Crystal Lake to Mount Islip Loop

The recently re-opened Crystal Lake area north of Azusa, CA is a great place to escape the LA crowds on a busy weekend.

Trail Stats

Mileage: 8 Miles
Elevation Gain: 2420 feet
Day(s) Hiked: 2/17/13
Trailhead Location
Dog Friendly: Yes
Crystal Lake Map

Trip Report

President’s Day weekend brought typically glorious weather in Los Angeles this year. Striving to not share the trail with hordes of crowds, we opted for a hike in the Crystal Lake area which is just far enough off the beaten path to be relatively empty on a holiday weekend. We started at the trailhead for Windy Gap, tucked away in the campground about a quarter mile past the Visitor’s Center.

This area just opened back up in 2011 after being closed for 9 years from the Curve Fire in 2002. The fire’s devastation is still clearly present 11 years later.

The trail to the top of Mount Islip forms a loop, and we chose to ascend counter clockwise towards Windy Gap. I personally prefer this part of the route. There are more trees left alive, and the steeper terrain provides dramatic views of the basin.

Once you get a little higher up, you can see the destruction of the fire on a larger scale. It is a shame that this landscape will be scarred for such a long time.

The trail as you approach Windy Gap becomes increasingly rocky and exposed. The view down towards Crystal Lake is fantastic from up here.

As we were about to reach Windy Gap, a man began descending towards us. It was clear that he was walking a little unevenly and his clothes were pretty torn up. He informed me that he had headed East on the PCT and had slipped down an icy slope for about 400 feet. Shocked, I offered him help but he assured me that he was fine and would be able to get down the mountain on his own without any issue. We parted ways, and I felt a little uneasy since I was planning on hiking up that stretch of the PCT.

We reached Windy Gap, and I headed up the PCT a bit to investigate it for myself. My fears were confirmed. The trail was no longer flattened out and instead you had to traverse a steep icy slope. One slip could easily have you sliding down with no way to recover. Without an ice ax for self arrest, it was too risky and turning around was a no brainer.

Instead, we took an extended break at Windy Gap, where there was a big pile of snow. Callie burned up lots of energy while I enjoyed the sights.

From here, we took the Islip Ridge trail West towards the summit of Mount Islip. The trail goes along the crest of the San Gabriel Mountains, darting back and forth between the North and South side. It starts out on the North side, which had intermittent snow and thankfully only a few burned trees.

There were a few stretches with snow on somewhat steep slopes. It didn’t feel too dangerous, but keep in mind that it is easy to go off trail here if you find a section of snow that you are uncomfortable with. As usual, trekking poles and a decent pair of boots go a long way.

Halfway on the way to top of the mountain, there is a saddle which affords unobstructed views in both directions.

The view of the Mojave is super boring, but still nice to see.

Not that the view to the South is the most inspiring thing either. It doesn’t really matter though. Being high above the city able to see so much land in different directions is always a calming sensation.

As we hiked the final approach to the summit, our original destination for the day came into clear view. The PCT to Throop Peak in the snow will have to remain on my hike wishlist.

Inside the summit building was a gift waiting for me, kept cold by the snow. While I question the decision making of anyone who decides that a Michelob Ultra is the best beer to carry up 2500 feet, I nonetheless took it as a sign to imbibe in the low tier choice in refreshment.

We enjoyed a long break on the summit by ourselves; a mile above the world’s concerns.

Heading down, we saw only a little snow and many burned trees.

This section of trail is also plagued by a number of large fallen trees. At least it gave Callie an opportunity to show off her agility skills.

Here, a detour around a fallen tree was created using the husk of the tree to create a makeshift bridge. Very strange.

We finished the hike having seen only 4 people on a busy holiday weekend. While the burned landscape here is pretty drab, the crisp mountain air, snow on the trail, and escape from the hordes more than make up for it.

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Categories: Trip Report | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Crystal Lake to Mount Islip Loop

  1. One of my favorites.

  2. Nice work and great photos. I’m looking to do this next weekend. I plan to camp at Crystal Lake Saturday night and get up early Sunday morning to begin. I’ve seen several maps and write ups with different instructions, but yours seems to be the clearest so far.

    I’m a little confused about the route however-could I ask your advice? Beginning from Crystal Lake campground, you head up Windy Gap Trail to Mt. Islip-seems pretty straightforward. After that, it appears a little unclear how to get back to Crystal Lake. Do I go down to Big Cienega Trail and cut back over to WIndy Gap Trail?

    • Paisstat – Think of it as a big loop. If you go up the windy gap trail and summit Islip, continue to head west and you’ll hit the Big Cienega trail. Take this back towards the Windy Gap trail. There is another trail at this location that goes down to Crystal Lake, but that is a longer route and I have not taken it. The crystal lake campground is about a mile up the road from Crystal Lake, which might be the source of your confusion. There are two different trailheads. To do the loop from this post, drive further in and hike the trailhead in the campground.

      • Thanks a lot for the clarification-I’ll take your recommendations to heart and loop around on the Big Cienega.

        Really a great blog you have here! Stunning photos!

  3. Pingback: Hiking Crystal Lake to Mount Hawkins and South Mount Hawkins | CaliTrails

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