Distance (round-trip)

12 mi

Time

6 hrs

Elevation Gain

3800 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Weather

This trek to Cucamonga Peak is a lengthy, steep hike up to one of the tallest peaks in the San Gabriels. You’ll get a great workout, and amazing views off the peak’s nearly-sheer face — a small promontory that reveals the great L.A. Sprawl before you.

One of the greatest things about hiking on Sunday mornings — or really, doing anything on Sunday mornings — is that you’re really one of only a handful of people in Los Angeles County who’s awake. The 210 was a breeze, and while I was stopped at the off-ramp, I caught the first glimpse of my destination – Cucamonga Peak, on the right.

I rolled down my windows and drove through the winding canyon to Mount Baldy Village, stopping off at the Baldy Ranger Station to pick up a Wilderness Permit. ‘Cause I like to keep it official. Side note – the Mount Baldy Ranger Station / Visitor’s Center is beautiful. I may stop by again later just to poke around.

I parked at Icehouse Canyon again, this time dressing in the necessary hiking layers instead of the usual t-shirt. It was around 40 degrees when I started, and the massive mountain formations on either side of the canyon block out most of the warming sunlight until later in the day. The water was still flowing through the canyon stream, which provided a great white noise-backdrop as I passed slow hikers in overstuffed backpacks on the way up.

I got nothin’ against slow hikers. Most of the time when I’m hiking with Will or his friends, I’m the slow hiker in the group. But the Icehouse Canyon trail is absolutely littered with people hauling fully-crammed overnight packs for an 8 mile round-trip. Hike light! You don’t need all that crap!

All that said, the trail in the morning is pretty lightly trafficked, and it’s still one of my favorites in the San Gabriels. As it was my third time up the trail, though, I didn’t stop to sightsee much. Except for when I came upon Columbine Spring.

Columbine Spring is the primary source of the picturesque stream that runs down Icehouse Canyon, and the spring itself lies almost directly beneath the trail to Icehouse Saddle. Last time I wanted to snap a picture, it was surrounded by a group of loud teenagers. This time, it looked like I had the place to myself, so I kneeled down to peek in.
Almost immediately, I heard a loud, “Oh! What’s down there?” as two middle-aged men stepped down to join me.

“This is Columbine Spring,” I said. “It’s the source for the stream in the canyon.” One of them perked up.

“Oh, is this the drinking water? Someone said there was drinking water here.”

I looked down at the water seeping from between the rocks. “Well, you could drink it. But you probably shouldn’t unless you treat it first.”

The man looked at his hiking partner. “This must be the drinking water!”

Fine. I stepped aside as the man reached in and filled up a water bottle and took a swig. He said it tasted great, and asked where I was headed to today. I tried to explain, but he didn’t seem to understand. Turns out, it was his first time hiking. I waited for the men to leave before dipping my hands into the spring in the Shinto style and continuing on my way. I didn’t stop much on the rest of the way up, except to carefully walk my way around some of the first trail snow and ice of the season. I made it up to the Saddle in about an hour and 40 minutes, 20 minutes faster than the last time I scrambled there. Let’s hear it for the gym!

Immediately after leaving the Icehouse Saddle, the trail to Cucamonga Peak got rugged, unkempt, and solitary – just the way I like ’em. Unlike the steady switchbacks of the Icehouse Canyon trail, this one teetered dangerously on the edges of cliffs, had hairpin turns and boulder scrambles. Good clean fun.

Looking out at the long ridge of Cucamonga Peak, all I could hear were the birds chirping around me. That same wonderful silence that permeated the San Gorgonio Wilderness was everywhere here. Which was weird, because I could see cars on the 15 just to the left of this scene. Oh well. I’m not gonna complain.

A little further down the trail, I came upon two medium-sized holes in the side of a steep incline. There was some rusted steel cable strewn about the ground, so I assumed the holes were the result of an old mining operation. But unlike the other mines I’d been to, I didn’t see any other evidence. There was certainly no way for anyone to easily get anything out of this mining area. The trail in was much too narrow for machinery, and the only other routes were straight down the side of the mountain.

I tried to peer into the lower cave, but couldn’t see anything of interest. I wanted to climb up the ridge to get to the upper cave, but I also wanted to get to the peak and back before nightfall. And I didn’t want to climb all the way up there just to see an angry mountain lion. That’s for damn sure.

I soon reached Cucamonga Saddle and started up the trail toward the peak, mercilessly switchbacking the entire way. This round wasn’t too bad, as far as switchbacks go, as the trail swapped from north to west sides of the mountain, offering alternating bits of cool shade and warm sun. I also got some nice views of one of my favorite majestic mountain groups – the Baldy Bowl. You can clearly see Mount Baldy in the left-of-center. Harwood and Pine Mountain are to the right, and you can make out the bump of Timber Mountain and the sharp peak of Telegraph in the center-right.

