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Jonathan Stull | 11.30.2016

Resting in the San Gabriel Canyon north of Azusa, the Crystal Lake Recreation Area is one of the earliest outdoor recreation sites in the San Gabriels, if not Southern California, and it has a long and storied history. Actors and musical acts alike were early visitors at Crystal Lake, which once hosted a bustling resort site that attracted icons like Elvis Presley to play in its now defunct music hall. These days, Crystal Lake is one of the most accessible recreation areas near Los Angeles, and Angelenos take advantage of it regularly. The slopes of Mount Islip and Mount Hawkins are lined with ponderosa pine and madrone, and the rivers with groves of willow, cottonwood, sycamore, and alder. These woods are home to bobcats and mountain lions, a vast and interconnected web of hiking trails, rivers, and swimming holes. And all of it is within 50 miles of Los Angeles.


  • Crystal Lake Recreation Area Campground: If this campground is not the biggest in the San Gabriels, it must be close. 171 sites in this heavily used campground.
  • Deer Flat Campground: When it’s open—the campground is currently closed due to budget shortfalls—Deer Flat serves groups of 10 to 15 campers.
  • Coldbrook Campground: 20 less-frequented campsites south of Crystal Lake in a thick woodland at the confluence of Coldbrook and Soldier creeks.
  • West Fork Day Use Area + Swimming Hole: Though it has no campsites, the swimming hole and day use area is favorably placed on Highway 39 on the way to Crystal Lake.


  • Windy Gap Trail: This trail climbs Mount Hawkins to a saddle between Mount Islip, whereafter it connects to the Pacific Crest Trail.
  • Mount Islip Loop Trail: A combination of three trails: Windy Gap, Islip Ridge, and Big Cienega. It begins and ends in Crystal Lake Recreation Area.
  • The West Fork Road: A closed access road once maintained by the local water utility that is great for those seeking a simple, safe hike.
  • Bear Creek Trail: South of Crystal Lake, Bear Creek Trail leads to the Smith Mountain Saddle and beyond into a designated wilderness area.
  • Tototngna Trail: A short traverse of meadows near Crystal Lake featuring spring blooms not usually found anywhere else in the recreation area.
  • Sunset Ridge Scenic Viewpoint: The access road is closed, which would ordinarily make access as easy as a parking spot. The viewpoint overlooks Crystal Lake and San Gabriel Canyon.
  • Mount Baden-Powell: A challenging, long traverse along the Islip Ridge to Throop Peak and Mount Baden-Powell, an 8,900-foot summit with commanding views.
  • Lewis Falls: A short hike to a 50-foot cascade that includes a short, unmaintained scramble along a creek bed.
  • Bridge to Nowhere: A Southern California classic, this 11-mile hike features water crossings to a scenic arch bridge, and past it, swimming holes and Narrows Trail Camp.


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