Mt. Hawkins Loop
- Location: Crystal Lake Recreation Area, in the Angeles National Forest. From I-210 in Azusa, take the Highway 39 (Azusa Ave.) exit. Go north on Highway 39, which becomes San Gabriel Canyon Road, for a total of 24 miles. Turn right on Crystal Lake Road and drive 2.3 miles, past the campground, to a large parking lot across from the Windy Gap trailhead. Note that if the road to the upper section of the campground is blocked off, you may need to park by the visitor center and store, adding extra distance. A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
- Agency: Angeles National Forest/San Gabriel River Ranger District
- Distance: 13.6 miles
- Elevation gain: 3,400 feet
- Suggested time: 7 hours
- Difficulty rating: R (elevation gain, distance, altitude, trail condition, terrain, navigation)
- Best season: June – November
- USGS topo map: Crystal Lake
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Los Angeles County
- More information: Trip descriptions (opposite direction) here and here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 9
This loop visits two popular summits above Crystal Lake: Mt. Hawkins and South Mt. Hawkins, both named for Nellie Hawkins, a popular waitress at a local cafe in the early 20th century. Considering the distance, elevation gain and often rugged terrain, knocking off the entire loop is no small feat.
Ideally, you’ll start from the Windy Gap Trailhead; if the gate blocks access to the upper portion of the Crystal Lake Campground you’ll have to add about an extra half mile each way by starting from the store. Follow the Windy Gap Trail steadily uphill for 1.1 miles, passing a junction with a service road after 0.4 miles. You make your way through an attractive forest of black oaks and pines before arriving at a junction with a disused fire road, the Mt. Hawkins Truck Trail. This intersection marks the start of the loop.
Hiking counter-clockwise, as described here, allows you to avoid ascending the steepest sections of the route. Follow the dirt road generally south for 3.3 miles, with great views of San Gabriel Canyon and the L.A. basin on the right. There are a few spots where the road has been washed out, requiring extra caution but no special technical skill or equipment. At about 3 miles from the start, the pyramid-like shape of South Mt. Hawkins comes into view.
At 4.4 miles, you reach a saddle where you can see Pine Mountain and Dawson Peak to the east; Mt. Baldy is also visible between the trees. Turn right and follow the fire road f0r three quarters of a mile to reach the summit of South Mt. Hawkins (elevation 7,782), where the ruins of a lookout burned in the 2002 Curve Fire can be seen. After enjoying an excellent, near 360-degree view, return back to the junction.
From here, continue north along the Hawkins Ridge Trail. Here the going becomes more challenging. Numerous trees have fallen over the trail, requiring one to scramble over or around them. Route finding isn’t always clear; when in doubt keep in mind that the true trail tends to stick pretty close to the east side of the ridge.
At about 7 miles from the start, you reach a saddle where you get an excellent aerial view of the Crystal Lake region to the left. Follow the ridge steeply uphill, you continue north, contouring along the east side of a peak colloquially known as “Sadie Hawkins.” At about 8.3 miles, you reach an unsigned junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.
Turn right and follow the P.C.T. east, taking in some good high desert views. After about half a mile, take a sharp right on a use trail that follows the ridge 0.2 miles to the summit of Mt. Hawkins (elevation 8,850). Here, you get outstanding views to the southeast, southwest and northwest. If the weather is clear, your vistas may extend as far as the Palomar Mountains, Catalina Island, the Santa Monica Mountains and the high desert.
After enjoying the view, retrace your steps back to the Pacific Crest Trail and follow it to the junction. Continue west for 1.4 miles, descending to Windy Gap. From here, take the signed Windy Gap Trail for the last 2.5 miles of the loop. At 1.3 miles below Windy Gap, stay straight as the Big Cienega Trail intersects; shortly after that you return to the Mt. Hawkins Truck Trail. Retrace your steps back down the last 1.1 miles to the campground.
What a great hike! And UPDATE – the fire road is fixed (more below). The Hawkins ridge may be one of the best in the range. We did this hike yesterday, 9.23.16, but the usual way, clockwise. And we would recommend it that way. The gradual descent on the east side of the ridge is stunning and peaceful, and we wouldn’t want to ruin it by slogging uphill. We also HATE fire roads… perhaps getting it over with first is one option, but we preferred leaving it to the end. We skipped Mount Hawkins, having ‘bagged’ it with Throop (which we recommend), and trying to keep the distance under 12 mi for our soles and souls. Your link to the Modern Hiker description is worthwhile. He has an excellent description of going clockwise and doing just South Hawkins (we scampered up Sadie also). You don’t cite “Trails of the Angeles,” and with good reason – the distance and elevation are totally off. Re fire road – it was in perfect condition and looked newly graded. Per the Crystal Lake cafe proprietor, the Forest Service was at it last week.
Hi Dianne, good to hear from you…thanks for the update. Glad you enjoyed the hike! And yes while I respect the importance “Trails of the Angeles” has had on popularizing hiking in L.A. a lot of the measurements/distances etc are dubious. That’s why it’s always good for hikers to provide themselves with multiple sources of information. Throop Peak is a good one too – I visited it via the standard approach from Dawson Saddle a few years ago, perhaps I’m due for a revisit (with my four-legged hiking partners in tow.)