Mt Islip Hike From Crystal Lake

Hike Mt Islip From Crystal Lake

In This Guide
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions & Video
  • Mt Islip Trail Maps
  • How to Get to the Crystal Lake Trailhead
  • Points of Interest on the Hike
Distance10.5 miles (16.9 km)
Hike Time4-5 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)2,800 feet (853m)
Highest Elevation8,250 feet (2515m)
Fees & PermitsParking Fee
Dog FriendlyLeashed
Park WebsiteCrystal Lake Visitor Center
Park Phone626-574-1613
Stay In Touch - - -

Tucked into Angeles National Forest away from the crowds, this loop hike to Mt Islip from Crystal Lake offers a little bit of everything in a very doable package. Starting at one of the only natural lakes in Angeles National Forest, Crystal Lake, the hike follows well-marked trails, offers spectacular views, and summits Mt Islip at 8,250 ft. After soaking in the sweeping views from Catalina to the Mojave, you have a long, gradual downhill cruise back to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area.

How to Get To the Crystal Lake Trailhead

The hike starts at the Crystal Lake Recreation Area at the end of Rt 39. The drive up Rt. 39 is a fun one as it winds up through the mountains. Rt 39 used to connect with the Angeles Crest Highway just after the trailhead area, but the highway closed after a mudslide in 1978. The trailhead for the hike is just before the campground area at the actual (Crystal) lake.

Use this trailhead address:
Crystal Lake Recreation and Picnic Area, N Crystal Lake Rd, Azusa, CA 91702

Rt 39 can close during snow and ice, so check the CalTrans website before you go.

Crystal Lake Closeup
The trailhead is just on a turnoff to the left as you enter the recreation area.. It can get a little confusing because there’s a lot going on. From the trailhead parking you continue clockwise on the loop to reach the visitor center and general store.
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Shortly after seeing the sign for the Crystal Lake Recreation Area you’ll make the left turn on the loop road to find the trailhead parking.
Crystal Lake Trailhead Parking
There’s a decent amount of parking at the trailhead.
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There are primitive toilets at the trailhead too.

Crystal Lake Recreation Area has dozens of campsites, some with RV hookups; if you want to stay the night, you certainly have a good option here. I never see it full, but on summer weekends it does attract visitors. Campgrounds are first-come,. first-serve, and not bookable on the Recreation.gov website.

There’s also a small visitor’s center manned by volunteers and general store, the Crystal Lake Cafe,  which has food and camping basics like firewood. There’s no beer or alcohol at the store, so bring it up yourself.

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The visitor center is manned by volunteers and has limited hours. If you don’t have a National Parks Pass you can buy an Adventure Pass here.
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The general store offers local delicacies.

There’s also an amphitheater here that is allegedly haunted.

Gear For the Hike

You’ll definitely want full-on hiking gear on this hike. Bugs can be bad in the summer, and in the winter it’s smart to throw micro-spikes in your pack. Trekking poles will help on the climb and descent.

La Sportiva Spire

I try a lot of hiking boots and shoes, and there are some great options out there, but the La Sportiva Spire is the best combination of comfort, protection, low-weight, and durability. They are waterproof, and the high cuff keeps debris out without the need for a gaiter. Time tested over thousands of miles. Use them with a two-layer sock system to end blisters for good.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: WomenMen

Osprey Talon

On a medium or longer hike I recommend a pack like the Osprey Talon 33 (men) or Osprey Sirrus 36 (women) which is a little bit larger. These packs are on the upper end of the (35L) daypack range, but they only weigh a small fraction more than a pack with less capacity. Having the extra space gives you more flexibility and means you don’t have to jam things in there. I use the space for things like extra layers in the winter, extra water on desert hikes, and even a tent & sleeping bag on overnights.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI.

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Mt Islip From Crystal Lake Trail Maps

While these aren’t the most popular hiking trails in Angeles National Forest, they are very well marked. Signs get stolen though, so be prepared. And if you’re using OSM maps, note that some trails are incorrect. The GPX file that I have here is correct based on the trails and directions that you find in this guide.

Click To View Map

Hike Mt Islip From Crystal Lake Map Downloads

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

I’m a big fan of GPS watches to follow my GPX track (which I also use as a sleep, wellness, and fitness tracker) and my current watch is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (full review here). I load my GPX tracks onto the watch to make sure I’m in the right place, and if not, the onboard topo maps allow me to navigate on the fly. It’s pricey but it has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of functionality. If you want something similar without the maps and big price tag, check out the Garmin Instinct which is a great buy and does a lot of the same things.

Elevation Profiles

Mt Islip From Crystal Lake Hike Elevation
Aside from some minor bumps, it’s a pretty straightforward up and down on this hike.
Mt Islip From Crystal Lake Hike 3d Map
You do a bit of a loop on the mountains surrounding the Crystal Lake area. From the lake, it’s up the ridge to Mt Islip, then back down to Windy Gap and the valley.

