The day after returning home from our Utah-Arizona road trip adventure, we got up early and climbed a new mountain. The Saturday trek brought us back to Icehouse Canyon, but rather than hiking up Cucamonga Peak, we went up the spectacular Ontario Peak.
The trail to Ontario Peak begins just off Mt. Baldy Road 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 just after 7:00 am, the lot was full and parked on north of the trailhead on Mt. Baldy Road, about 0.2 miles from parking area. Once parked and having stopped at the toilets, we were ready to begin our hike through the beautiful Icehouse Canyon to Icehouse Saddle.
It’s about 3.5 miles to the Icehouse Saddle, which is a junction for several other trails, including those to Cucamonga, 3 T’s, and Bighorn Peak. 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 that gave way to a cool, but crystal clear day. The trail follows the bubbling Icehouse Creek for the first two miles and is pleasantly shaded. The small waterfall and stone ruins added to the landscape. As the trail took us away from the creek, the incline in the 1.5 miles or so leading up to the saddle started to kick my keister, and while this was not my first hike up to the saddle, I felt the difficulty of the trail. In hikes past, I thought that at least the ascent was gradual; on this hike I was reminded why the trail is considered challenging. 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 towering pines.
After our short break, we trekked on, but instead of taking the middle trail as we had on previous hikes to Cucamonga Peak, we followed the trail to the right toward Kelly Camp and Ontario Peak. This trail was for the first mile deceitfully flat. It took us through the shady pines with views of the range around us. It was gorgeous. After a mile, we came across Kelly Camp. There were a few backpackers with tents set up. We talked about how fun it would be to camp in the peaceful clearing. The only problem is the lack of water nearby. While there is a spring west of the main camp, the supply is variable, and it’s best to pack in all the water you’d need, which makes the hike up that much harder. Still it was so quiet and pretty, and with the number of peaks nearby, it could be a worthwhile trip.
The trail continued up for another 1.5 miles. Despite a few challenging switchbacks, and several fallen trees on the trail that we climbed over, the trail felt almost meandering as we made our way up. Perhaps this is in comparison to Cucamonga, but I didn’t find this portion of the trail nearly as challenging as the hike up to the saddle on this particular hike. It was certainly long, and while it didn’t feel too difficult at this point, it is definitely not an easy trail. There were a couple of ‘false peaks’ prior to reaching the actual summit. I was glad to finally reach the peak, especially when I started to feel hungry after just over six miles of effort.
The views from the iconic rock nest with the dead tree at the peak were truly spectacular. As pretty as Cucamonga Peak is, I thought Ontario offered a prettier experience, though it has a bit less elevation. There were plenty of rocks for sitting spots, and we spent about 40 minutes for lunch and socializing before heading back down the peak.
While heading down, I noticed the rocks arranged in the shape of a heart, just like the one on Jones Peak a few weeks prior. Of course I took a photo with it, and then continued down the mountain with the rest of our group.
It felt like slow-going heading down the mountain, especially once we reached the saddle. We trekked on, and reached the parking area at about 3:30 pm. By then, many of the cars had gone with the morning hikers. I was ready for our usual McDonald’s after-hike treat, though this time, I opted for a hot fudge sundae. It was all the more delicious after a fun day hike. And at the end of the day, I logged my second peak for this year’s Six Pack of Peaks SoCal Challenge.
Some things to consider:
While there were some flat portions, the hike to Ontario Peak is no joke. It is rated as strenuous or difficult, and with good reason. Just over twelve miles out and back with over almost 4000 feet of elevation gain is not something to be taken lightly. I recommend training hikes such as Echo Mountain or Mt. Wilson to Orchard Camp 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. I recommend at least 3-4 liters per person.
Much of the hike is shaded up to Icehouse Saddle. While there is shade on the trail to Ontario Peak, sunscreen is still a must.
This trail is extremely popular. Permits are required even for day hikes through Icehouse Canyon when continuing to Cucamonga Peak and other areas within the San Bernardino Wilderness. We saw the rangers at the permit box while heading back to the parking area. 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. In addition to parking at Vincent Gap and on Mt. Baldy Road, we’ve visited five national parks so far this year.
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. Just choose a happy trail and go!
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