Crystal Lake recreation area is in the Los Angeles Nation Forest which has campgrounds with nearby trails, lake recreation, fishing, rentable cabins & more. This camping area is at the base of the Los Angeles Forest and the San Gabriel Canyon at an elevation of 5,600 feet offering a quick getaway for the weekend outside of the city. Outdoor adventures lie around every corner – including hikes to spectacular peaks of Mt. Islip and Windy Gap or fishing in Crystal Lake. It’s only a mile hike to Crystal Lake from the campground.
How to get there
Crystal Lake Campground is about an hour north of LA city on the 39N. Coming from Orange County the the drive is about an hour and a half north on the 57 N and the 39N.
Crystal Lake Campground is located at the top of HWY 39 (mile marker 38.13) From Azusa, take Highway 39 north for twenty-five miles, through San Gabriel Canyon. Follow the signs to Crystal Lake. When you come to Crystal Lake Road, turn right to Crystal Lake. Stop at fee station.
Crystal Lake Campground
Crystal Lake campground has 4 loops containing a total of 50 camp sites and is at 5539 feet elevation in the Los Angeles National Forest. This campground is a beautiful nook tucked away in the trees. The sites are first come first serve year round. There are vault toilets and there is water access seasonally. The most open access is in the spring.
Open for Day Use at Fawnskin Picnic Area. Camping is available in Loops A, B and C (36 sites). During winter months, campsite access is walk-in only and drive-in during the summer. Crystal Lake Visitor Center Staffed by Angeles Volunteer Association (626) 910-1149. Hours of Operation: Saturday and Sunday – 8:00am to 4:00pm
- Camping – $12 per night per site without an Adventure Pass or $10 a night with an Adventure Pass. There is a $5 fee for an extra vehicle. Day use – $5 per vehicle. Adventure Pass will be honored for day use. Campsites are first-come-first-served. Adventure Pass required for vehicles parked outside the campground.
- A California Campfire Permit is required
- You can check with the Forest Service or at the Cafe to make sure that the fee value reported here is correct, and also check the sign nest to the Visitor Center.
- There are no reservations! First come first serve only
- Campground open in the spring
The lake water level is extremely low and there is no swimming allowed in the lake due to health issues — health issues with people and with the forest itself — however the lake does get stocked with fish from time to time.
Crystal Lake Cafe
Nearby Crystal Lake Cafe sells hot meals, sandwiches, and camping necessities that might have been left at home, including firewood. Casual eatery in the mountains serving homey fare, selling camping supplies & renting cabins. The owners are very friendly and the location and seating with views is great. The chili pie is apparently great as well as the homemade brownies.
Hours: 7am-6pm Wed-Sun, 7am-4:30pm Mon, closed Tues
Outdoor adventures lie around every corner – including hikes to spectacular peaks of Mt. Islip and Windy Gap or fishing in Crystal Lake. It’s only a mile hike to Crystal Lake from the campground. Deer Flats Road, South Mt. Hawkins Fire Road and Big Cienega trail are some of the most popular trails and hikes near the campground.
Crystal Lake to Mount Islip Loop
This is one of the best hikes in the area of a beautiful nearby peak. This is a remote and scenic loop from lake to peak and back again. This look encompasses most of the Crystal Lake area. The route follows the Isla Ride trial to the summit of Mt. Islip with gorgeous views of the San Gabriel mountains and Los Angeles Basin. The trail then goes on the windy gap trail and lost ridge trial back to the trailhead. An Adventure Pass required to park at trailhead. Camping is allowed only in designated sites.
Miles– 9.9 mile
Elevation– 2687 feet ascent and 8240 highest point
This loop begins at the lower parking lot for Crystal Lake which is also the trailhead for the Islip Ridge Trail #9W08. From the southwest corner of the lot, follow the dirt trail as it passes the lake and begins the climb to the main ridge and enters a Jeffrey Pine forest. There are fine views of the San Gabriel Wilderness to the west and sometimes downtown LA and the Channel Islands.
After four miles a junction with the Big Cienega Trail #9W07 is reached. Hikers short of time or energy can take this trail down to the Windy Gap Trail #9W06 and complete the remaining part of the loop saving two miles and 600 feet of gain.
Those who continue on will have amazing views of the Mojave Desert and the surrounding high peaks. The trail climbs a rocky ridge with rare ancient Limber Pines then meets with the Mt. Islip Trail #9W05. Turn left and proceed 0.2 miles to the top of Mt. Islip where the foundation of an old lookout tower can be seen.
In less than a mile there is another fork. The right trail drops directly down 0.2 miles to Windy Gap. A scenic alternative that adds 0.3 miles is to continue on the Mt. Islip Trail #9W05 to Little Jimmy Campground. Hike through the campground, then pick up the PCT east for 0.3 miles to Windy Gap passing Little Jimmy Spring which has good water all year. In summer, the spring is filled with bright yellow lemon lilies.
From Windy Gap descend the popular Windy Gap Trail #9W06 1.4 miles to the South Hawkins Road #3N07. Turn right and follow the dirt road 0.6 miles on a gentle surface to Deer Flat passing a lush spring (Big Cienega) along the way. Bighorn sheep often pass over Islip Ridge and graze the area around the springs. Turn left on the paved road for 0.1 miles then turn right at the lower camp site to reach the Lost Ridge Trail #9W25. Deer Flat Group Campground has unfortunately remained closed (as of 2018) due to budget cuts and concerns about fire.
Continue on down the Lost Ridge Trail #9W25 as it passes though thick chaparral of oak and ceanothus then drops more steeply entering a nice section of pines, bigcone spruce and oaks. The “lost” ridge was actually part of Islip Ridge that slid down forming Deer Flat and Crystal Lake. It soon ends at the junction with the Lake Trail #9W27. The left fork passes through a nice oak canopy to the main campground, store and Visitor Center in 0.3 miles. Take the right fork to reach the Crystal Lake parking lot and picnic area in 0.3 miles.
From the lower parking lot descend the steps down to the lake and then take the dirt road on the left (east) side of the lake. There is no outlet and water seeps from the bottom of the lake out to springs along Highway 39. In dry years, the water level can be very low. Continue on the dirt road as it passes through a pine and oak forest and ends at a locked gate next to the trailhead.
Things to do nearby
Bridge to Nowhere Hike
For outdoor lovers, Bridge to Nowhere is the affectionate name of a local treasure near LA, of an abandoned bridge on a washed-away road in the San Gabriel Mountains that spans across the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. You’ll find excessive fun on this 10-mile round trip hike with 900 feet of elevation change. This is one of those hikes that is a right of passage of the area and you must do at some point. You hike along the San Gabriel River in the beautiful Sheep Mountain Wilderness for about 5 miles, and then, out of nowhere, there’s a huge, 120-foot high bridge!