Cucamonga Peak's south and east slopes feature some of the most dramatic relief in the San Gabriel Mountains. At 8859 feet, the peak stands sentinel-like only four miles from the edge of the broad inland valley region known as the Inland Empire. Go all the way to the top for the view, but don't be too disappointed if there's nothing below but haze and smog -- this time of year, anyway. Yet so much beautiful high country can be seen along the way that reaching the top is just icing on the cake.
Most of this day-long hike lies within the Cucamonga Wilderness, requiring a permit for entry. On your way to the trailhead, stop at the ranger office in the village of Mount Baldy to get that free permit, or call 909-982-2829 in advance.
Your hike begins at the Icehouse Canyon parking area, a short way down the spur road off Mount Baldy Road 1.5 miles north of Mount Baldy village. Walk along the path that follows the alder-shaded Icehouse Canyon stream. The first couple of miles along the canyon are a fitting introduction to a phase of Southern California scenery not familiar to a lot of visitors and newcomers. Huge bigcone Douglas-fir, incense cedar, and live oak trees cluster on the banks of the stream, which dances over boulder and fallen log. Moisture-loving, flowering plants like columbine sway in the breeze. Some of the old cabins along the lower canyon still survive, while others, destroyed by flood or fire, have left evidence in the form of foundations or rock walls.
Old newspaper reports suggest that an ice-packing operation existed in or near Icehouse Canyon during the late 1850s. The ice was packed down San Antonio Canyon on mules to a point accessible to wagons, whereupon it was carted, as quickly as possible, to Los Angeles for use in making ice cream and for chilling beverages. Whether ice was actually quarried in this canyon or in another, Icehouse Canyon's name is apt enough: cold-air drainage produces refrigerator-like nighttime temperatures, even in summer.
At 2.4 miles, the trail starts switchbacking up the north wall. After passing the upper intersection of the Chapman Trail at 2.9 miles, you continue to pine-shaded Icehouse Saddle, 3.5 miles, where trails converge from many directions. The trail to Cucamonga's summit contours southeast, descends moderately, and climbs to a 7654-foot saddle (4.4 miles) between Bighorn and Cucamonga peaks. Thereafter, it switchbacks up a steep slope dotted with lodgepole pines and white firs.
At 5.8 miles, the trail crosses a shady draw 200 feet below and northwest of the summit. A signed but indistinct side path goes straight up to the summit, 6.0 miles from your starting point in Icehouse Canyon. Return the same way, or take an alternate route, the Chapman Trail, if you'd like a substantially longer but more gradual descent from Icehouse Saddle.