Hike Difficulty: pretty easy when you stick to the trail
Hike Length: 3.31 mi
Elevation Gain: 1086 ft
I attempted to hike the trail around Castle Lake a little too late in the season last year and the snow prevented me from really exploring this area. Now the snow is definitely gone and I wanted to hike up to Little Castle Lake and Heart Lake.
Going into this, I thought it would be a pretty simple trail to navigate. I came armed with my maps and descriptions of key landmarks from my guidebook. The trail starts at the outlet of Castle Lake where I had to cross by stepping on some cement and logs. After about .7 miles or so of climbing, the trail really started to braid and it went in many different directions. I saw a couple of people coming from where I thought Heart Lake was, and when I confirmed that they’d just been there, I headed in that direction. Later I came to find out that I took the hard way up the steep, bouldery meadow instead of using the somewhat less steep trail. Either way you get there, Heart Lake is a must-visit. There are rock outcroppings you can climb on that have amazing views of Castle Lake, Black Butte, and Mount Shasta.
After Heart Lake, I headed back for the junction and went in the other direction to get to Little Castle Lake. There was a beautiful meadow that I crossed before trouncing through some manzanita to get to the lake’s shore. It was a pretty lake, but the climb back out made me think twice about visiting again in the future. Maybe to camp in solitude?