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Windy Gap to Mount Islip to Big Cienega Trail

MODERATE 90 reviews
#26 of 215 trails in

Windy Gap to Mount Islip to Big Cienega Trail is a 6.5 mile lightly trafficked loop trail located near Azusa, California that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail.

6.5 miles
2,273 feet

dog friendly



nature trips

trail running


bird watching


wild flowers




The higher you get the more you are exposed to the sun. Some tree cover in the beginning and at the top. Mostly rocky terrain. A little windy on top.

2 days ago

The views up here were awesome, but we didn’t make it all the way to Windy Gap due to losing the trail in the snow. We had poles and trax, but the sheer slope covered in snow made me a little uncomfortable to continue to the top. It was an absolutely beautiful alpine view, so we don’t feel bad about the day! In a couple of weeks, I’m hoping the trail should be clear again.

off trail
21 days ago

Went up on 2/24/19. Crampons or microspikes definitely needed for the switchbacks up to windy gap. On the way down the trail is snow covered but you can pretty much head down the bowl and link back up to the road.

2 months ago

It’s called Windy Gap for a reason! Super windy and chilly at the top, but such a nice view at the top. The trail head starts inside Crystal Lake Campground and you need a parking pass. We hiked to the top of windy gap then to Little Jimmy Campground for lunch, it was wonderful.

3 months ago

AWESOME Hike - Trail Info Incorrect

This hike is mislabeled - this isn't Windy Gap to Big Cienega. Technically, it's Crystal Lake Campground to Big Cienega Trail to Mt. Islip Trail to Windy Gap Trail (and back to Crystal Lake Campground).

You start at the parking lot at Crystal Lake Campground, hike up to Windy Gap (a small break in the mountains where the wind howls through before you choose another of several trails to branch off onto). Someone has also uploaded photos of the old stone hut, but this circuit doesn't take you to it - you have to take a side hike to Mount Islip to see that (.4 miles one way, according to the AllTrails map).

We did this hike the second weekend in December, starting around 11:30 am, after a few days of snow in the higher elevations. It was incredible. On the way up, it was snow covered chaparral that someone had already broken trail on, with the sun shining down on us the entire way up to Windy Gap. The trail was pretty mushy in the exposed areas with patches of ice and powder where the trees and ridges blocked the sun. Good amounts of tree cover, alternating with lots of open sun. Nothing in the beginning of the hike is too steep - moderate is a pretty accurate description for the grade most of the way up.

We took the side hike to Mt. Islip, where there's a cool old stone hut and an amazing 360º view. We could see all the way to Catalina, which was amazing, despite the smog. The snowy mountains on two sides made a pretty amazing backdrop for lunch at the summit (though there are 4 ugly stone foundation blocks that the forest service should get rid of).

The leg up to Mt. Islip is on the shadow side of the mountain - darker, cooler, with deeper, densely packed snow. No dramatic drop-offs or anything too scary, even with all the snow.

Because of the recent snowfall, the trail was like something out of a movie: dead quiet, sunny, pure blue skies, breeze blowing through the pines, succulents and cacti poking up through the snow, and almost no other hikers in sight (we only passed one person heading in our direction and maybe 3, total, heading down). We're in our 30s/40s and in decent shape, but not champion mountaineers by any stretch, and from the parking lot to the stone hut it tooks us between 3.5 and 4 hours (4.2 miles according to AllTrails) at an easy pace with plenty of stops (plus the snow slowed us down considerably).

If you follow our map it takes you from the parking lot to the stone hut. 8.4 miles with 2,418 ft. of elevation gain.

One of my new favorite hikes in Southern California because of how incredible it looked in the snow. And quiet enough to hear a pin drop!

PS - you can't access the lot from the 2 freeway in winter, the gate is closed, so the only access is to come up from Azusa, so be aware of that.

4 months ago

We intended to hike on the Half Knob Trail but we could not find the trail. As a result, we ended up hiking on the Windy Gap Trail which was very well marked and maintained. Great views. We followed the trail only to the Mt. Hopkins Overlook Rd.

5 months ago

*butt kicker
*super windy, hence the name

6 months ago

Ended up taking this trail after exploring through the campgrounds and we couldn't find Half Knob or realized it was paved. Beautiful terrain and vistas. Saw a young doe. Only went a few miles in. Only knock is that it's hard to get away from irritating human noise due to the street racers (cars & motorcycles), campgrounds, and air traffic in the area.

6 months ago

We started trail just north of Crystal Lake campground. Nice uphill grade and good workout amongst the pines.

8 months ago

the start of the trail was a bit troublesome to find. make sure to park in the big parking lot then you will see the sign. about 80% shaded going up. not as windy as i had hoped. put bug repellant. also along the way the trail is more like Mt. Islip rather than The Windy Gap. just kno if u go towards Mt. Islip u will be fine.

8 months ago

We started at Crystal Lake Campground. We had four dogs with us and this was a good intro hike for them. The ascent was a steady uphill with some steep sections and loose shale. The dogs did fine. There are A LOT of small annoying flies near the campground and lower half of the trail. Aside from that, the trail was nice and I would do this hike again.

