Fall comes to Icehouse Canyon in the San Gabriels
[Click here to see photos of the trail from Icehouse Canyon to Cucamonga Peak.]
Need a fall-colors fix that doesn't involve flying east?
Head to Icehouse Canyon in the Angeles National Forest above Mount Baldy Village, one of my favorite hiking spots, where a short stroll up a rocky wash leads you to the refreshing pools of a fast-moving stream. In autumn, big-leaf maples and willows lend a golden glow to the lower canyon, and temperatures remain cool (at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday, it was 55 degrees at the trailhead).
Even on this day in late October, some trees still had their leaves, and the brisk air -- perfect for hiking -- hinted at winter. It's a slog up the canyon to Icehouse Saddle -- just under four miles with 2,600 feet of gain one-way -- but the views in this forested area get better the higher you climb.
At the saddle, a well-marked junction with signs pointing in all directions, you can continue on to Timber Mountain (about a mile away), or Ontario or Cucamonga peaks -- each less than 3 miles away. I opted for Cucamonga Peak, where the trail turns into a ribbon of scree switchbacks as it goes deeper and higher into the backcountry wilderness.
This area, designated the Cucamonga Wilderness, is the "only wilderness in Southern California that encompasses parts of two national forests -- Angeles and San Bernardino," according to John Robinson's "Trails of the Angeles: 100 Hikes in the San Gabriels."
After besting the switchbacks, I turned onto a near-vertical footpath off the main trail to the 8,859-foot summit, where the views were surprisingly clear. The numbers: 12 miles, 3,900 feet of gain.
Two caveats: You need an Adventure Pass ($5 for a daily pass) and a free wilderness permit (Mt. Baldy Visitor Center,  982-2829).