Middle Fork Trail Lytle Creek

Middle Fork Trail (Lytle Creek)

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the Middle Fork Trail (Lytle Creek)
  • Getting to the Trailhead & Parking
  • Insider Tips for the Hike
Total Distance (?)12 miles (19.3 km)
Other Options 5 Miles RT To Waterfall and Back
Hike Time6-8 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)3,850 feet (1173m)
Highest Elevation7,570 feet (2307m)
Fees & PermitsFree Permit & Parking Fee
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)San Bernardino National Forest
Park Phone909-382-2851
Weather & ForecastLatest Conditions

The Middle Fork Trail along Lytle Creek takes you through the rugged heart of the Cucamonga Wilderness. You’ll hike up along a dramatic canyon formed by Lytle Creek, through a landscape reminiscent of Yosemite. Along the way, we’ll visit a hidden waterfall, my favorite in Southern California, before reaching the end of the trail at Icehouse Saddle.

Where is Middle Fork Trail?

Getting to the trailhead can be a challenge. It’s a dirt road whose conditions change every year. The road gets periodic attention and grading, but it seems to be a little different every time I drive it. The challenge is rutting and loose sand. You can usually do this in a low-clearance vehicle if you go slow and pick your way through the ruts. The better option is a higher-clearance vehicle; with a 4×4, you can barrel through it all. I’ve seen a Honda Accord stuck in rutted sand along the way and an old Prius at the trailhead. It can be done.

Use this trailhead address:
13901 Middle Fork Rd, Lytle Creek, CA 92358

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The majority of the road has light washboarding.
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Some sections can get very rutted like this.
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There’s a large parking lot at the trailhead.

You need a National Parks Pass or Adventure Pass to park here.

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There’s a primitive toilet at the parking area.

Middle Fork Trail Permit

You need a free permit to hike on this trail. It’s easy to get at the new permit site, permits.sgwa.org. Choose Cucamonga Wilderness and then Middle Fork. You can get a permit for a day hike or an overnight. I usually print a PDF and just keep it on my phone. You can also pick up a permit in the nearby Front Country Ranger Station.

Gear For the Hike

Water From Lytle Creek
Bring a filter so you can enjoy some of the fresh mountain water of Lytle Creek, which once was the bread and butter of the Lytle Creek Water Company in the 1890s.

The mountains of Southern California can be a place of extremes, and the Middle Fork Trail is no exception. In the summer, it can be scorching on the lower slopes, and in the winter, there can be snow and ice. Lytle Creek usually flows year-round, and you can refill with water (filtered) along the way. I’d give the trail a skip in icy and winter conditions. There are very narrow sections on steep slopes that could be challenging.

Gear 2022 8

I waste my time with lousy hiking gear so you don’t have to. Only the winners get onto my gear page. There’s no fluff, sponsorships, or promotions. It’s just gear I personally use, have tested, and recommend. Right now I’m liking my inReach Mini 2, Garmin Epix, and Lone Peak 6 shoes.
.
My August 2022 Top Gear Picks

Middle Fork Trail Maps

Click Here To View

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

How will you navigate this hike?
I use my Epix to record the hike, GaiaGPS to zoom around a map, and have a backup paper map.
Learn more about navigation tools that I use here.

Elevation Profile

Water From Lytle Creek Elevation
It’s a gentle climb with some rolling slopes until you reach Third Stream Crossing Camp, and then it’s tough uphill climbing at about 800/ft per mile.

3D Map

Water From Lytle Creek 3d Map
We’re going to make our way up the canyon formed by the Middle Fork of Lytle Creek. Toward the end we hit the steeper slopes up to Icehouse Canyon. A small out-and-back spur takes us to Third Crossing Falls.

Camping

The Middle Fork Trail is a popular spot for backcountry camping. You can hike a short distance, set up camp, and feel like you are miles away from civilization. There are three camps along the way, Stonehouse, Third Stream Crossing, and Commanche. For Stonehouse, you don’t technically need a permit since it’s outside of the Cucamonga Wilderness border. For the other two, pick up a free overnight permit at permits.sgwa.org. The campsites have flat areas for several tents; they’re not large. My favorite is Third Stream Crossing, which is next to Lytle Creek.

