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Hiking to the Top of Cucamonga Peak

This week’s hike in the San Gabriels takes us up to Cucamonga Peak, one of the highest peaks that overlooks the Inland Empire.

This past Wednesday, I was fortunate enough to hike up to 8,859’ Cucamonga Peak with my friends Amber, Julie, Sarah, and Cathy (as well as Amber’s dog, Kona, and Cathy’s pup, Taya). We carpooled out to the trailhead in Icehouse Canyon and began our hike at 7 a.m., early enough to evade the nasty afternoon heat that had been forecast. 

Icehouse Canyon is a fun and very scenic hike that I have mentioned in multiple articles. The main trail through follows along a rushing creek and pushes through a habitat for many beautiful animals, wildflowers, and lizards. About a mile into our journey, we passed a rock that was covered in vibrantly colored ladybugs. 

After 3.5 miles of steady but comfortable elevation gain, we reached Icehouse Saddle, a wonderful rest stop that acts as an intersection for multiple trails. After a 10-minute break to refuel, we continued east, down the trail that is clearly marked for Cucamonga Peak. Not a quarter mile past the Saddle, I spotted a very old rattlesnake, curled up on the trail. We walked around this beautiful but threatening creature and, thankfully, no harm was done.

The Cucamonga Peak trail dropped down a bit from Icehouse Saddle for about a mile before beginning a steep final mile and a half up the northern side of Cucamonga Peak. The winds were howling in parts of the trail in excess of 40 miles per hour, but we trudged onward, fueled by the anticipation of the storied summit. At 5.5 miles from the beginning of our journey, we passed three trees that each had an “i” carved into them; we were almost there.

Finally, we came upon the wooden “Cucamonga Peak” sign, marking the summit up shortly ahead. I felt a surge of adrenaline course through my veins. My unusually fatigued body experienced new life and our little band of hikers successfully pushed our way up to the summit.

The top of Cucamonga Peak is beautiful. It hosts a bit of plant-life, mostly in the form of chaparral, and offers phenomenal views of the distant San Gorgonio and San Jacinto peaks, the Inland Empire, and other San Gabriel hikes including nearby Bighorn and Ontario Peaks and Mount Baldy. We basked in our accomplishment for 15 minutes before beginning the victorious march back to the trailhead.

Hike At A Glance

Difficulty Level (1-10): 8

Distance: 13 miles roundtrip

Scenery: The scenery varies with the elevation of this hike. The first couple miles of the trail follow a rushing creek; the latter parts of the hike give stellar views of surrounding mountains, the Inland Empire, and even the Pacific Ocean on a clear day.

Best time to go: Late May to November. Can be hiked at other times with snow/ice equipment.

Trail condition: The trail is well maintained but does have some narrow and slick stretches.

Other considerations: Bug spray may be worth considering for the first leg of this hike, around water areas. Trekking poles work wonders for the steep descent from Cucamonga Peak. As always, be careful of the typical dangers that hiking in our local mountains present (e.g. rattlesnakes, bears, etc…). Also, one must obtain a free permit to enter the Cucamonga Wilderness. You can get this at the ranger station on the way in Baldy Village.

Getting there: Take the 210 to Mountain and go north. Follow Mountain all the way into Baldy Village. Turn right about a mile or so past the Village onto the street marked “Ice House Canyon Road." Be sure to display your Adventure Pass in your parked car ($5 for a day or $30 for a year at REI or most other sporting goods stores).

Ron Cooper July 02, 2011 at 07:28 PM
Thanks, Matt! I always enjoy reading of your adventures. The photographs are a real bonus and help me to more-fully appreciate exactly where you've been and what you've seen. That's a great shot of Mr. No Shoulders, the rattlesnake! It looks like you were standing directly over him; dangerously close. Back in the day, when I too was an avid hiker, my dog -- Diablo, a very curious Weimaraner -- would invariably provoke these gracious inhabitants of our local landscape with his incessant barking and threatening advances. I was fearful that one day his curiosity and aggression would result in being struck. Fortunately that fear was never realized. I especially loved the photograph of the ladybugs swarming on the rock -- verrry kewl! I am looking forward to reading about your next exciting escapade. Keep 'em coming, Matt!
R Terry July 04, 2011 at 06:27 AM
Nice photos and the swarms of ladybugs is a curious thing...I have seen that myself at high elevations in other mountains. I'm glad that more people seem to be recognizing that rattlesnakes are a part of nature that have a right to be there. I have seen many as I search out and photograph them and find that they are never a problem unless you happen to step on them or nearly so.
Matthew Cavanaugh July 05, 2011 at 03:53 AM
thanks for the feedback guys!
Bob Dollins July 05, 2011 at 07:17 PM
There's a small canyon southwest of Cogswell Resevoir on Redbox Rincon Rd, called Tumblor Canyon where I've seen millions of Ladybugs in the early late spring. Very impressive sight to see. As for Cucamonge Peak. Got within a half mile of the summit last year before having to turn back due to time constraints. Going to "bag it" this year. Good article on this hike.
Matthew Cavanaugh July 06, 2011 at 05:10 AM
Thanks Bob! Let me know how your next summit hike to Cucamonga goes!

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