After a bit more trudging (and stopping to eat a CLIF bar or two), I came within sight of the fire-battered ‘Finish Line Ahead’ sign, marking the top of Cucamonga Peak, and pretty much just sprinted up the rest of the way.

I leapt onto the small rock formation that marked the peak, threw off my CamelBak and looked out at the smoggy suburban sprawl below me. Visibility was much lower than it was the last few times I was in the Baldy region, but it didn’t completely destroy the views … and of course, I was above the smog, so I got full sun and clear blue skies.

I met two younger guys who were nearly passed out near the peak. We chatted for a bit, and I found out they backpacked and hiked in overnight for their first hiking trip ever. A 3800′ elevation gain with a full pack is definitely one way to try out a new hobby. But despite being very tired, they were in good spirits, and asked me – the Sage Hikemaster who’s almost been hiking for a year now – if there were any good trails in the area.

I gave them directions to a few much-lower-intensity hikes in the eastern San Gabriels. Hopefully they’ll keep it up. I took a few pictures for them, and they repaid me in kind:

After the summit, a no-nonsense, fast-paced hike got me back down to the trailhead by 4:10PM. Just about six hours – including a very lengthy lunch – for the whole trip. Not bad. And one more peak crossed off my list.

 

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Hiker, Author of "Day Hiking Los Angeles," Walking Meditator, Native Plant Enthusiast.





Camping

Dog-Friendly

Historical Interest

Multi-Use Trail

Shade

Views / Vista

Water Features

Trail Map

37 Comments

Tom Apr 24, 2019 13:04In reply to: Casey Schreiner

Looking forward to your next read!!! Hope to see you out on the trail soon.

Tom

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Casey Schreiner Apr 24, 2019 08:04In reply to: Tom

Unfortunately not - I've been stuck at home working on my next book so haven't had the chance to spend much time in the San Gabriels. Hope my doppelgänger was nice if you talked to him! :)

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Tom Apr 23, 2019 16:04

Hey Casey,
Just curious. Were you up at Icehouse Canyon Saddle around 9AM on Saturday, 20 April? If it wasn't you it was your doppelganger!!! If it was you, did you continue on, and if so in what direction and how was the trail? I hope you are still enthused about exploring nature.
Tom

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Tom Mar 4, 2019 10:03In reply to: Casey Schreiner

Thanks much Casey. I will certainly make the call. I was hoping someone might have headed up there last weekend. Have a great week.

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Casey Schreiner Mar 4, 2019 09:03In reply to: Tom

Hey Tom,

Your best bet with questions like these is to always ask the rangers. They'll have the most up to date info.

You can call the San Gabriel Mountains NM at (626) 335-1251. They might transfer you over to the Mount Baldy station but it's a good place to start.

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Tom Mar 4, 2019 09:03

Any idea what the current trail conditions are to Cucamonga Peak? Should it be hikable with micro-spikes this weekend or will snow shoes be required? Thanks.

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Kimberly Rose Thompson Jun 30, 2018 18:06

Took us about 7 and half hours with a 30-40 minutes lunch at the peak. The hike up wasn’t terrible, wouldn’t put it one of the 5 most strenuous hikes I’ve done and this the first one I’ve hit in the six-pack. Going up was better than going down, once you’re a little tired those rocks coming down are miserable. It gets old really fast trying to navigate on the really rocky and uneven path, so I say hiking/trekking poles are a must for this one, though my fiancé didn’t use them and seemed fine. He was much more tired than me at the end though, I imagine the extra effort to remain stable over the rocky terrain contributed to that. Bring lots of water, I went through my 1.5 liter camelback but also went end of June. Start early, the trail warms up fast. If you get there early the ranger station will be closed so you can’t get your adventure pass to park, so plan ahead. We got there at 6 AM and checked the station around 6:30 AM and it was still closed. By 6:10 AM the parking lot was jam packed and people had to park up a nearby hill.

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Casey Schreiner Jun 27, 2018 08:06In reply to: Marc meister

check the "How to Get There" section :)

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Marc meister Jun 27, 2018 07:06

Can I just show up and hike..and .can I get a wilderness pass for over night the day u hike..

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Anthony Jul 30, 2017 10:07

This hike is an ass kicker on an 80-degree day. The summit is definitely worth it though. Your description of the part that wraps around the east side of Big Horn Peak after the saddle is correct: rugged but fun!

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