Located in the San Bernardino National Forest not far from Mt. Baldy is Cucamonga Peak. Sitting at 8859 feet above sea level, with an elevation gain of over 4300 feet from the Icehouse Canyon trailhead, this hike is no joke. But the beauty of Icehouse Canyon and the Cucamonga Wilderness, along with a breathtaking view at the summit made all the hard work, effort, and sore knees totally worth it.
The hike begins at the Icehouse Canyon Trail, which is very well-trafficked by hikers and backpackers. There is a tiny parking area with vault toilets at the trail head, but even arriving before seven a.m., the lot was full and we had to park on the road leading to Mt. Baldy, about 0.2 miles from the trailhead. It’s about 3.5 miles to the Icehouse Saddle, which is a junction for several other trails, including those to Cucamonga and Ontario Peaks, and 3 T’s. The trail from the road to the saddle was lush and idyllic; it was very pleasant going up the mountain on a cool, partly cloudy morning. The trail, while rocky, follows the bubbling Icehouse Creek for the first two miles and is pleasantly shaded. There is even a small waterfall adding to the scenery. As the trail took us away from the creek, I began to notice more of an incline in the 1.5 miles or so leading up to the saddle. Still, the views of the wilderness surrounding us were beautiful, and soon enough we arrived at Icehouse Saddle, where we stopped for snacks and water among the tall pines. After that short rest came the hard part.
From Icehouse Saddle, we followed the Cucamonga Trail straight to Cucamonga Peak. It was a steep 2.5 miles with a lot of rocky, gravelly parts and some exposed rock. For my clumsy self, this portion of the hike required the most concentration. It helped that I had a trekking pole for some extra support. It was slower going from the saddle to the peak, as would be expected. The slower pace as we went up allowed for me to take in more of the range surrounding us. There was even a bit of snow left on the mountain. After a steady climb, we arrived at the top. The sign marking the peak had disappeared; the wood stake of the trail marker was all that remained. However it wasn’t that hard to figure out where to go. We followed the trail up the stairs, and went the last quarter mile to the peak. There we had lunch among the trees, and enjoyed the views from 8859 feet. Because this is one of the hikes in the popular Six Pack of Peaks social media hiking challenge, there were some nice wooden signs to pose with as we stood on the boulders at the peak. We took a few photos and of course enjoyed the amazing views of the Inland Empire and the mountains below.
Heading down was rather painful, perhaps even more so than going up. As the saying goes ‘what goes up must come down.’ The steepness of the grade was hard on my knees as well as my feet as they slid within my boots that were a bit too large. This is where I was really thankful for the trekking pole. We eventually made it down, back through the beautiful pine forest and back to Mt. Baldy Road. It was an amazing, albeit challenging experience, and one that I absolutely hope to do again.
Some things to consider:
This hike, like Baden-Powell or Mt. Baldy, is not one to be trifled with. It is rated as strenuous or difficult, and with good reason. Twelve miles out and back with over 4300 feet of elevation gain is not something to be taken lightly. Also, the trail is narrow leading to the summit. I recommend training hikes such as Henninger Flats to work up to this one.
Bring more water than you anticipate needing. I got thirsty fairly early on in the hike thanks to the elevation and exertion, and went through 1.5 liters of water before making it to the peak. The husband had a gallon water jug that he used to fill up my water bottles at the top and we went through even that. I recommend at least 3-4 liters per person.
Much of the hike is shaded up to Icehouse Saddle. There are some sunny spots, and much of the hike from the saddle to the peak is exposed. Sun protection is a must. I kept reapplying sunscreen throughout the hike, and still ended up with sunburned shoulders and a nice tan.
This trail is extremely popular. It was almost impossible to maintain social distancing at all times. However, most hikers were very courteous and we all tried our best to share the trail.
Permits are required even for day hikes through Icehouse Canyon when continuing to Cucamonga Peak and other areas within the San Bernardino Wilderness. There was a ranger checking permits on the Saturday we went. The permit is free and can be obtained at the brown box at the trailhead or at the Mt. Baldy Visitor Center. For permit information, you may also visit the Angeles National Forest page.
Parking either in the lot or on the street is within national forest boundaries. A wilderness adventure pass is required to park your car. These can be purchased at a number of sites, such as REI. I recommend the America the Beautiful pass for those who travel to national parks or monuments and U.S. Forest Service areas outside of Southern California. For $80 annually, this pass has proven a money-saver. It has provided for many adventures on our beautiful national lands.
I totally understand why this hike is so popular. It’s a great training hike for other high altitude adventures, such as Mt. Whitney. It’s also a beautiful hike on it’s own, whether you stop at the saddle or continue up the mountain. Either way, there is much adventure to be had in the Cucamonga Wilderness. Happy trails!
* This article was first published on June 30, 2020. It has been updated with new photos and updated information.