For breathtaking views of the San Gabriel Valley and the Los Angeles Basin to the Mojave Desert and the lower peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains, all from 8250 feet and without all the crowds, Mt. Islip is the hike for you. There are two routes that can be taken to hike this peak; we came up from the south via Crystal Lake in the Angeles National Forest.
Crystal Lake is the only natural lake in the San Gabriel Mountains. Sadly, while it is pretty, it isn’t as crystal as it once was, thanks to years of drought and a wildfire that tore through the area back in 2002. Swimming in the algal and still recovering lake is definitely not recommended, however we did see a couple fisherman hoping to catch some rainbow trout.
We parked at the Crystal Lake Recreation Area, located at the end of CA 39 in the mountains above Azusa, California. There adventurers will find campgrounds, a cafe, and a visitor center. There is a parking area closer to the lake, unfortunately, this one is gated shut most of the time, which meant that we added about a half-mile of so to our hike. Still, the day while sunny, was cool as we started at about 7 am. The sun shining over the lake was really pretty against the backdrop of trees.
We followed the lake trail from the Crystal Lake Campground parking area to about three-quarters of the way around the lake. There we hit the trail to Mt. Islip. There was no signage marking the trail, and if not for my companions, I probably would have missed it. From there, it was a pleasant, gradual climb of about 2964 feet over 5.5 miles. The forest provided some nice shade at many points, and as we got closer to the peak, the views of the valley below became more impressive. The only problem was that the boys kept wanting to stop and rest whenever we came to some nice boulders or logs that seemed to be made for weary hikers to stop for breaks. After about four miles in, this happened quite often and I had to remind the guys to keep going.
We reached the summit after about three hours of hiking, including breaks. There we came across the ruins of an old fire lookout, which turned out to be a PokeStop in the Pokemon GO game. The view from the summit was beautiful. There was too much haze this past Saturday, but on a clearer day, you can actually see out to Catalina Island. Still we enjoyed the time soaking in the view at the top and having lunch at the summit.
We headed back down in a loop, via Windy Gap. Windy Gap is a pass along the Islip Ridge, and the trail is a connector to the PCT, Mt. Baden-Powell, and Vincent Gap. The trail starts close to where we started, about a quarter-mile from the Crystal Lake Campground. It is 0.2 miles from here to Little Jimmy Spring and about a third of a mile to Little Jimmy Campground. We set our packs down and headed to the spring for some cold mountain spring water.
After that short side excursion, and filtering our water, we picked up our packs and headed back down the Windy Gap trail to Deer Flats Campground and back to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area. The total mileage for the loop was 12.5 miles, and while the route is rated as moderately strenuous, it felt easy compared to this summer’s other peak hikes, Mt. Baden-Powell and Cucamonga Peak. It certainly was a fun, albeit long day, and one I’d recommend.
Some things to consider:
Parking for the hike to Mt. Islip, whether starting from the north of south side of the mountain is within the Angeles National Forest. Adventure passes are required. I was able to use my new interagency America the Beautiful pass, which arrived at my home address the day we visited the Everglades. I would recommend this option for anyone who plans on visiting national parks and monuments and forest service lands in different regions.
While there was a lot of shade on the trail, there were still many areas where you can get some good sun exposure. Sun protection is a must. I reapplied my Supergoop sunscreen consistently, and while my face stayed well-protected, I did end up with sunburned shoulders.
This trail is pleasantly not trafficked the way that the other peak trails are. We did see some hikers at the peak, and along the way to the Little Jimmy Spring, but that was pretty much it. On the flip side, the trail is not as pristinely maintained as other trails, as there were some loose rocks and overgrown vegetation, but it wasn’t anything to complain about. I would strongly recommend it to a hiker who wants to get away from the social hiking crowds.
The water at Little Jimmy Spring was clear, cold, and refreshing. I’ve heard that you don’t need to filter the water coming from it, but I wouldn’t trust that. We filtered our water using a gravity filtering system. It didn’t take more than five minutes or so to filter four liters, totally worth it to reduce any risk of getting sick.
There are many trails and peaks to be explored in the Angeles National Forest. It’s amazing to think that there is so much wilderness adventure to be had so close to the bustle and sprawl of the Greater Los Angeles area. Find your trail, get out and enjoy. Happy trails!
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