The Crystal Lake Recreation Area is a cluster of campgrounds around the nearby Crystal Lake. It includes Crystal Lake, Deer Flats Campground, Crystal Lake Campground, and a Forest Service visitor center. Adjacent to the recreation area, but not federally managed, is a small cafe and cabins that are available for rent.
The area has been continuously inhabited by settlers since the early 20th century, and the complex includes an amphitheater that is occasionally used to host live music and the ruins of an old dance hall once visited by music legend Elvis Presley. The area has evolved to suit many uses over the years.
Crystal Lake, a naturally formed lake at around 5,200 feet in elevation, it gets its name from Judge Benjamin Eaton, for whom many places in the San Gabriels are named, who said in 1887 that its waters were clear as crystal. Before settlement, the lake was a notorious gathering place for grizzlies. While the animal was hunted to extinction in southern California in the 1890s, its smaller relatives, black and brown bears, can still be encountered.
Crystal Lake Recreation Area includes Crystal Lake Campground and Deer Flats Campground, together the biggest and most heavily used campgrounds in the San Gabriel Mountains. Given the area’s ease of access and camping capacity, the recreation area is the first stop for outdoor adventures taking place in the area.
Access to hiking trails from the recreation area is plentiful. The West Fork Road is a closed access road once maintained by the local water utility that is great for those seeking a simple, safe hike. Bear Creek Trail, located south along Route 39, is more adventurous, leading to the Smith Mountain Saddle and beyond into a designated wilderness area. Tototngna Trail is a short traverse of meadows nearby Crystal Lake and features spring blooms not usually found anywhere else in the recreation area. The Windy Gap Trail climbs Mount Hawkins to a saddle between Mount Islip, whereafter it connects to the Pacific Crest Trail.
Crystal Lake is occasionally stocked with rainbow trout by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and fishing is the main draw to the lake. Road access in the San Gabriels is extensive, so those wishing to tour the alpine beauty by bicycle will find ample opportunity. Of course, those simply seeking the beauty of the backcountry within 90 minutes of Los Angeles will find it in abundance at Crystal Lake Recreation Area.
Note: Potable water is only available during summer months and may be limited due to seasonal drought conditions. All campsites at Crystal Lake Recreation Area Campground are first-come, first-served and fees are discounted with valid California Adventure Pass. Cafe + Trading Post (general store) is open year round and closed on Tuesdays. Crystal Lake Visitor Center is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For specific questions regarding the recreation area call 626.910.1149 on weekends and 626.335.1251 on weekdays.