Hike Landmarks

LandmarkDistance Elevation
Crystal Lake Trailhead05200
Exit the Lake Shore0.55200
Start of Ridge1.66100
Big Cienga Junction4.27600
Mt Islip Summit5.58250
Windy Gap6.57588
Deer Flat Campground8.66600
Lost Ridge Trail 8.86400
Trailhead10.55200

Hike Brief

Crystal Lake Postcard
The campground at Crystal Lake has been around since 1932. The closeness to LA made it popular with those escaping the city, and according to a local Crystal Lake was “one of the most popular places in Southern California . . . a regular Coney Island.” The campground area includes a general store, visitor’s center, and amphitheater.
Mt Islip Fire Tower And Hut
Here’s what the fire tower and stone hut looked like back in the day. Photo credit: Bob Cates

Mt Islip From Crystal Lake Hike Directions

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Video Directions

FYI I have a version of this video in 360/VR format. Not familiar with the benefits of 360 video? Then watch this.

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Turn By Turn Directions

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The trail starts past the gate at the trailhead.
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There’s a short climb to wake your legs up.
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And then you’ll come out above Crystal Lake, which looks more like a black lagoon. You’re going to circle the lake in a counterclockwise direction.
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Keep circling the lake at the beach area, avoiding the stairs to the left.
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Lots of California Toads along the shore.
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When you’re about 80% around the lake, look for a trail heading away from the water and up.
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Keep heading up and bear to the right. You’re basically going to be going back along the southern shore of the lake, but up on the hill.
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When you gain the top of the hill, bear right to hike back along the lake.
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Continue up above Crystal Lake to your right and below.
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When the southern short of Crystal Lake disappears, bear left to start hiking up the climb.
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The trail climbs up offering some nice views.

This trail is known as both the Islip Ridge and Islip-Wawona trail. Different maps have different monikers for it.

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As you climb toward the ridge you’ll see evidence of the 2002 Curve Fire.
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While this trail might not be too popular, it is well maintained and easy to follow.
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After a series of switchbacks you’ll reach the ridge line which you’ll ascend to Mt Islip.
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The ridge line has some nice flat sections mixed in with climbs.
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The trail is in good condition but there can be some downed trees and obstacles. This isn’t Icehouse Canyon, the trail is lightly used and sometimes needs a little TLC.
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As the trail hits the west side of the ridge you get some incredible views.
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There are some sections that go through shrubs but again, always easy to follow.
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As you ascend you’ll get some great views of Mt Waterman and Twin Peaks.
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When you gain this flat section you’ll see Mt Islip in the distance.
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When you reach the Big Cienga Trail junction, bear left toward Mt Islip.
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Here’s a closeup of the sign at that trail junction.
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The trail gets rockier and there are some limber pines as you approach Mt Islip.
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To reach the summit, look for the spur trail off to the left.
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Just before you reach the summit you’ll see the ruins of the old watch-keeper’s hut.
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Here it is, the summit! The concrete blocks are the base of the old fire tower.
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No, this isn’t dog poop, it’s the trail register (bag).
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The views are great, from Mt Baldy to Mt Lukens to the Mojave.
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When you’re done at the summit, head back down the way you came.
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At the spur trail junction, head left.
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The descent is easy to follow, a gradual gradient, and a welcome break after all the climbing before.
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Keep your eyes open to your right for Crystal Lake in the distance.
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Make the hard right at the junction to leave the Mt Islip Trail and head toward Windy Gap.
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After a short while you’ll see Windy Gap and the PCT in the distance.
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Make the hard right at Windy Gap to head down the WIndy Gap Trail. If you went straight you’d join the PCT and eventually reach Mt Baden Powell.
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Here’s a closeup of the trail sign for Windy Gap Trail at the junction. We’re heading back down towards Crystal Lake.
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Enjoy the nice long descent that you can really cruise down.
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Go straight at the junction of the Big Cienga Trail. You passed the other end of the trail shortly before you reached Mt Islip.
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Here’s a closeup of the sign at that junction. Keep heading toward Crystal Lake.
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Shortly after that last junction there’s another one. Hike to the right here.
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Here’s the sign at that last junction. Deer Flat Campground is our next stop.
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The trail follows an old road.
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And ends at the Deer Flat Campground. Go through the gate, keep left and go straight on the road through the campground.
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There are primitive toilets here in case you’re experiencing “a situation.”
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Keep bearing left on the paved road. The campsites will be down to your right.
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When you see this intersection, make the righ to hit the Lost Ridge Trail.
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Here’s the sign at that junction.
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The Lost Ridge Trail starts to the left after you make the last turn.
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Head down the Lost Ridge Trail which will take us back to the start of the hike.
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The trail is a bit overgrown but easy to follow. You’ll follow the road (up to the left) for a short while.
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Being watched by a Western Fence Lizard. I don’t think the animals see many humans on this trail.
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At the junction bear right toward Crystal Lake.
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The trail follows the road (down to the left) for a bit.
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Then pops you on onto the pavement. From here continue on the paved section for a short while.
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And then you’ll reach the trailhead parking lot where you started. And that’s the hike!

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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