The trek up to Cucamonga Peak via Icehouse Canyon is a lengthy and steep, yet rewarding experience—once completed, you’ll find yourself up on one of the tallest peaks in the San Gabriel mountains. Not to mention, you’ll get a great workout (which means you can enjoy an even greater meal after your hike).
This hike from Icehouse Canyon is an out-and-back route with 4,300 feet of vertical gain and will bring you to a final elevation of 8,859′. The Cucamonga Peak hike is a great hike to do when training for larger, more strenuous day hikes such as Half Dome or Mt. Whitney. I’ve done this hike twice, once solo just for fun and the second to train for an upcoming Half Dome hike. And FYI for all you peak baggers out there, this is the 2nd peak challenge in the “6 Pack of Peaks” series.
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SNAPSHOT OF CUCAMONGA PEAK
- Distance: 12 miles
- Time: ~7 hours
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Elevation Gain: 4,300 ft
- Dogs: Yes
- Best Time to Hike: June-October
- Adventure Pass Permit: Required
- Bathrooms: At the trailhead
- Trailhead Address: 20 Ice House Canyon Rd, Mt Baldy, CA 91759, USA
- Trail Condition: Steep, rocky, mostly shaded for the first 3.5 miles. Very small water crossings, very small portions where you’re hiking cliffside next to drop-offs.
- Summer: Buggy, hot, and exposed for the final 2.5 miles.
- Winter: Dangerous ice and snow on this trail, I recommend you do not attempt.
CUCAMONGA PEAK HIKE – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The start of the Cucamonga Peak hike is located at the Icehouse Canyon parking lot, approximately 1-1.5 hours from the Greater Los Angeles area. Continue past Mt. Baldy Village for around 1.5 miles until you reach a fork. Continue right at the fork and you’ll very quickly reach the parking lot for Icehouse Canyon. Permits are required but are free and self-serve, available at the trailhead (make sure you have a pen on hand to fill out the permit). Before you leave your car to start on the hike, make sure you place your Adventure Pass in a visible spot in your car.
The drive from our home in Los Angeles proved to be a breeze, given that we started our drive at 5:45am, 15 minutes later than our planned departure time. We had aimed to begin our hike at 6:30am in order to find parking without having to deal with a packed parking lot at full-capacity. When we got to the parking lot, I was surprised to find the parking lot at only ~50% capacity, but this was probably because it was a Friday morning. On weekends, the parking lot will fill up even earlier.
The Cucamonga Peak hike starts at the Icehouse Canyon trailhead, at the far end of the parking lot, past the restrooms. Here, you will grab a permit from the box in front of the trailhead sign, fill out your information, and drop it into the box. Some will say to jot down your information in the case there are no permits available for you to fill out, but I completely forgot this step last time before starting the hike and I was fine. If you’re doing a day hike to Cucamonga Peak, it’s pretty hard to get lost (you’re bound to see someone else hiking at some point), so just be sure to not get lost and try to make it back to your car safely. Now onto the fun stuff—the actual hike!
The trail in the morning is pretty lightly trafficked, which is great for some peace and quiet. The first 2 miles consist of a light climb up next to Icehouse Creek. The constant sounds of rushing water and birds chirping were a wonderful change of pace from the sounds of the city. You’ll pass by some cabins along the way, as well as some ruins made of stone.
After hiking for one mile, you’ll reach a junction for the Chapman Trail. This other trail veers off to the left and provides the option of a more scenic route to the Icehouse Saddle, though it is a bit longer (you can also come down this way if you want to add more miles to your overall hike). Stay straight to continue on the main trail for Ice House Saddle.
After hiking about 1.7 miles, you’ll officially enter the Cucamonga Wilderness area, indicated by a large sign. As you continue hiking on the trail, you’ll begin to encounter some really rocky sections. You’ll also begin to notice the trail steepens.
As you continue your climb, you’ll encounter a set of ~10 steady switchbacks up the Icehouse Canyon trail, taking you up to the saddle. Once at the saddle, give yourself a small pat on your back! You’re now more than halfway up. This is a great place to rest up and have a larger snack before the strenuous ascent ahead of you. There is ample shade here and lots of logs to sit on and take a breather. At the saddle, there are five separate trails that you could possibly take. You will want to look for the Cucamonga Peak Trail sign (the one farthest away from where you came from). From here, it’s 2.4 miles to the summit, but these are the steepest miles, so make sure you have some energy saved up.
As you begin your trek from the saddle, you’ll notice the path taking you downhill. Don’t worry, this is correct and you’re not going the wrong way. The trail will take you right back up, and then some. When you’ve ascended a bit more (at about 6.2 miles), you’ll come across the remnants of what was a sign that pointed you in the right direction of Cucamonga Peak. However, this sign is no longer there, and all that remains is the pole. The trail to reach the top of the mountain is to your right. You may notice a pile of rocks that “block” the trail leading to the left, and that’s intentional. Cucamonga Peak is to your right (follow the cairns).
Once you see the views of the Inland Empire (as well as people chatting, refueling and relaxing), head left towards the highest ground to reach the official summit. Congrats, you’ve officially made it! For the best photo ops, head back down to where you first emerged and you’ll see two large boulders jutting out, overlooking the Inland Empire below. These are the most photographed rocks on Cucamonga Peak, and somehow there are sign props available that you can photograph with.
