A Diablo Loop Hike: 58 parks in 11 Days
We (Amy and James) have completed a number of multi-day backpacking trips in the San Francisco Bay Area. See some earlier trip reports at:
Point Reyes Circumambulation
San Francisco to Point Reyes Loop, 5 days
Novato to San Francisco
Palo Alto to Santa Cruz
Monterey Bay from Santa Cruz to Point Pinos
However, we had never done a long trip in the East Bay, an area rich in public lands. James had been working on planning this route for over a year, and the weather forecast looked excellent in early March, so off we went.
You can view the route map and download kml/gpx files at our CalTopo map; they include the basic 207-mile route, along with some diversions. There is a folder of water sources and a folder of resupply locations.
This trip is a loop that can be started and completed at any point a walker might choose. We have a goal of using public transit to access our local walks, and bus service between Palo Alto and Union City is fast and frequent, so we selected Union City as our start. We walked counter-clockwise, but see no reason the other direction wouldn’t be as good. The Loop is also easily accessible by BART at several locations.
The route is 207 miles in length. On our trip we walked an additional 11 miles for resupply and other diversions, for a total of 218 miles. Altitude gain is something over 44,000 feet. To put the Diablo Loop in perspective, the John Muir Trail is 210 miles in length and has a gain of around 46,000 feet. Below is a map of the route.
The route traverses at least 58 designated pieces of public land. These include a National Park Historic Site, a State Park, many East Bay Regional District preserves, local city parks and recreation areas, non-motorized trail corridors, and so forth. By piecing all of these together, road walking (on a paved public street or on a sidewalk next to a street) is reduced to around 10 miles. Even though the route traverses Union City/Fremont, Livermore, Walnut Creek and Hayward, very little of it is on actual city streets because each of those towns has cross-town trail corridors.
In many parks, there are numerous alternative ways to get from Point A to Point B; our choices were often arbitrary and others could easily select variations which would lengthen or shorten the route. Hike your own hike.
The big challenge James faced in building this route was finding links between parks, staying on various trail corridors and keeping off of roads as much as possible. Some of the links are not obvious from just glancing at a map, and much research and a lot of exploration with Google Street View and satellite imagery and other tools was done to parse out these links.
Roughly half of the loop follows the yet to be completed Bay Area Ridge Trail. Over time things do change on the ground as the Ridge Trail Council and other agencies work to acquire and develop more parks. We know of at least two significant areas where planning and/or current trail work is being done that will eliminate some of the road walking and make the park-to-park connections even better, and we will update the route information when those connections are available.
The loop passes over three significant East Bay summits: Mission Peak, Rose Peak, and Mt. Diablo. There are many less significant high points that offer fantastic views as well, and spectacular panoramic views of the entire Bay Area are frequent.
Habitat varies and includes open rolling grasslands, oak woodland, riparian corridors, some small amounts of coniferous woodland, and a bit of chaparral as well. Some areas have active grazing, so don’t be surprised to have to interact with a cow or two.
The Loop passes the Lindsey Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, the John Muir NHS in Martinez, and the Chabot Space and Science Center in the Oakland hills for those who enjoy a bit of culture on their hike.
The route only requires climbing over a couple of fences and the only trespass we are aware of is a very short crossing of a railroad right-of-way at the south end of Crockett Regional Preserve. This is actually is not posted “No Trespassing” but caution is advised when crossing the tracks and on the short bridge spanning two lanes of Highway 4.
There are plenty of grocery stores that are either directly or very close to the route, with a major supermarket on route every ~50 miles. There are also a variety of conveniently located cafes and restaurants. Access to water was not a problem, as public water sources are relatively frequent. There are also stock ponds and creeks if you are willing to clean the water before drinking, however these sources are seasonally dependent and may not be available in the summer. Water sources in urban areas are not mapped.
There are a number of public campsites along the route. However, they all require reservations. Reserving a campsite from East Bay Parks requires at least five days notice and is a stupidly complex process. There are also motels in some locations along the route that could be used for overnights. We elected to stealth camp and had no problems finding suitable sites. We were never, to the best of our knowledge, observed camping by outsiders. We did follow standard stealth rules: set up at dusk, break camp before sunrise, no fires (not even stoves), no lights, no noise, no litter. Just be aware that if you do stealth camp, you will be in violation of park regulations.
Two permits are required and easily obtained:
SF Watershed lands and the Ohlone Regional Wilderness.
East Bay Municipal Utilities District lands.
We greatly enjoyed this walk. It is always a pleasure to be able to take a backpacking trip close to home without using a car. We are incredibly lucky to have vast amounts of open space, some of which is functionally wilderness, so close to home. Even though we have hiked extensively in the Bay Area for 35 years, we were still able to see parks and regions we had never visited. The diversity of the hike was excellent and passing through populated areas just added to the fun of the trip. The weather was good, the grass was green, the flowers were blooming, and the birds were singing.
List of Parks
Alameda Creek Trail
Quarry Lakes Regional Recreation Area
Centerville Community Park
Fremont Central Park
Mission San Jose Park
Mission Peak Regional Preserve
Sunol Regional Preserve
Ohlone Regional Wilderness
Del Valle Regional Preserve
Arroyo Road Trail
Sycamore Grove Park
Sunken Gardens Park
Robert Livermore Park
Springtown Public Golf Course
Altamont Creek Park
Brushy Peak Regional Preserve
Los Vaqueros Watershed
Morgan Territory Regional Preserve
Mount Diablo State Park
Diablo Foothills Regional Preserve
Shell Ridge Open Space
Briones to Mount Diablo Regional Trail
San Miguel Park
Heather Farm Park
Alacantes Ridge Open Space
Briones Regional Preserve
John Muir National Historic Site
Carquinez Straight Regional Shoreline
Crockett Hills Regional Preserve
Muir Heritage Trust Fernandez Ranch
Pinole Valley Watershed
Sobrante Regional Preserve
Kennedy Grove Regional Recreation Area
Wildcat Regional Preserve
Tilden Regional Preserve
Siesta Valley Recreation Area
Robert Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve
Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve
Redwood Regional Preserve
Chabot Regional Preserve
Cull Canyon Regional Preserve
Don Castro Regional Preserve
Five Canyons Park
Hayward Greenbelt Park
Old Highlands Park
Garin Regional Preserve
Dry Creek Regional Preserve
Charles F. Kennedy Park
A Few Photos
Mission Peak RP east side
Los Vaqueros watershed
Morgan Territory RP
Golden Gate from Wildcat Canyon RP
Mt. Diablo from Sibley Volcanic RP
Mt. Diablo from Cull Canyon RP