Crystal Lake, California, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - California - Los Angeles County -

Also known as:  Sycamore Lake

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.

Things to do at Crystal Lake CA

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Forest
  • Museum
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Crystal Lake CA

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Catfish
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Sunfish
  • Trout

Crystal Lake CA Photo Gallery

    Crystal Lake CA Statistics & Helpful Links

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    Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

    Surface Area: 5 acres

    Shoreline Length: 1 miles

    Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 5,436 feet

    Average Depth: 35 feet

    Maximum Depth: 150 feet

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    Trophic State | LakeLubbers

    Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

    An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

    A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

    A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

    The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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    Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

    Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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    Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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    Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

    Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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    Completion Year | LakeLubbers

    This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

    The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

    You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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    Water Volume | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

    You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

    Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

    1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

    The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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    Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

    You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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    Average Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

    Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

    Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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    Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

    At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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    Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

    Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

    When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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    Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

    You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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    Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

    This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

    A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

    When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

    You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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    Surface Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

    The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

    You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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    Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

    This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

    Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

    "Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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    Lake Type | LakeLubbers

    There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

    - A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

    - A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

    - A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

    "Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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