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Cycling Mt. Diablo: North Gate Road
An East Bay Jewel
Ride 12.4 miles gaining 3,681’ at 5.5% average grade.
Climb summary by PJAMM’s John Johnson.
Mt. Diablo is the most popular road bike climb in the Bay Area.
“The north side climb of Mount Diablo is a Bay Area classic and within perhaps the most popular outdoor venue in the area. The climb begins as shallow and in open terrain from the north gate. Eventually things get more challenging as the road twists through 5-7% grade around the mountain with a few steeper sections thrown in. Bear left at the fork (right to descend the south side) to continue to the summit. This final section is over mostly solid grade and a twisty route. Just before the very top the slope eases. You then encounter a single lane route for the last 0.1 mile which is over double digit grade and contains the maximum grade of the climb. Take some time for the views from the top as they are perhaps the best in the area. This side of Diablo is a bit more difficult and has a more isolated feel than the southern approach which is also a solid climb (10.4 miles at 5.8% average grade.)” (This quote is presented with the approval of John Summerson, from his book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike), 2nd Edition, pg. 165.)
Mt. Diablo is a very popular State Park in the East Bay that offers many hiking trails, camping options, and excellent views of the Bay Area and east towards the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. It is no coincidence that Diablo means “Devil” in Spanish, an appropriate name for this lengthy and challenging East Bay bike climb.
The summit of Mt. Diablo offers the best full 360° views anywhere in the Bay Area.
Before heading out to cycle Mt. Diablo, be sure to rely on our list of Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip, and use our interactive checklist to ensure you don't forget anything.
There is a historic beacon tower and museum-like visitor center at this bicycle climb’s finish. According to an article about Mount Diablo’s history and use as an “initial point,” this mountain is “the starting point for the establishment of land boundaries throughout most of Northern California and all of Nevada. The summit is the location of the "Initial Point," the north/south meridian, and east/west baseline intersection point that is the basis for most Northern California and Nevada property boundaries” (read full article here).
Lt Col Norman Edwin Denning was responsible for the
Mt. Diablo initial point meridian and baseline mentioned above
There is no missing Mt. Diablo
Mt. Diablo as seen from Gates Road, Vacaville (left); and from Mt. Tamalpais (right).
MT. DIABLO VISITOR CENTER AT THE MOUNTAIN'S SUMMIT
Mt. Diablo Summit.
Visitor Center parking lot and beacon.
Standard Oil Beacon -- activated 1928; now lit once a year on December 7.
The observation deck and beacon tower;
Inside the Beacon Tower; Inside the Visitor Center;
The observation deck and beacon tower.
The gift shop/store at the summit has candy, ice cream, drinks and cycling jerseys to purchase.
Both the South and North Gate climbs are broken into two segments. Here are the segments for the North Gate route:
The North Gate route to the summit is a bit more difficult to Summit Road than on the South Gate route (7.9 versus 6.1 miles, and 5.4% versus 4.5%) and a bit more exposed with less shade, so beware and come prepared on hot days. As for popularity, South Gate to Junction had 71,790 Strava attempts as of September 1, 2015 versus only 36,589 for the equivalent segment from the north.
Start of climb -- North Gate Road and Castle Rock Road (top left photo).
Enter park at mile 1.4 - no fee for cyclists as of June 2021.
North Gate Road from Walnut Creek.
Some ranch buildings and a lot of pasture on the first half of the climb.
Junction of South and North Gate Roads
There is water at the Junction Ranger Station (mile 7.9 from the north) and at the Summit. Be sure to bear left onto Summit Road at the North and South Gate junction.
Junction Ranger Station.
Water at Junction Ranger Station.
Tool box with all you’ll need is also at the Junction Ranger Station.
LAST 4.5 MILES
Winding road after the merge of South/North Gate Roads.
Summit Road leading to Visitor Center and Beacon (view west).
Northwesterly view of the summit.
Devil’s Elbow is the hairpin right-center of photo.
As with the southern approach, the road along the entire ascent from the north is exceptional. Traffic can be heavy on the weekends, but there are so many cyclists and the speed limit is so low, this is a very safe climb.
The Historic Standard Oil Beacon is visible as we near the summit.
View from summit.
On a crystal clear day, it is reported that one can see the Sentinel Dome in Yosemite (130 miles due east), Mt. Lassen (170 miles north) and the Farallon Islands (60 miles due west) west of the Golden Gate Bridge. For most of the climb, our view is of grasslands with many interspersed valley, blue, and black oak tree varieties. The Climb averages 5.8% and is a very smooth and comfortable ascent (in the 4-7% range, for the most part) save for the last two-tenths mile (“The Wall” -- Strava has it at 0.1 mile, but we charted it closer to 0.2) which averages 15%. Views along the route are to the west and north of the Walnut Creek and San Pablo Bay areas and to the east of the Highway 4 corridor (Pittsburg/Antioch/Brentwood areas) all the way to the western Sierras.
Golden Gate Bridge center top
Mt. Tamalpais is the highpoint in the background upper right center.
Exceptional views from the summit.
Roadway Surface and Traffic Report: The roadway surface is exceptional and while there is moderate vehicular traffic along the climb, our experience in five times up Mount Diablo is that traffic travels at or near the posted 20 mph speed limit, making this a very safe route.
TOUR OF CALIFORNIA
Leopold Konig wins Stage 7 of the 2013 mountain-top finish Mt. Diablo (Jonathan Devich).
Mt. Diablo has been featured three times in the Tour of California between 2006 and 2019.
Peter Sagan wins ToC 2012 Stage 3.
Rohan Dennis wins ToC 2014 Stage 3 mountain-top finish on Mt. Diablo.
Photo: AP Marcio Jose Sanchez
That’s a wrap!