Exploring the wild East Bay, from Byron to Mt. Diablo State Park


The view from Mt. Diablo, looking west off North Gate Blvd, from about 2,500 feet. On this day, Bay Area smog cut the impressive view; pick a clear day for a drive to the top!

A scenic trail heads into the oaks, along Marsh Creek at the Round Valley Regional Preserve.
Wildflowers cover the hillside on Marsh Creek Road, about six miles east of Mt. Diablo.
A lone cyclist heads for Mt. Diablo along Hwy. 4 in the Delta.

You’ve probably seen those iconic twin peaks of Mt. Diablo on our western horizon, but many have not explored this large park – the reward at the end of this day-trip!  With the recent rain settling the dust in our hills, reducing fire danger and helping clear the air – it’s a fine time for doing a little creative exploring between Stockton and the “wild East Bay Area”.  

Take the 60 mile scenic drive from Stockton, west on Hwy. 4, south to Byron, west again towards Mt. Diablo and you discover arguably the prettiest and one of the shortest routes to the East Bay, Concord and Walnut Creek.

On this adventure, you’ll cross about 15 miles of our scenic Delta, be amazed by our agricultural bounty and meander through the wild and beautiful foothills leading to Mt. Diablo. The route eventually drops you into Concord and Walnut Creek – it’s hard to find a more picturesque way to get there.

From Stockton, just 10 miles west on Hwy. 4, you will pass Union Point Restaurant (beside the old bridge of same name); it’s a fine lunch stop, right on a scenic Delta waterway.  Next Delta crossing is the Old River Bridge, you’ll then pass Discovery Bay and turn south to Byron.  Heading west from Byron toward Mt. Diablo you pass stellar attractions including Los Vaqueros Reservoir and Round Valley Regional Preserve, and can climb Mt. Diablo for some of the best views in northern California!

All three are home to incredible wildlife diversity, including California ground squirrels, deer, desert cottontails, the San Joaquin Kit fox and pocket mouse, coyotes, reclusive mountain lions and red foxes.  Nesting golden eagles and burrowing owls can also be sighted.

Likewise, a wide variety of trees inhabit portions of the parks. Within one or more of the three, you will find oaks of the blue, valley, interior live, coast live and black oaks. Native and non-native grasslands abound, and wildflowers burst forth in the springtime.

Los Vaqueros Reservoir and watershed (a few miles off Camino Diablo Road) is only a few years old; the pretty lake was just increased in capacity to 160,000 acre-feet by raising the damn 35 feet; it stores water pumped from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Delta, for Contra Costa Water District residents (it’s a good example of creative water solutions, building a new reservoir that stores water for future use, and creates a marvelous environment for animals, flora and for people!). The impoundment is regularly stocked with rainbow trout, largemouth and striped bass, catfish and more; loaner rods are available for first-time anglers (a daily fee of $4.50 per angler, and CA fishing license is required).  The park is also a hiking and bicycling Mecca; with a variety of trails/roads in the hills surrounding the reservoir.

Next up on your scenic drive is Round Valley Regional Preserve, which offers trails that take you deep into the East Bay foothills.  Scenic hiking trails abound and bikes are allowed (but not on singletrack); sorry, no dogs allowed.  Hiking trails take you deep into these scenic foothills, and connect to neighboring Morgan Territory Preserve.

Beyond Round Valley, your scenic drive takes you over the northeast flank of Mt. Diablo and drops you into the little town of Clayton: an old town but updated with new housing, bike trails and quaint shops.

To reach Mt. Diablo, continue west on Marsh Creek Road to Concord, turn left on Ygnacio Valley Road, then left on Oak Grove Road to the park’s North Gate Road entrance. North Gate Road into Mount Diablo State Park yields an incredibly scenic drive with some of the best views in all of Northern California. Try to make your visit on a day where the skies are clear – smog can detract from the experience. 

The park offers three campgrounds (Juniper, at 3,000 feet, offers spectacular vistas and star gazing), gorgeous picnic areas, over 150 miles of hiking trails.  Of course, the view from the twin Diablo peaks is to die for.

Night-time star-gazing is high on visitor’s lists; on October 25, 5:30 PM, the park offers a public astronomy program “Why Earth?”, using the parks 14 inch Celestron Telescope, at the lower summit parking lot.

How to get there: From Stockton, go west on CA Hwy. 4 just past Discovery Bay, take Byron Highway south one mile to Byron, go west on Camino Diablo which connects with March Creek Road.  Los Vaqueros Watershed and Lake is just south of Camino Diablo (turn left on Walnut Creek Blvd.), while Round Valley Preserve is right off Marsh Creek Road.

What’s nearby: the Morgan Territory Regional Preserve abuts Round Valley Preserve on its southwest flank.  Another wild destination is Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, to the north, just west of Antioch.

Dining, camping options: On your way along Hwy. 4 is the Union Point Restaurant; in Clayton, restaurants of note include Mudville Grille and Moresi’s Chophouse for tasty respites.  Camping is offered in Mt. Diablo Park (details below).

What to bring: Binoculars, camera, good hiking shoes and cold weather gear for about any type of weather!

To plan your visit: For information on Los Vaqueros Watershed, www.ccwater.com/losvaqueros, 925.240.2440; for Round Valley Regional Preserve, www.ebparks.org, 1.888.EBPARKS; for Mt. Diablo State Park, www.mdia.org, 925.927.7222. Both Los Vaqueros and Mt. Diablo State Park charge an auto admission charge. For camping in Mt. Diablo State Park, www.reserveamerican.com, or 800.444.7275.

For more inspiration on other travel destinations in California and the west, see my blog, http//blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel, or contact me at tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the West!

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