The Windy Gap Trail Hike is a 2.5-mile out-and-back hike (5.0 miles total) that leads to the Windy Gap, a saddle between Mount Islip and South Mount Hawkins above the Crystal Lake Recreation Area in the San Gabriel Mountains. It is an important access trail for the Pacific Crest Trail, as the trailhead is less than 90 minutes from Los Angeles and serves as a possible resupply or exit point for thru-hikers. About 1,750 feet of elevation gain from trailhead to summit, the trail offers incomparable views of the San Gabriel Canyon, especially since a forest fire burned the area in 2002. From the summit of Windy Gap at 7,588 feet, stunning views are guaranteed of the Mojave Desert to the north, Islip Ridge and Mount Islip to the southwest and Hawkins Ridge and South Mount Hawkins to the southeast. On clear days, the Santa Ana Mountains can be seen. The view may even extend to Catalina Island off the coast. With the exception of the Mojave, these vistas can be seen along virtually the entire length of the trail. Visitors to the area may be observed, including bighorn sheep, deer, and bears.
In 2002, the Curve Fire burned 21,000 acres in the San Gabriel Canyon, encompassing most of the Windy Gap Trail’s 2.5 miles. The area is still recovering. In the past, the trail was shaded by oak and pine to its summit, but now the trail is exposed to the sun and wind. Though graded as a moderate hike, hikers should be advised that sun exposure will intensify fatigue, and appropriate preparations should be made. Similarly, parts of the trail may be very windy, and the Windy Gap summit can be cold.
From the trailhead, the Windy Gap Trail crosses a small watershed in the vicinity of Deer Flat Campground and proceeds to the distant reaches of Snowslide Canyon, which rises in the northeast at the conjunction of the Windy Gap ridge and South Mount Hawkins. At the base of Mount Islip, below Deer Flat, the trail takes a hard eastward turn and traverses the face of Windy Gap. Over the next mile it intersects with South Mount Hawkins fire road twice before making a hard northward turn to ascend Windy Gap. After a long ascent, the trail summits a small ridgeline that extends to Deer Flat Campground; the summit of Windy Gap is shortly thereafter. This is where the Windy Gap earns its name. Hikers have the option of extending the trail to Mount Islip, which descends Islip Ridge and ends at Crystal Lake.