Stunning Heart Lake Trail: Rerouted and Improved in 2021

The Shasta area’s iconic Heart Lake Trail has been rerouted with new segments in 2021. This article has all the details of everything you need to know to enjoy this popular route, including a detailed trail description, trailhead directions, and a Heart Lake Trail map.

Heart Lake and Mount Shasta: the end of the hiking trail.
Heart Lake and Mount Shasta, taken several years ago when there was snow on the south side of the mountain.

The Heart Lake Trail Is in Two of My Hiking Guidebooks…

Day Hiking Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions. Includes trails in other regions of Northern California: Castle Crags, Russian Wilderness, Marble Mountain Wilderness, Lava Beds National Monument, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Lassen National Forest, and the Redding area.

100 Classic Hikes in Northern California covers the best hiking trails in the Trinity Alps, Lassen Volcanic National Park, the Sierra Nevada, the redwood coast, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Includes numerous day hikes along with major backpacking trips.It’s Hike 51 in my Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions, and it’s Hike 49 in 100 Classic Hikes: Northern California, fourth edition. Both books are available at many bookstores, outdoor stores, and visitor centers. (Call first to make sure they have it.) Of course, they’re also on Amazon.

Castle Lake to Heart Lake Trail Key Data

Distance: 2.4 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Moderate
Type: Day hike
Elevation gain: 650 feet
High point: 6080 feet
Season: June to October, although it may be snow-free in May and November
Contact: Mount Shasta Ranger Station, Shasta-Trinity National Forest
Maps: Mount Shasta Wilderness and Castle Crags Wilderness, USGS Dunsmuir, USGS Seven Lakes Basin
Permits: no permit needed
Notes: dogs allowed; toilet near trailhead at Castle Lake; great swimming at Castle Lake on warm summer days

Castle Lake Trailhead Directions

Take the Central Mount Shasta exit off I-5 (Exit 738). Go west 0.2 mile and then turn left on South Old Stage Road. Go straight onto W.A. Barr Road at 0.5 mile, cross Box Canyon Dam at 2.5 miles, and then turn left at 2.7 miles on paved Castle Lake Road for the final 7.1 miles to the trailhead on the north shore of Castle Lake.

Castle Lake Trailhead (for Heart Lake) GPS coordinates: N 41 3.822 W 122 22.895

Heart Lake Trail new segment, 2021. Great work by Mount Shasta Trail Association volunteers!
Heart Lake Trail new segment, 2021. Great work by Mount Shasta Trail Association volunteers!

Starting on the Heart Lake Trail

First take in the beauty of Castle Lake from its north shore. Steep slopes surround this large and clear glacial on three sides, and due south you’ll see the rocky ridge that hides Heart Lake.

Take the trail heading east and quickly cross Castle Lake Creek. From here the route climbs along the east shore of Castle Lake through abundant shrubs and under Shasta red fir trees, with gaps allowing views of the lake.

You’ll quickly reach the first of several new trail segments, and also note portions of the old trail that are blocked off. Here’s the backstory…

Why the New Segments in 2021?

Much of the land on the east side of Castle Lake was in private hands. That changed in 2019 when the land was put up for sale. The local Siskiyou Land Trust brought the matter to the attention of the Wilderness Land Trust, which purchased the property and turned it over to the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Then volunteers from the Mount Shasta Trail Association worked diligently in late spring and early summer of 2021 to reroute the many sections of the old Heart Lake Trail that were steep and eroded. The new route rises at a moderate rate via several switchbacks, and it will allow the closed-off, eroded portions of the trail to slowly recover (and that’s why you need to stay on the new trail segments!)

Heart Lake Trail rerouted segment. Note the eroded rocky tread of the closed-off old trail.
Heart Lake Trail rerouted segment. Note the eroded rocky tread of the closed-off old trail.

Castle Lake Vista Point

Arrive at a vista point at 0.7 mile. From here you’ll see the shimmering waters of Castle Lake far below, with a ridge rising on its west side. If it’s a warm summer day, you’ll see lots of people swimming, kayaking, and stand-up paddling. A look south shows the rocky environs that hold Heart Lake, and also the ridge above it.

Little Castle Lake and Mount Bradley Ridge Trail Junction

The path soon enters open country as it continues climbing south past an array of summer wildflowers. Meet a trail fork at 0.9 mile. A trail goes left to Little Castle Lake and Mount Bradley Ridge (discussed in both of my hiking guidebooks mentioned above), and this is a great option if you want more solitude and/or a longer hike).

On to Heart Lake

My sweetie Stephanie Hoffman and I at Heart Lake. We had our first date here in 2006!
My sweetie Stephanie Hoffman and I at Heart Lake. We had our first date here in 2006!

Stay right at the trail junction and continue up and south. Eventually the path curves west and passes through a small saddle just before dropping to the east shore of Heart Lake.

This tiny lake is aptly named: A small peninsula juts into the east edge to add the finishing touch to the heart shape. Northerly views from the outlet and nearby slopes include Castle Lake, Mount Shasta, Black Butte, the Shasta Valley, Goosenest and other Cascade peaks that stretch to Mount McLoughlin in southern Oregon, and also Pilot Rock and the Cascade-Siskiyou Crest along the California-Oregon border. You can also gaze northwest at Mount Eddy and the Eddy Range, and east at the McCloud River drainage region.

If you walk past the lodgepole pines, western white pines, and Shasta red firs near the north and west shores, you’ll see a small pond ringed with green grasses and wildflowers.

A faint trail climbs westerly for 300 yards, eventually leading to a flat area on the edge of a precipitous cliff above Castle Lake, an excellent vantage point, but definitely be very, very careful here, especially if you’ve brought children or a dog.

Castle Lake and Mount Shasta from near Heart Lake: one of the highlights of hiking the trail!
Castle Lake and Mount Shasta from near Heart Lake

Heart Lake Needs Your Help

The Castle Lake to Heart Lake Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Mount Shasta area, and its popularity grows each year. People like me who’ve been doing this hike for 30 years or longer remember back when there were only a few cars in the parking lot, even on weekends. Now the lot is jammed with vehicles, with many more parked along the road.

Here’s what you can do to protect the area and maximize your enjoyment:

  1. Stay on the new trail. You’ll see many old segments that were blocked off in 2021 with branches; please stay off  those and allow the plant life to regenerate.
  2. Follow Leave No Trace principles.
  3. Hike on weekdays and start as early in the day as you can.

My Heart Lake Trail Youtube Video, Including 2021 New Segments and Reroutes

My 4-minute Youtube video shows you the best of the Heart Lake Trail, beginning at Castle Lake. I highlight the new segments and reroutes, but I mainly focus on the beauty along the trail, including vistas of Castle Lake and the surrounding mountains, and Heart Lake itself, of course.

Castle Lake to Heart Lake Trail Map, Updated for 2021

Heart Lake Trail Map: created from GPS track from Castle Lake. Shows all the new 2021 rerouted trail segments.
Heart Lake Trail map created from GPS track from Castle Lake: now includes the official trail with new segments. Courtesy Caltopo

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