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Found in the San Gabriel Mountains of southern California, Crystal Lake is a lake in transition. Since the 1860s there are records of fires, floods and restoration efforts at Crystal Lake. Still a popular summer fishing spot, Crystal Lake Recreation Area is once again recovering from floods, fires and budget constraints.
Natural lakes are rare in southern California's Los Angeles County. Once thought to be formed by glacial moraine, it is now believed that Crystal Lake was formed by a landslide that originated between Mt. Islip and Mt. Hawkins in the San Gabriel Mountains. This closed-basin freshwater lake is filled by rain, snow and runoff from its small drainage basin. Lake levels fluctuate dramatically depending on Mother Nature's precipitation, but normal elevation is approximately 5,436 feet with an average depth of 35 feet and maximum depth of 150 feet.
Once called Sycamore Lake, the site was renamed Crystal Lake in the 1880s in recognition of its crystal clear water. With close proximity to Los Angeles and surrounding metropolitan areas, the beautiful water has been a popular attraction for campers since the early 1900s. Today the lake is part of the Crystal Lake Recreation Area found at the North Fork of the San Gabriel River. Managed by the U. S. Forest Service in Angeles National Forest, Crystal Lake has seen its share of recent natural disasters.
Flooding in 1969 contaminated Crystal Lake's water, closing the lake to swimming. The flood was followed by years of drought, causing water levels to drop and contamination to increase. Forest Service budget cuts have prevented maintenance on feeder lines used to control water quality, so Crystal Lake remains closed to swimming.
If floods and droughts are not enough, in 2002 California's "Curve Fire" started near Crystal Lake eventually burning 20,857 acres. Crystal Lake Campground, once the largest campground within the Angeles National Forest, was badly damaged. Volunteer groups, including the San Gabriel Mountain Trailblazers, work diligently to clean campsites and facilities, but budget constraints and remoteness of the location make reconstruction difficult. A link has been provided below for those needing an update on plans to reopen Angeles National Forest's Crystal Lake Campground. The same is true for Deer Flats, the group campsite at Crystal Lake. Until Crystal Lake Campground is reopened, reservations are being taken for more than 50 additional campgrounds within Angeles National Forest.
The U. S. Forest Service Visitor Center remains closed, but the area has been cleaned and parking lots have been resurfaced in anticipation of opening to the public once again. Until the water distribution network has been repaired, the Forest Service has installed non-flushing restroom facilities. A privately operated cafe and convenience store are waiting for new owners before reopening.
There are well over 500 miles of hiking, equestrian and mountain biking trails in Angeles National Forest. When clean-up is completed, more than 10 hiking trails should be reopened in the Crystal Lake Recreation Area. Until then, visitors can select from short easy trails with scenic overlooks to strenuous 12-mile climbs through dense forests of the San Gabriel Wilderness Area. At the trail's end hikers can follow a path to the 7,760-foot Twin Peaks. Long-distance hikers may be found passing through Angeles National Forest where the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (stretching 2,665 miles from Mexico to Canada) connects to several of the Angeles Forest trails.
Despite fires and drought, fishing remains a popular pastime on Crystal Lake. Water levels fluctuate dramatically on this precipitation-dependent lake, resulting in a surface area varying from three to five acres. No motorized boats are allowed on Crystal Lake, and no boat ramp is provided. During rainy seasons the lake may be stocked with rainbow trout. A state fishing license is required for shoreline anglers who hope to snag a fish from the population of trout, catfish, sunfish, bluegill or small population of largemouth bass. Follow the park road south of Crystal Lake to San Gabriel Reservoir, and anglers will find additional shoreline trout fishing.
A unique side trip available to Crystal Lake visitors is a drive to Mount Wilson Observatory. Located west of Crystal Lake and north of Pasadena, Mount Wilson holds multiple telescopes and a small museum. The 100-inch telescope is open to the public, and the 60-inch telescope may be viewed by reservation only. A picnic area is open on the grounds offering spectacular views of the Los Angeles Basin. The observatory lies within the Angeles National Forest so like Crystal Lake, a daily or annual Adventure Pass is required.
Of course endless shopping, well known family theme parks, world-class museums and sunny beaches lie within California's Los Angeles Tourism Region. When residents and visitors are ready to escape the hectic pace, Crystal Lake offers the perfect escape. Excursions into the San Gabriel Mountains can take visitors from stress-filled days to a special mountain lake where time stands still and worries vanish. Nearby vacation rentals and real estate properties can place you in close proximity to Crystal Lake. The cities of Azusa, Monrovia and Glendora are less than 30-miles south of Crystal Lake. Their unique location offers properties with views of the mountains to the north or city lights to the south. Select your view and prepare to return to Crystal Lake again and again.
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