Hwy 39 - Dawson Saddle Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

23.3 mi
6,451 ft
5.2 %


Page Contributor(s): Bruce Hamilton, La Quinta, CA, USA; Stacy Topping, Tacoma, WA, USA


The Dawson Saddle bike climb from Highway 39 to its finish on Highway 2 is quite the epic and challenging Southern California bike climb. We've done this one twice - well one and a half times - our first effort was turned back by the Mountain Patrol who told us it was not legal to be riding our bikes on this closed road (they are correct!).  However, we were encouraged by others (including the hundreds of Strava members that had done the entire route) and the owner of the Crystal Lake Cafe that we could get through if we tried again. Our second effort was a success. However, because six miles of Highway 39 are closed between Crystal Lake Road and Highway 2, we cannot recommend the climb - you climb at your own risk. 
Average grade is 5.2% (6.1% climb only).  The grade varies substantially throughout this climb - 34% is at 0-5% grade and 48% is at 5-10%.  The steepest quarter-mile is a healthy 13%, and the steepest mile is 8.7%. 

See more details and tools regarding this climb's grade via the “Profile Tool” button.
Traffic:  Traffic is not bad anywhere along the public portions of the climb. 

Roadway:  Higway 39 to the gate stopping traffic (twelve miles) is in excellent condition as is the 5.4 mile stretch of Highway 2 from Highway 39 to Dawson Saddle.  The six miles from the gate to Highway 2 are in substantial disrepair because the road has been closed since 1978 due to a major mudslide.  The roadway never opened to the public after that but has been maintained for emergency access from Highway 39 to Highway 2.  We encountered much debris and even boulders on parts of the road. 

Parking:  We park at the San Gabriel Canyon OHV parking lot for our climbs to Dawson Saddle and Crystal Lake.  Note that it may be crowded on weekends (MapStreet View). 
Provisions:  The only provisions on this long ride are if you take a right turn onto Crystal Lake Road at mile 11.8 and ride 1.9 miles to the store (Route Map; Google Map + Reviews) - otherwise, there is nothing to be had on this 46 mile round trip bike ride. 

Clothing:  Since you finish at nearly 8,000' and 6,500' higher than where you started, be sure to check the PJAMM Weather forecast for the weather projection at the top of your climb and pack accordingly. 
Before heading out on any cycling adventure check out our Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip and use our interactive check list to ensure you don't forget anything.
We have made a trip of it to ride Mt. WilsonHighway 39 - Crystal Lake (just the extra two miles from Highway 39 to the store/cafe) and Mt. Baldy (or Glendora Mountain Road) or a combination of these climbs on all of our trips to the area.  

Use the “Routes in Area” button on the menu bar to see other bike climbs in this area, or see our Southern California climb area page for the top and best bike climbs in Southern California. 

To stay near the start of the climb there are a few hotel options in Azusa. Or if you are staying in the area for a longer period of time renting a house may be a better option.



Difficulty: Extreme



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Nov 5, 2021
difficulty: Extreme
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 3
Nov 5, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 3
The road up to the turn for Crystal Lake is in good quality, some mild traffic, but overall very few cars. Once you pass the gate, the road surface worsens, and there are scattered rocks on the road, potholes, and occasional large road defects. We saw zero people, animals, or vehicles going either way past the gate. There is a 50ft segment I walked my bike through chunky rocks / gravel (easy to do in road shoes), my buddy just rode over on his tubeless road setup. Views are amazing, climb is very challenging, definitely my favorite in SoCal. Descending back through the closed section was not challenging or unsafe, but take it slow to avoid large rocks / potholes.

Climb Profile Not Found

Cycling Dawson Saddle from San Gabriel Reservoir - view of Hairpin curves.

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.

Beginning of Dawson Saddle bike climb into the San Gabriel Mountains.

“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

Climb summary by PJAMM’s John Johnson.

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.

Beginning of Dawson Saddle bike climb into the San Gabriel Mountains.

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.[1] ​

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Dawson Saddle bicycle climb - gate and sign prohibiting vehicle and bike traffic.    


Turned back at mile 15 on our first go.

Strava Image - Flagged Route.JPG

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!!

[1] 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.