There are few places on this globe where you can wake up at, or near, sea level and then ride your bike up an alpine road that takes you up well above 6000 feet. Los Angeles has three such roads: Cloudburst Summit on Angeles Crest Highway, Crystal Lake on Highway 39, and the top of Mt. Baldy Road. Highway 39 separates itself from the others because of the pristine road surface, limited vehicle traffic, and a meandering route that mirrors roads in the Italian Alps.
What Makes It Great
Although Highway 39 goes all the way from the LA Basin to 6800 feet, the top section has been closed to automotive traffic due to maintenance issues. Therefore, Crystal Lake, at 5200’, is the common turn around point for visitors and the only destination high up on Highway 39. The lake is the headwaters for the north fork of the San Gabriel River and the highway traverses down the valley that was carved out by this ancient tributary. Up at Crystal Lake, there is a café where you can stop to have lunch or a drink before you descend the mountain. During the summer months it is definitely advisable to take a plunge into the lake. Moderate temperatures and the possibility of seeing snow make winter the best time to go.
Many riders choose to start at the San Gabriel Reservoir, just above Azusa, instead of climbing the entire road. From the intersection of Highway 39 and East Fork Road the summit is a 5000’ climb. There is no turn off or alternative route. If you are feeling strong and want bragging rights you can start in Azusa and ascend the entire highway, which is a cumulative 8000’ of climbing.
Riders will remember the sensation of climbing a road that you, oddly enough, don’t believe exists in southern California. Even when you’re actually on the road it still feels surreal. This is the Alps, right? No, its LA baby!
Who is Going to Love It
Riders with good fitness, but not necessarily great fitness, will love this climb. Its an epic road that doesn’t require pro level strength. The grades allow you to dictate pace and climb according to your skills.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From the 210, exit at N Irwindale Ave and head north towards the mountains. Take the first right onto E Foothill Boulevard, after a half-mile, turn left onto N Todd Ave. Take the second right onto Sierra Madre Ave. After 1.1 miles you will encounter CA-39/San Gabriel Canyon Rd. If you want to do the long ride, there is a commercial parking lot on the corner where you can leave your vehicle. If you’re doing the “short, 5000’ climb”, turn left onto CA-39 and drive 10 miles to the East Fork Rd intersection. Park in the gravel lot and begin riding up CA-39.