Del Valle to Murietta Falls in Ohlone Regional Wilderness

Murietta Falls, at around 100 feet, is the tallest waterfall in the bay area, high up in the diablo mountains it’s a steep climb along the Ohlone Wilderness Trail from Del Valle Reservoir to reach.

I’ve visited Murietta Falls before on a slightly longer hike to Rose Peak, but in the spring of a drought year. I was looking forward to visiting again after a wetter year. Because the falls are high up not a huge amount of water discharges into them, unless it’s near to a rainstorm. With the volume of water that fell from the skies this past winter I was itching to hike up again.

But the winter storms caused Del Valle Reservoir to flood the facilities and it was closed to the public until it could be made safe again. The estimated opening time kept getting pushed back as the rain refused to let up for any significant period of time, and access to the park wasn’t restored until early spring.

By the time the park reopened the rain had mostly gone and skies were blue. The weekend I went the main parking lot was closed so I started my hike from the campsite. Access to the park costs $6 and to hike on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail requires a $2 permit, which conveniently is also a map of the wilderness. I got to the park early, the hike up involves a steep climb and is mostly exposed, so it’s best to do this hike in the cooler seasons and to start early to avoid having to climb in the heat.

The first few miles of trail follow a fire road. About a mile in there’s a trail register at the information sign where all hikers are asked to sign in, and back out again on the way out. It’s a novelty to see how many people are out ahead of you on the trail and where they’re all headed. After another mile or so there’s a small trail camp and then it’s a short climb up to an overlook of the reservoir.

The trail then drops down a to cross a stream, and turns into single track. On a hot day the cool air and shade along the stream are a welcome relief. From here the trail again climbs, but the single track trail isn’t quite as steep as the road as it contours up. Along the way there are some great views north towards Mount Diablo.

As the trail gets higher it starts passing through grasses and oak trees. When I was here during the drought years the oak trees looked parched, with many downed boughs and fallen trees. This time they looked much happier, with broad canopies of green leaves.

The oak trees looked much happier after the wet winter. When I hiked the same trail in a drought year the trees looked parched.

A little under 2 miles from the stream the trail tops out and there’s an artificial pond right at the trail junction where the path to Murietta Falls splits from the Ohlone Trail. In the springtime there were splashes of yellow all over the trail and among grasses from the wildflowers. This is the high point of the hike at just under 3,400 feet. From here it’s a relatively short drop down to the falls.

The scenery here is my favorite part, as the trail drops down it curves into a small valley, crossing over La Costa Creek, which feeds the waterfall. Most of the time the creek runs pretty low, but the trickling water winding down the green valley is pretty. After crossing the creek the base of falls are scramble down the steep rock to the pool below. It’s a great place to stop for lunch, and that’s exactly what I did.

Murietta Falls was hard to photograph as the sun was right behind. The stream cascades down the rocks into a small pool at the base.

From here it’s a couple of miles further to Rose Peak, and even with most of the steep climbing behind it still continues to undulate. Today though I turned around and retraced my steps back to Del Valle. The way back is much easier as it’s mostly downhill, but it’s a steep climb back up from the stream crossing, around half way back.

The final descent down the fire road is steep and not much fun. A mile before the trailhead we’re back at the trail register. It’s not until right before the end that the reservoir finally comes back into view. It’s a long and steep hike up and back, but the scenery along the way, and the falls itself, are pretty and well worth the effort.