Recently I’ve gotten a few questions about the “Coast Range” or “Coast Ranges” – the mountains that separate our San Joaquin Valley from the Pacific Ocean.
We often use these shorthand terms because the geography of the 14 separate ranges that make up the “Coast Ranges” tends to be less familiar to readers than that of the Sierra Nevada that forms the eastern edge of the Valley.
Topping out at less than 6,000 feet in elevation in the central part of the state, these mountains are less than half the height of the Sierra although they provide some great places to explore in the cooler months.
Like the Sierra foothills, their primary use since the time of the Spanish has been grazing. Although they are mostly privately owned today, there are a number of excellent places where you can enjoy hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping, fishing, hunting, auto touring, and spring wildflowers.
Between our part of the San Joaquin Valley and the ocean are the Diablo, Gabilan, and the Santa Lucia Ranges. Closest to home is the Diablo, starting at Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County. It runs south to Highway 46 in Kern County and forms the western wall of the valley. The primary routes across the range are Altamont Pass (I-580) and Pacheco Pass (Highway 152). Peaks of the Diablo Range average about 3,000 feet, with the highest point being 5,267 foot San Benito Mountain.
The typical landscape consists of oak-covered hills, grasslands, and narrow canyons, with pines in the highest elevations. The range usually gets dusted with snow a couple of times in the winter and can have spectacular wildflower shows in spring seasons that follow wet winters.
From north to south, some of the best places to explore in the Diablo Range include: Mt. Diablo State Park: Isolated from other major peaks, Diablo commands one of the best views in the state on clear days — especially after a storm. You can drive to the main summit and enjoy views from the visitor center (currently closed, but reopening soon.
There are also several great trails to hike and bike and plenty of picnic sites. The campground offers 56 sites among oaks with hot showers and flush toilets. For more information call (925) 837-2525 or go to: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=517.
Sunol Regional Wilderness: East of Fremont, this unit of the East Bay Regional Parks District offers trails for all ability levels. Dogs are welcome and can be off-leash if they are under voice control and several trails are open to bikes. Connections with adjacent parks offer overnight backpacking opportunities. The campground is currently closed, but will reopen in 2015. For more information go to http://www.ebparks.org/parks/sunol or call (510) 544-3249.
Lick Observatory at Mt. Hamilton: Accessed by traveling remote and rather primitive paved roads (Del Puerto Canyon, San Antonio Valley, and Mt. Hamilton Road) from Patterson, or by climbing harrowing Mt. Hamilton Road from San Jose, the observatory welcomes visitors to the summit of 4,209 foot Mt. Hamilton daily from noon to 5
Joseph D. Grant County Park: This Alameda County park offers trails, wildflowers, and camping in the western foothills of the Diablo Range. Trails are open to hikers, horses, bikes, and leashed dogs. The campground offers 40 sites and hot showers. For more information go to http://www.sccgov.org/sites/parks/Ride%20Here/Pages/Joseph-D--Grant-County-Park.aspx or call (408) 274-6121.
Henry Coe State Park: Coe is the largest state park in Northern California with 87,000 acres. Entry points near Morgan Hill and Gilroy are open year round and you can camp at the headquarters near Morgan Hill. The Dowdy Entrance on Highway 152 is closer to the valley and is often open on weekends, but call to verify before you make the trip. The park has over 250 miles of trails and views. Trails are open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. Some of the most remote parts of the park offer backpacking routes of over 50 miles. The Pine Ridge Association presents a wide range of public programs and has helped to keep the park open and accessible. For more information go to http://coepark.net/ or http://www.parks.ca.gov/, or call (408) 779-2728.
Pacheco State Park: Located near the summit of Pacheco Pass, this park offers 28 miles of trails and some nice wildflowers in the spring. Guided hikes are offered every weekend in April. Horses and bikes are welcome. For more information, go to http://www.parks.ca.gov/ or call (209) 826-6283.
Path of the Padres hike at Los Banos Creek Reservoir: The Path of the Padres is a popular guided hike along Los Banos Creek — a route through a part of the range that has changed very little since it was used as a route of travel by the padres of the San Juan Bautista Mission. To enjoy the trail you have to be part of one of the guided hikes offered through the end of April. Call (209) 826-1197 for hike reservations and more information.
Coalinga Mineral Springs: This Fresno County park doesn’t look like much when you arrive, but the 5.5 mile round trip trail to the top of 3,494 foot Kreyenhagen Peak offers great views of the southern end of the Diablo Range. We encountered a lot of ticks here last May, but other hikers I’ve spoken with haven’t have the same bad luck. Bring insect repellant with DEET, just in case. The trail is not recommended for horses or bikes, but dogs are allowed.
Also at the southern end of the range, the Bureau of Land Management’s Clear Creek Management Area used to offer 31,000 acres of recreation opportunities.
Unfortunately it has been closed since 2008 due to potential health risks from naturally-occurring asbestos in the soil. A management plan was recently released and will be finalized after May 6.
Then it has to be implemented. As soon as I have a better understanding of the implementation schedule, you’ll read about it here.
For an enjoyable Diablo Range trip, plan to go while temperatures are comfortable. By mid-May the Diablo Range is usually too warm for most folks. Trips can also be enjoyable on cool days in the fall and throughout the winter during periods of good weather.