Middle Fork Trail Hike Directions

Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

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The trail starts at the far end of the parking lot. Take the big trail on the right.
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There’s an old-school trail board with some ballpark distances and elevations.
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And some interpretive displays that have seen better times.
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And finally, a sign for the Middle Fork Trail.
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Start heading up the gradual climb. Down to the left is Lytle Creek.

Lytle Creek is named after Captain Andrew Lytle, who led a wagon train of Mormons from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to this valley in 1854.

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As you hike uphill you get nice views down into the valley you just drove up.
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At about 0.5 miles you’ll reach the split for the lower trail, which heads down to Stonehouse Trail Camp. Stay to the right on the upper trail.
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The trail follows the upper slopes of the canyon and is spectacular.
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In the distance ahead lies Telegraph Peak.
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There’s a downhill section as you approach a stream crossing.
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Cross the rocky stream and continue left on the far bank.
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The lower trail from Stonehouse rejoins. Keep straight.
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Here’s the sign at the last junction.
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Shortly after the junction you pass into the Cucamonga Wilderness. Do you know what a Wilderness Area actually means?
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Keep your eyes open for a dramatic gorge off to your left. That’s where the waterfall is that we’ll visit shortly.
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You’ll descend into a shaded area of redwoods.
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And right after the big redwoods, look for a trail splitting off to the left, which is an unofficial trail to the waterfall. If you get to Third Stream Crossing (coming up in the directions), you’ve gone too far.
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Here’s a layout of the waterfall detour. You’ll hop off the Middle Fork Trail, cross Lytle Creek, then hike up the gorge to the tall waterfall.
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Once off the main trail, take one of the many use trails across the creek.
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And then look for a bigger use trail heading toward the gorge.
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And then enter the gorge.
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You’ll have to climb up and over a small waterfall. Like before, there are several ways to do it.
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Continue past a few other small falls as you head up the gorge.
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And then the trail dead-ends at a dramatic tiered waterfall, informally known as Third Stream Crossing Falls, about 30 feet tall. Soak it all in and then return to the main trail.
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Sometimes there’s a swing at the falls.
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When you get back to the main Middle Fork Trail, continue to the left.
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Continue straight downhill.
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At about 2.7 miles in (including the waterfall detour), cross Lytle Creek at Third Stream Crossing.

Lytle Creek is home to a naturally reproducing rainbow trout population and is eligible for National Wild & Scenic River protection.

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And as you hike away from the creek, you’ll see some flat areas, which is Third Stream Crossing Camp.
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There’s a sign for the camp.
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And now it’s time to work. After Third Stream Crossing Camp you start to head uphill.
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There are some switchbacks along the way.
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When you crest the saddle, enjoy the views and continue upstream, to the right.

Keep your eyes open for Nelson Bighorn Sheep, which live on these slopes.

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As you continue look for the notch in the distance, this is where we’re heading.
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The canyon narrows and gets more dramatic, with pines appearing more as we climb.
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You enter a wooded area. The trail can be narrow here.
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And then at around 4 miles you arrive at Comanche Camp, which has a handful of flat tent sites on either side of the trail.
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Here’s one of the tent sites at Comanche. Getting to the water involves climbing down to the creek, which can be overgrown with poison oak in spots.
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After Comanche Camp start climbing for the last stretch to Icehouse Saddle.
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The climb has switchbacks as it makes its way up the steep slopes.
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Off to the left are Cucamonga and Etiwanda Peaks.
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As you continue to climb you can see Icehouse Saddle in the distance.
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And then you join the Cucamonga Peak Trail.
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Here’s the sign at that junction. If you’ve hiked to Cucamonga Peak from Icehouse Canyon this junction should look familiar.
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And then here you are, Icehouse Saddle! From here you can continue to Timber Peak, Ontario Peak, or a number of other destinations. Or just relax.
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That’s the hike! From here return the way you came up.

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

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This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
Hi, I’m Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, National Recreation Trails (NRT) Ambassador, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different in that it gives very detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I share the hiking tricks and tips that I’ve learned over the years to fast-track you into a hiking pro. And I tell you what hiking gear works and what gear doesn’t so you don’t waste your money.

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