“Enjoy peace and solitude in the San Gabriel Mountains, only 1.5 hours from Los Angeles.”
— Taylor Reilly
California State Route 39 no longer connects with Highway 2, as 39 has not been maintained for several years after numerous landslides. Winter conditions can cause road closures on 39, so be sure to check before traveling to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area.
The Mount Islip Loop takes you through the Crystal Lake Basin in the San Gabriel Mountains to the summit of Mount Islip (8,251ft.) and back. The trailhead is only 1.5 hours from downtown making for a convenient mountain run if you are in or near the city. The visible fire scars from the historic 2002 Curve Fire, and the closed connection of California State Route 39 to Highway 2 has greatly lessened the popularity of the area giving today's visitors peace and solitude while on the trail.
The San Gabriel Mountains are some of the fastest eroding mountains in the world, and with the past fire damage extreme erosion, this is now even more of a problem. The actual trail surface is fairly stable for the most part; though please stay on the trail as the surrounding terrain is still in the process of re-vegetation, which will help prevent erosion over time.
Features: Birding — Fall Colors — Views — Wildflowers — Wildlife
Need to Know
Be sure to enjoy food, beverages, and ice cream at the Crystal Lake Snack Bar and Trading Post before or after your outing. You can rent the nearby cabins at the Trading Post, or stay at the nearby U.S. Forest Service Campgrounds if you would like to stay overnight. The Mount Islip Loop briefly connects to the Pacific Crest Trail along the Mount Islip Ridge; giving you options to connect with other peaks and trails in the San Gabriel Mountains.
There are some sections of loose rock, but overall the trail is in very good condition.
The Mount Islip Loop is a combination of four trails: Windy Gap Trail
, Mount Islip Trail
, Islip Ridge Trail
, and the Big Cienega Trail
. The 7.4-mile loop starts and finishes in the Crystal Lake Recreation Area, in the Angeles National Forest at the Windy Gap Trailhead. There is a nice big paved parking lot with vault toilets making for a nice meet-up location for groups.
The Windy Gap Trail
first takes you up 1,740 feet over 2.5 miles to Windy Gap, a pass along the Islip Ridge. During the ascent through the Crystal Lake Basin, you'll see remnants of the 2002 Curve Fire that devastated the area. Some of the trail's terrain is loose though volunteers have done a good job containing major washouts and clearing the trail of loose rocks.
When you reach Windy Gap, you can access the Pacific Crest Trail that runs from Mexico to Canada. You'll continue northwest on the Windy Gap Trail
until you reach the junction with the Mount Islip Trail
. From this junction, ascend west (left) on the Mount Islip Trail
to the summit of Mount Islip.
You'll pass the junction with the Islip Ridge Trail
below the summit, which continues straight along the ridge. You'll come back to this junction and use the Islip Ridge Trail
for your descent. After reaching the summit, you'll find ruins of an old stone cabin that was built to house the fire lookout that was once stationed on the summit. From Mount Islip summit there are panoramic views of San Gabriel Canyon to the south and the Mojave Desert to the north.
After enjoying the summit and catching your breath, first begin your short descent south where you'll join up with the Islip Ridge Trail
. From here, run west (right) down the Islip Ridge Trail
. During your descent, you'll pass some backcountry campsites. Along the way, you'll have a clear view back east across the Crystal Lake Basin to Windy Gap along the Islip Ridge. This section of trail has very evident fire scars from the 2002 Curve Fire making the trail hard to follow, as the terrain is heavily eroded and bare of vegetation.
After descending the Islip Ridge Trail
, you'll join up with the Big Cienega Trail
, which will lead you back to the Windy Gap Trail
. This is a fun descent and a good trail to pick up some speed as the trail widens and the terrain is flatter. When you reach the junction with Forest Road 3N07, turn west (right) on the Windy Gap Trail
, and continue on the homestretch downhill to the trailhead.
Use this last section of flatter terrain for your cool-down, before making it down to the car. After making it to the trailhead parking lot, reward yourself with some food, beverages, and ice cream at the Crystal Lake Basin Snack Bar and Trading Post.
Flora & Fauna
The Crystal Lake Basin provides beautiful 360-degree scenery of alpine flowers and various types of coniferous trees. Though here wildfire scars can be seen across the basin left over from the 2002 Curve Fire, a reminder that the San Gabriel Mountains landscape is ever-changing.
History & Background
Crystal Lake Recreation area was at one time accessible from Highway 2, Angeles Crest Highway. Though, in 1978, a landslide destroyed a half-mile section of California State Route 39 four miles from Crystal Lake. The California Department of Transportation has never repaired this section due to continuous landslides and unstable terrain in the area. This section of highway may never be repaired.