Crystal Lake Trail Los Angeles San Gabriel Mountains Angeles National Forest California hike San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

Diminished by drought and tarnished by wildfire, Crystal Lake is not the glistening destination it once was. Crystal Lake is the only naturally occurring lake in the San Gabriel Mountains, cradled by granite summits north of the San Gabriel River Valley above the city of Azusa at 5,500 feet. It is a 1 1/3-mile round trip paved hike to Crystal Lake with 150 feet of elevation gain. The 2002 Curve Fire filled the lake with ash and debris, closing the area to visitors for several years. The long-closed road to Crystal Lake Recreation Area is open, but until the small mountain lake regains clarity, it will be more of a draw to fisherman than hikers.

You may be able to drive up to within a tenth of a mile of Crystal Lake, but the paved one-way road that circles past Crystal Lake and Crystal Lake Campground is often gated closed, requiring hikers to trek up the road to the lake.

Crystal Lake
Crystal Lake

March up the pavement through a pine forest heading northwest toward the lake. After 0.45 miles, when you see a sign for the lake, turn left and walk down toward a parking area with bathrooms. Take the dirt path to the left of the lot which becomes a stone staircase that drops 50 feet to the lake.

The finely constructed stairway leads to an algae-covered pool that no longer lives up to its name. The approximately 3-acre lake is nestled in a pine forest with rocky summits above. It is easy to image Crystal Lake’s past and future glory. Unfortunately, the lake is in a lackluster state, thanks mostly to the long-burning wildfire that scorched 20,000 acres around the lake. After the 2002 fire and subsequent road damage, Highway 39 reopened to Crystal Lake in the Spring of 2011. While the forest in this area has made a healthy comeback, the lake will still benefit from a few more years of recovery.

Crystal Lake Sign
A sign posted at Crystal Lake

Fisherman flock to Crystal Lake to catch rainbow trout. Swimming is not allowed. Crystal Lake will look its clearest after the spring runoff (and a few more years of recovery). An adventure pass is required to park at the trailhead but no permit is required to visit Crystal Lake in the Angeles National Forest.

To camp or snack after your visit to Crystal Lake, drive a third of a mile up the road past the trailhead to the Crystal Lake Campground and Cafe. The sprawling 257-site campground is on the left, while the Crystal Lake Cafe and cabins are on the right. The “cafe” is set in a rustic log cabin. Inside, you can order burgers and hot dogs at the counter, or sip on a delicious hot chocolate (perfect for cold days at this high elevation retreat).

Crystal Lake Cafe
Crystal Lake Cafe

Sites at Crystal Lake Campground are $12 per night from May to October (price as of 2018). The campground is open to day-use only during the winter (Coldbrook Campground is seven miles away and open year-round). Picnic tables, fire rings, and flush toilets are provided, along with a great city escape in a rustic pine forest. Sites can be reserved by calling 877-444-6777 or by visiting (for group sites only).

To get to the trailhead: From the 210 freeway in Azusa, take exit 40 and drive 24 miles north on Route 39. When the road splits, turn right on Crystal Lake Road and drive 1.2 miles to the trailhead/turn for Crystal Lake. Park on the right across from the paved road up to Crystal Lake.

Trailhead address: Crystal Lake Road (Forest Service Road 3N07), San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, Azusa, CA 91702
Trailhead coordinates: 34.32087, -117.842642 (34° 19′ 15.13″N 117° 50′ 33.51″W)

Trail Map
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Elevation Profile
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These photos were taken in December of 2011. Click to enlarge.
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12 Comments on Crystal Lake in the San Gabriel Mountains

  1. Rod Agajanian wrote:

    Camped at Coldbrook area 60 yrs. ago, I remember a buried town just north of coldbrook, an area with chimney’s sticking out of the sand and rock riverbed, is it still there ?

  2. Marina wrote:

    First of all can you swim in the water?????
    Second of all if you can swim is there LEECHES????

    • Grax wrote:

      first of all, if you read the article you will find your answer….
      Second of all… hope you had a fun trip :)

    • A wrote:

      The pond has frogs and maybe leeches . “Cristal” water)))

  3. Jenny Slane wrote:

    I was wanting to go to Crystal lake sometime this week. Is there snow there? I’m just wondering if I can get there without chains.

    • Ryan wrote:

      The lake is basically just a large puddle now. Years of drought have completely destroyed it. It’s really not even worth going to anymore

      • James Day wrote:

        Crystal lake was fine until 1989. Are we saying droughts never affected California’s natural water resources until the late 80’s? Crystal lake was not “destroyed by drought” but rather luxury politics like environmentalism and race-based political pandering (which led to MASSIVE population growth into SoCal), thus creating water-scarcity and ultimately draining Crystal, Big Bear, Arrowhead, etc. In the past, California created the greatest Aqueduct system in the world, but leftist politics took over California in the 90’s and one result became the refusal to build reservoirs and water treatment facilities. Nature didn’t destroy this lake, leftism did.

        • Jess wrote:

          What? Leftist did not destroy any lake. Your watching too much Fox News. Crystal lake is the only natural lake in these mountains. Big bear and arrowhead are man made lakes. Crystal lake is fed by a spring and snow run off. Some years it’s very full and some years it’s very low. Also if you talk to the rangers it also has a very small drain at the deeper end. Leave politics out of it. The country is already screwed up by these conspiracy theories and horrible politics.

    • Russ wrote:

      Don’t go there for a few years., The fires did a number on the lake. The water is skanky.

  4. Larry wrote:

    When was the last time Crystal Lake was stocked with fish? What are the current conditions at the lake bass see here

  5. David wrote:

    Would love to know conditions at Crystal Lake as of July 15, 2020. Anyone?

  6. Craig Baker wrote:

    This is the WRONG place for questions. Call a local Visitor Center or Ranger Station. (You’re welcome)