California State Route Highway 39 originally ran from Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach to Angeles Crest Highway in the San Gabriel Mountains. The route for this road trip starts in Azusa California and ends at Crystal Lake Recreation Area.
Forest Adventure Pass
The first stop before driving into San Gabriel Canyon is the Canyon Gateway Center. Here you can purchase a National Forest Adventure Pass. Visitors will need a pass if they plan on parking in a developed day-use area. Adventure Passes are only $5.00 for a day.
Morris Reservoir Dam
Continuing up into the Canyon you will see the Morris Reservoir Dam on your right. The dam was built in 1934 and is used for flood control. There is no public access to the dam however there are several overlooks where you can pull off the highway and view the dam. During World War 2 the Morris Reservoir was used as a Naval Weapons Test Site for testing torpedoes.
San Gabriel Dam
Next up is the 500 foot high San Gabriel Dam. The reservoir behind the dam is used for groundwater recharge, flood control, and power a small hydroelectric plant. Again no public access to the reservoir is allowed but there are several overlooks where you can pull off the highway.
East Fork Road
At the end of the San Gabriel Dam Reservoir, there is a turnoff for the San Gabriel River East Fork Road. This road follows the river for five miles and ends at the Heaton Flats day-use area and Campground. East Fork Road is also the access point to the very popular Bridge to Nowhere Trail. Shoemaker Canyon Road, the Road to Nowhere, branches of East Fork Road.
Bridge to Nowhere
The Bridge to Nowhere requires a ten-mile roundtrip hike to an abandoned 1936 concrete bridge. Parking for the Bridge to Nowhere hike is at Heaton Flats. The trail to the bridge requires several river crossings and may not be accessible during the rainy season. Bridge to Nowhere Bungee jumping.
In the mid-1800s there was a gold rush along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. There were several mining camps in the canyon including “Prospect Bar” and “Eldoradoville” Within a few years most of the placer gold had been mined and the rush was over. Today recreational gold panners can find a few flakes of gold along the East Fork of the river.
San Gabriel Canyon OHV
The San Gabriel Canyon OHV is located about half a mile past the East Fork turnoff. The OHV features 160 acres of river bottom that is open for use by on and offroad vehicles. Trails feature sand, mud and river crossings. San Gabriel Canyon OHV is open on weekends and holidays.
West Fork Day Use Trail Head
If racing around on an ATV is not for you there are plenty of places to hike in the canyon. The West Fork Trail is 7- mile paved pathway to the Cogswell Reservoir. The route is popular with hikers and bicyclists. The trail runs along the west fork of the San Gabriel River. During the summer the first mile of the river is jam-packed with people cooling off in the creek. An adventure pass is needed to park here.
Highway 39 North Fork
From the west fork parking area Highway 39 twists and turns adjacent to the north fork of the river. Several trails can be found along this section of Highway 39 including Bichota Canyon Trail, Pigeon Ridge Fire Road, Upper Bear Creek Trail, and the Lewis Fall Trail.
Crystal Lake Recreation Area
The final stop on this trip is the Crystal Lake Recreation. Here you will find a small water hole called Crystal Lake. The lake is snow and spring-fed and occasionally stocked with small trout. Crystal Lake campground features 50 Campsites, an open-air amphitheater, a tiny visitor center, Crystal Lake Cafe & Trading Post. Crystal Lake is a one-mile hike from the campground.
End of the Road
About a quarter-mile past, the Crystal Lake turnoff is the end of Highway 39. There is a gate here that blocks access to the last 4.5-miles of the road to Angeles Crest Highway. A huge rock slide in 1978 closed the road to the public. Emergency vehicles are allowed to use this section.
Round trip mileage from the San Gabriel Canyon Gateway Center to the Crystal lake is just under 45-miles. We suggest purchasing an Adventure pass, its only five dollars. San Gabriel Canyon is a popular escape from the heat during the summer and gets very crowded. Sping or Fall is the best time to visit.