsh Creek Rd. (don’t turn right at the first sign for Marsh Creek Rd.), until it intersects Regency Dr. Turn right onto Regency Dr. The trailhead is at the end of the road. Hike the Donner Canyon Fire Road south. After about 1 mile, you’ll come to the Meridian Ridge and Cardinet Oaks Fire Road junction; turn right onto Meridian Ridge. After a few hundred feet, turn left onto the Middle Trail, which climbs up and connects to the Falls Trail. Continue on the Falls Trail, which ends at Cardinet Oaks. Turn left and take this back to the Donner Canyon Fire Road. For a map of Mt. Diablo and more info, click here. Donner Canyon Road can be muddy after rains; wear appropriate shoes.