11 months ago

Beautiful Hike. Easy parking. Lots of cool terrain and things to look at along the way like big rocks and trees, a few streams, and gorgeous views of the mountains and even the city once you're at the top. Bring a jacket b/c the gap is windy, as advertised!
Definitely recommend taking the 0.4 mile detour to the top of Islip peak. Took very little time and at the top was a little stone hut and amazing 360 views.
Would also recommend checking out the crystal lake cafe. I got to hold a python there before the hike! You can also pickup a parking pass and some decent food. The smoky aroma by the cafe was intoxicating as well.
Didn't have time to check out crystal lake. Please note that Windy Gap trail wont take you to any lakes like some pictures suggest.
Overall great success!

11 months ago

Great just to be out and enjoy the outdoors. Most of the hike I found easy, with sections that I would consider moderate. The weather was cool and a bit windy toward the top. But as others have mentioned, in the middle of a heat spell, bring LOTS of water, and wear a hat ... if bringing a dog, go super early and also there are some spots that are a bit precarious if your dog bounds about be careful.

Not many people on Easter Sunday. Don’t be turned off by starting your hike in the middle of camping sites, you soon depart from the area.

11 months ago

Awesome trail wish there was still more snow left tho. The views are really nice

Sunday, February 25, 2018

If I could give it another star I would. Challenging mentally and physically but great fun.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

This is a very beautiful trial that is pretty easy, and I highly recommend it for a nice day hike with some friends. This trial is not too heavily trafficked, beautiful views almost the whole entire trail. Make sure you take the short detour to visit the peak of Mt. Islip!

Monday, January 22, 2018


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Not often you can still hike this trail in mid Dec without winter gears. Nice patches of clouds in blue sky. Our group of 6 owned the trail for AM. Very pleasant day and place. Hit the trail while weather is not cold yet

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Nice trail, a little windy (hence the name), lots of people doing maintenance.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Perfect trail with stunning views. Very well marked. On a cloudy day 2/3 of the hike you’ll be hiking above the clouds; watching clouds constantly move and change shapes is oddly satisfying. Super cold at the top of Mt. Islip so be prepared!- bring a jacket and a hat. Definitely coming back.

trail running
Saturday, September 02, 2017

Very nice trail run to Mt. Islip ascending Big Cienega and descending Windy Gap. The gradient is not too steep, usually not too rocky, and definitely not crowded on a weekday. Started at 830 am and it was about 20 degrees cooler than than the hot temperatures down in Azusa and the San Gabriel Valley. GPS measured the full loop just short of 8 miles, including the side trip to the summit of Mt. Islip. I ascended in 45:59 from Windy Gap Trailhead at Crystal Lake to Mt. Islip, a record according to Strava.com (although I did it in 43:08 many years ago in the pre-Strava era). Other trail runners typically take over an hour for the ascent even without walking at all. Saw 2 deer on the descent, and only one hiker. The hiker had 2 unleashed dogs and one immediately lunged at me when I approached; it bit my leg (calf) and bloodied it up! PLEASE, dogs should be on a leash as the trailhead sign says.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Surprisingly rewarding. Saw a small bear on the road, people were talking selfies. The bear was dark brown with a lighter brown snout. I got mountain scared that the mom would show up. I went around the bear, which jumped a rail into the forest. The hike was choice, I did it clockwise, but the earlier hikers got shade doing it regular. Yes, very little shade, and in July you get those smoggy layered views of the basin. I will definitely do this again, super mellow yet as challenging as you can handle.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Bunch of bugs , but it was a great hike!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

It was a great hike... I always love going to the Crystal Lake Cafe when I am done with a hike in that area. Be warned that there were a TON of fallen rocks on the trail. I really regretted wearing my running shoes and not my hiking boots. I could feel every rock and I slipped a few times, so just come prepared. Also, go early on hot days... a lot of the trail is not shaded. Gorgeous views from the top. Also, we got caught in a ladybug swarm, which was kind of awesome.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Loved every twist, turned and elevation. The view is amazing. It was amazing getting back and look up on how high we went. What a day to spend Mothers Day.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

If you're looking for up, up and up this is a good place to start. This is the other way to get to Little Jimmy campground and we did it at night. When we came back through after camping we saw beautiful views and some fire ravaged areas. Many pairs of eyes looking at us from the dark and some weren't scared of us (don't know what was watching us)!!! Also saw deer.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

We only did Crystal Lake to Windy Gap. Originally we had planned to go to Islip, but we barely made it to windy gap, as we werent prepared for that much snow. Great views hiking up this side of the windy gap, more enjoyable than hiking up the north facing side from lil jimmy. Although a lot of snow had melted by the time we went down, it was still tough trekking. Would be great to hike up this side again in the spring.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Adventure pass is needed for parking. There's a good amount of shade throughout the hike trail. A must need is bug repellent spray. Thankfully I always carry some because we definitely needed it. There are a lot of mosquitos and gnats, especially in the beginning. Bring more than enough water just in case! The scenery is definitely worth the hike. The trail is somewhat marked and signs are far and few. This is also a very lightly trafficked and narrow trail. Definitely will be coming back.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Great trail! All the way up to Windy Gap and along the Islip ridge until we could come down Big Cienaga for a total of 9 miles. Great views all the way around. A good amount of tree coverage throughout. We will definitely be back to check out other trails in the area.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Hiked portions of this trail for a backpacking trip to Little Jimmy with a Boy Scout troop. Trail was mostly shaded in the morning, and the views from the peak were amazing. Definitely stop by and get some spring water from the Little Jimmy spring, it's delicious!

The trail was a bit tough with a full pack, but a great time was had all around.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Very nice views when going to the top. Still lots of burned areas from the fire in 2002. Really nice and only saw 4 people the entire hike.

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