Once you’ve enjoyed enough time at the summit, you can head back down the same way that you arrived. Again, if you want to add a little distance to your downhill hike, you can try taking the Chapman Trail junction down.
In total, the hike took us a little under 7 hours, which included a 10-minute break at the saddle, as well as a longer 30-minute break at the top for photos and lunch (6:45am – 2pm). By the time we’d gotten back to the car, the parking lot was even more packed that what we’d seen in the morning. As always, make sure to take a nice, long stretch once you get back to your car!
TIPS TO PREPARE FOR YOUR HIKE
You will need a permit/parking pass.
Since the trailhead is located in the Angeles Forest, you will need to obtain a National Forest Adventure Pass in order to park at Icehouse Canyon. On both occasions where I’ve done this hike, I had pre-purchased my Adventure Passes the day before so that the start time of my hike was not constrained by store open times or anything like that. You can find Adventure Passes at REI, Big 5 Sporting Goods, etc. throughout the LA / Inland Empire area. To be extra-efficient, call the store ahead of time to verify that they have them in stock. (Most recently, we called two different Big 5 stores–one was out of stock, the other had them available.)
Get there early for parking, especially if you’re hiking on a weekend.
If hiking on a Saturday or Sunday, I’d advise that you get there by 6:30am at the latest. In many instances, hikers have noted that the parking lot was full by 7am. Not sure what the sweet spot is, but for primo parking, the earlier the better. There will be parking a bit further down the road, but if you don’t want to tack on extra mileage to the hike, play it safe and just wake up slightly earlier. Or better yet, hike on a weekday if possible.
Make sure you’re doing this in hiking boots.
At about 0.5 miles, the trail gets quite rocky and remains that way for a few additional miles, so be sure to wear the proper footwear. If you try to hike this trail in standard running shoes, your feet will surely take a pounding. Don’t forget to wear the right pair of hiking socks–you definitely don’t want blisters on this long-distance hike. Painful toes and heels are all too common on treks like this!
Bring walking sticks / trekking poles.
Save your knees (and you’re quads)! The first time I did this hike, I had both of my trusty trekking poles with me. From what I recall, the hike coming down wasn’t too bad. Most recently, Papu and I shared one set of trekking poles, one each, and we really felt the pain in our knees around mile 3/6 coming down. My knees were in so much pain that I had to execute on my brilliant idea—to quickly ice them in the rushing water in the river alongside the trail! That definitely worked wonders; you can consider that a pro-tip for ya.
Bring a light jacket.
Since most hikers start this hike early (before 8am), it can be quite chilly in the morning. It can also get windy at the top of Cucamonga Peak, so having a light jacket or windbreaker will be very beneficial.
Bring at least 3L of water with you.
I had my Camelbak Rogue 2.5L hydration pack and an extra bottle of water with me. This was more than enough for a 6:45am start time, but if you plan on being out longer in the sun, you will likely need more. Pro-tip: The extra bottle that I carried with me had a built-in mister, which was such a nice bonus when hiking on hot summer days. We found ourselves misting our faces and necks every 30-45 minutes. What an amazing addition to my day pack.
The saddle is a good place to relax and refuel.
The saddle flattens out and there are a few fallen logs for hikers to sit on and relax right before continuing the ascent. After the saddle, there aren’t too many shaded areas, so take advantage of this spot!
Bring a hat and some sunscreen.
The second half of the trail is steep, dry and exposed. In the summer, it can get pretty warm, even despite the cooler weather towards the top. There will definitely be sun exposure, so protect your skin with UV clothing, sunscreen, and/or a hat.
When coming down, check your surroundings to make sure you’re going the right way.
Whenever you’re approaching a switchback or a turn in the trail, look up and make sure there are no other trails you could possibly take. There are some sections where you could go straight, but really should be turning, and vice versa. Be aware of your surroundings especially if hiking alone, and if you’re unsure about where you’re going, you can always pull out your phone and check out the direction you’re going on Google Maps app in relation to the hiking trail, indicated in green dashed lines (the GPS pointer works even without cellular service).
Watch out for rattlesnakes.
Some hikers noted a rattlesnake sighting just off the trail before reaching the saddle. As we were coming down, the group ahead of us noted that they had also just seen one (about 1 mile away from the trailhead). Definitely keep your eyes and ears open and carefully walk past them. Also, if hiking with dogs, keep them on the leash.
Bring bug repellent if bugs love you.
Since I did this hike most recently in mid-June, the bugs were definitely out and thriving. Aside from the swarms of harmless ladybugs flying around in the afternoon which were quite beautiful, I did get a few minor bites from some flies (yes, they looked like hungry flies and not mosquitoes). Bring some sweat-resistant bug repellent with you or simply cover up with a long sleeve, pants, and a hat.
There could still be snow until June.
The north-facing slope holds snow much later in the season than other peaks. When I hiked Cucamonga Peak in late-June, I noticed a few large patches of snow off-trail, but the snow had melted off for the most part and was non-existent on the actual trails.
And with that, you should be as ready as you need to be to take on the Cucamonga Peak hike! Have fun and stay safe out there!