I am fairly sure that I am not the only human who feels like we are ridiculously lucky with the richness of the East Bay Regional Park District. One of my bucket list goals is to visit every East Bay Regional Park (13 more to go– and that’s including all of them, like the by-appointment-only Vasco Caves and Brooks Island locales). Anyway, Black Diamond Mines is one of the parks that tends to get “forgotten” by the focus on its more traversed cousins (looking at you, Redwood & Tilden!) but is really an amazing Bay Area treasure.
Black Diamond Mines was originally Miwok land. The reason it has “mines” in its name is because of the onslaught of coal mining. The land that is now referred to as Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve had, at one point, 12 mines and five different townsites. Today hikers can find remains of the town out on the trails at Nortonville, Stewartville and Somersville.
Where to start with Black Diamond Mines? Perhaps with its fantastic visitor center? The Greathouse Visitor Center is only open weekends March-November but should not be missed. The short historical video held the interest of the six year old and mostly of a four year old friend, but the fact that it’s IN the mine and you can see lots of objects salvaged from the old sites is a draw. We have not yet done the Atlas Mine tour (cutoff age is seven and above), but if you aren’t claustrophobic, that looks like a winning option as well ($5/person, noon & 3pm, reservations recommended).
Black Diamond Mines has trails & views for days. From the main parking lot (drive as far as one can on Somersville road, past the 1st parking lot near the entrance kiosk), multiple short trails lead around some of the old mine portals. With tiny hikers, one could just wander to the visitor center (open weekends March-November) and back, or explore the shorter trails in back of the visitor center. Should one want to head out on a longer venture, many tougher options abound. The Corcoran mine trail leads along the side of the valley out to Stewartville town site, which is now a little backpacking site. Taking the Upper Oil Canyon trail to the overlook for a beautiful vista of Mount Diablo.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, bring a flashlight and explore 200 feet of the 400 foot Prospect tunnel. (Note: you may frighten bats, so be forewarned that bats may fly out as a result of your explorations, which could be VERY exciting for your hikers– or not. You know your crew.)
Another interesting place to explore is the Rose Hill Cemetery. Definitely a little morbid, but it brings up good historical discussions about child mortality and scientific advances, should one wish to engage in such topics.
Finally, NOW is the time to visit Black Diamond Mines. We’ve had tons of rain this winter so the hills are verdant and in the next few weeks, wildflowers will start popping out all over the hills. Black Diamond Mines can get HOT in the summer, also making spring the perfect time to explore this lesser-known park.
Black Diamond Mines is dog-friendly (you can even take them into the Greathouse Mine Center, provided they are on leash) but they can’t go on the mine tour.
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