Page Contributor(s): Bruce Hamilton, La Quinta, CA, USA; Stacy Topping, Tacoma, WA, USA
Steepest Gradient (%)
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Ride Highway 39 through a canyon along hairpins past Crystal Lake,
over the gate up to Highway 2, and on to Dawson Saddle -- 23 miles in all.
Photo is of the roadway leading to the gate at mile 12 (Mt. Islip in background).
Note: Miles 12-18 of this climb are on a portion of Highway 39 that is closed to motor vehicles and cyclists. Strava has “red flagged” this climb and prevents it from being considered a “segment.” Since miles 12-18 of the climb are on a closed road, we recommend against attempting the climb and we offer this page for its historical significance only.
“Route 39/Dawson Saddle is a massive climb into the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California with excellent views in places along the way. From the start the road heads uphill along fairly steady (small descent early) and moderate grade as you twist up the mountain. The slope goes up and down here as you eventually ride through multiple switchback turns and with elevation signs at intervals (and excellent views) to accompany you up the hill. The grade increases as you approach the turnoff to Crystal Lake on the right (another 2.3 miles to its top but keep straight) and just under 12 miles in you reach a parking area (views) and a gate. Go around the gate as the grade reduces a bit. This stretch is scenic climbing along a ridge and is under construction as of early 2013. At the junction with Angeles Crest Highway (Route 2) turn right to continue. This final section is moderate grade and fairly steady and has been raced by the pros in the Tour of California. This is one of the most difficult ascents in CA ande the listed climb ends at Dawson Saddle at just under 8,000 feet of elevation…” (This quote is presented with the approval of John Summerson, from his book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike), 2nd Edition, pg. 160.)
Cycling Dawson’s Saddle
Ride 23.4 miles gaining 6,800’ at 5.2% average grade
#16 ranked bike climb in the US
The climb begins at the San Gabriel Off Highway Staging Area which can be very crowded on weekends with a parking fee charged. Although the area can be very crowded on weekends, during the weekdays, and even weekends, the traffic is moderate for the first few miles into the climb and mild thereafter. The first several miles of this climb are unimpressive, but miles approximately 7-12 offer views back to the south of the dramatic switchbacks just climbed.
Start climb at San Gabriel Canyon OHV parking lot.
Five miles of hairpins from miles five through 10.
At about mile 11.8 we pass Crystal Lake Road on your right (Crystal Lake Road shares the first part of its climb with this climb). At mile 12 we are met with a large orange gate that blocks traffic -- including bikes. We went around the gate as many have done in the past, according to Strava. After the gate you have the road to yourself for six miles to Highway 2, then five miles south to Dawson Saddle.
Turned back at mile 15 on our first go.
Strava has flagged this one and taken it off the books -- after our attempt May 4, 2014.
The six miles along closed Highway 39 have stretches of very rough pavement, sand, gravel, rocks and other debris -- the road is not maintained. There are also very steep cliffs along the right side of much of the segment where boulders can fall. On the descent, we had two flats in a short span during a particularly rough part of the road.
Roadway October, 2017
Roadway May, 2020
Angeles Crest Highway (mile 18) to Dawson Saddle (mile 23.4) is a very tame stretch of this climb (4.2% average grade), but with exceptional views of the San Gabriel Mountains to the east as we ride along the easterly ridge of Mt. Islip and Throop Peak.
Sign near the summit.
Hwy 2 to Dawson Saddle - last 5 ½ miles.
Roadway and Traffic Report: Although the first 12 miles of this climb are on a highway, it is mildly traveled as you ascend towards the switchbacks and canyon several miles from the start. The road for the most part is wide and has a good bike lane and shoulder. After passing the gate there is zero traffic (although there may be risk of a fine for riding pass the gate, so be aware of that. For this reason, at this time we must disclaim this route).
Alternate Dawson Saddle Route: The alternate route to Dawson Saddle, which eliminates the six miles of closed Highway 39 trouble, begins in Altadena and follows the Mount Wilson route for the first 14 miles, but continues past Mt Wilson Road for another 30 miles to Dawson Saddle. This route is 44.9 miles, ascending 8,554’, descending 2,062’ at an average grade of 3% (this grade is misleading due to the major descent along the way). Dawson Saddle Alternate Route.
Thank you Bruce and Stacy!!
 Our May 4, 2014 experience: We were stopped at mile 15.1 by Mountain Patrol and told we were trespassing and faced a $1,000 fine if we did not turn back. However, at the Crystal Lake Cafe, the gentleman serving us stated that he had been riding the closed portion of Highway 39 for years without incident. We were also advised by hikers that the road is rarely patrolled.