Cucamonga Peak via Icehouse Canyon

Remains of a Cabin

Cucamonga Peak offers amazing views over Southern California’s Inland Empire, east toward Apple Valley and beyond. This hike from Icehouse Canyon is a strenuous 11.6 mile out-and-back route with 4,300 feet of vertical gain and a top elevation of 8,859′. The north-facing slope holds snow much later in the season than other peaks. There were several sections of the trail that were covered with large patches of snow even in June.

Trail Details
Distance: 11.6 miles
Time: ~7 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation gain: 4,300 ft
Dogs: Yes
When to go: June-October
From atop Cucamonga Peak you can see most of the better-known peaks in Southern California, including the distinctive saddleback mountains (Santiago and Modjeska peaks) in Orange County; Mt. San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, and Mt. San Antonio (Mt. Baldy).

This was the second in my “Six Pack of Peaks” series of training hikes that I’m using to prepare for the hiking the John Muir Trail beginning the end of July. This hike featured substantial vertical elevation gain and introduced higher altitude — though still just shy of 9,000′.

We stopped at the ranger station in  Baldy Village and picked up our permit. Yes, permits are required even for day hikes in the Cucamonga Wilderness. Party size is limited to 12, the permits are free, and you can call the day before (909-982-2829) and the ranger will pin it to the bulletin board out in front for you to pickup in the morning. Otherwise the ranger station opens at 7am.

The trail begins at the popular Icehouse Canyon trailhead about a mile beyond Mt. Baldy Village. The Icehouse Canyon trail is a beautiful, well-forested trail that parallels babbling Icehouse Creek. There is lots of parking at the trailhead (Adventure Pass required) but due to the popularity, it fills up early. We started our hike at 7am and the parking lot still had a few spaces, but was quickly filling up.

There are a number of cabins in the lower canyon that are still in use, as well as the remains of many more that have been destroyed by flood or fire over the years. It’s a beautiful trail but extremely popular. At times it felt like rush hour on the 5 with long lines of hikers and few places to pass.

Icehouse Saddle makes a good place to break for a snack and regroup. There are five separate trails that come together at this junction. You want to look for the Cucamonga Peak trail sign. From here it’s only 2.4 miles to the summit, but they are steep and often hot miles.

The north face of Cucamonga holds snow much later in the season. Even in June, we hit many patches of snow that covered the trail, but nothing that required any technical equipment. Still, our trekking poles were much-appreciated.

Once you reach this marker to the summit, you’re almost there. And if it’s a clear day, you are rewarded with amazing views in every direction.

Retrace your steps for the return trip, which is nearly all downhill. One pleasant surprise. On our return trip down Icehouse Canyon, there were literally thousands of ladybugs flying about — a good omen for next week’s hike up Baldy!

 

Trail Advice

  • Permits are required even for day hikes. Call ahead the day before and ask them to post it on the bulletin board.
  • National Forest Adventure Pass is required for parking at the trailhead. Parking fills up quickly. Carpool and get there early.
  • There is water available in Icehouse Canyon, but treat or filter before drinking. The second half of the trail is dry. I would recommend two liters for this dry and often hot section of the trail.
  • The second half of the trail is steep, dry and exposed. On a hot summer day, I would opt to hike a different trail.

Trail Map and Elevation Profile

Photo Gallery

I’ve posted even more photos on Flickr.

Additional Resources

Comments

  1. says

    Looks like a great hike Jeff! Great pics too. I would love to spend some quality time in that cabin. The problem with gaining 4000+ feet in elevation is that you have to come down too! How do the knees feel today? Great report. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Lauren says

    I did this trail yesterday, too. I started late, so I probably didn’t see you, but… question: did you lose the trail at any point? I was solo, and lost the trail near the top after a big snow patch. Oddly, I ran into a party of three that lost the trail at the same time… and later heard another story of people that lost the trail as well. I wanted to summit, but after looking for the trail for 15 min. decided to head back down.

  3. says

    No, I didn’t lose the trail but there were a couple of places where the snow patches “strategically” covered a switchback. If you followed the direction of the path you were on, you could easily have missed the switchback.
    With the heat we’ve had, I don’t think that will be a problem again until it starts snowing in the fall. The snow was rapidly melting.

  4. says

    Excellent source you have here! A lot of the information out there on these trails is spotty and inconsistent, but your info seems to be the best I’ve come across so far! Thanks for the hard!

  5. bradyn says

    You can easily lose the trail near the summit if you take the wrong direction. There is this part right before the summit where a trail branches off and goes to the left. I took that way and eventually there is no trail anymore. I thought I was still on cucamonga peak trail so I figured this part right before the summit has no trail and continued walking, talking paths and making sure I was going up hill. eventually i found a trail leading up hill and took it to the summit. Coming back down was scary, got lost in the area where there is no trail trying to find the way I had come, after about 30 minutes I found it ( The area with no trail is not that big so I knew I would find it eventually ). On my decent I realize my mistake when I cam to junction of the cucamonga peak trail and the off branch I had taken. There was a piece of laminated paper pointing the other direction saying cucamonga peak trail, I don’t know how I missed it! Oh yeah how come you put no for dogs? I brought my dog with me and he was fine, he did better than me!

  6. says

    Bradyn, yes, the sign marking the last stretch to the summit is hard to find. Is the wooden sign (see the photo above) gone now?

    And you are correct about dogs. Being in the National Forest jurisdiction, dogs are allowed. If your dog can handle the hike, by all means, they are allowed. I’ve updated the info accordingly.

  7. Jason says

    Jeff,
    We hiked this trail yesterday, 12/22/13, and yes, the wooden sign was gone but the post was still there. There were plenty of “potholing” foot prints in the snow so we had no problem finding the peak. The sky was clear so we could see all the way to Gorgonio and San Jacinto. Took us almost 9 hours to finish the trail due to slow pace in the snow.

  8. says

    Thanks for the update, Jason. Even without snow that trail can be fairly indistinct. Glad you were able to follow some tracks to make it easier. Did you need yak tracks or snowshoes?

  9. M says

    Hi Jeff, i was wondering how i can download the gpx file to my gps device. When I click on the link, I just see the lines of code.

  10. says

    M, if the link opens as text, try right-clicking and “Save Link as…” (the message is a little different in each browser). This will save it as a .GPX file on your computer. You can then use whatever software you use for your GPS to transfer the file, or you can load it into Google Earth to visualize the trail in 3D. FUN!

  11. Phillip says

    I will be visiting in late September of this year. Would you recommend this hike for that time of the year? If not, do you have any other suggestions? I am coming from Chicago and don’t know the area that well, but I would like to do something this strenuous.

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