Mitchell Canyon Mount Diablo
Picture of Ken Lavin

Ken Lavin

An Easy Hike Up Mitchell Canyon

The Mitchell Canyon Trail in Mount Diablo State Park is a peaceful hike in the shadow of our devil mountain. It begins near the parking area for Mitchell Canyon. The wide trail has a very gentle uphill grade for 2 miles, mostly shaded, with just one short steep stretch.

Mitchell Canyon is one of the more historic spots on the mountain. Legend has it that in the winter of 1826-1827, the famous mountain man and scout, Jedediah Smith, visited the canyon to trap beaver in Mitchell Creek. The beaver is long gone, and so is Mount Diablo’s most famous 19th century critter, the grizzly bear.

Fun Fact: The original name for the adjacent town of Clayton was “the deadfall”, for all the bear traps!

Soon after beginning your walk up the canyon, the Mount Zion rock quarry comes into view on the right. Mount Zion and the quarry are outside the park and serve as a sobering lesson as to what can happen when natural landscapes are not protected. Mount Zion has a scared face only a geologist can appreciate. The quarry is a Jurassic Age ocean floor, now uplifted on land, and sadly will end its days as gravel for road fill and construction projects.

In springtime, myriad wildflowers adorn the canyon, on both sides of the trail. Keep an eye out for the Mount Diablo Globe Lilly, a rare flower that only grows here. The flower was first collected in 1831 by the famous botanist David Douglas, who explored Mount Diablo with his faithful dog, Billy (no dogs allowed on park trails today, though). David Douglas also discovered poison oak, but it’s not a problem on this hike, as long as you stay on the trail.

Pro tip: “Leaves of three let it be. If it’s hairy, it’s a berry. But if it’s shiny, watch your hiney!”

The pine trees that line the canyon are foothill pines, a hardy species that is able to survive in dry and warm conditions. This intrepid tree may be severely endangered by climate change since it is already living “on the edge.” This pine goes by many aliases – gray, digger, bull, and ghost pine, for the sparse appearance of its foliage.

On the right, about 1-¼ miles up, a bit past the trail junction with White Canyon, you’ll see a small excavation in the hillside. This digging, and several more up the canyon, date from the 1860s when copper was discovered on Mount Diablo. Scores of miners streamed into the canyon and created such a ruckus that it was said they all must have been bitten by the “mining tarantula.”

Save the Date: Tarantulas don’t appear until late summer and early fall. Join Greenbelt Alliance then for our guided Tarantula Trek outing!

At about 2 miles in, just as the trail becomes very steep, take the footpath to the left down to the creek for a great picnic spot. When you are ready, return to the parking lot the way you came…a gentle downhill walk now.

Trailhead: Mitchell Canyon, 96 Mitchell Canyon Road, Clayton CA

Things to Note:

  • This is an easy 4-mile roundtrip (or shorter if you wish) up the Mitchell Canyon trail (a broad fire road).
  • Please check with Mount Diablo State Park for park hours, trail conditions, and updates.
  • There is a $6 park entrance fee.

Header Photo: © Zoe Meyers

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