I’ve never spent much time in the more northern parts of California, save for a flop of a summit attempt and a few days in Lassen Volcanic National Park. It’s only 4.5-5 hours away, nearly the same amount to drive to Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows or Mammoth. Over the Martin Luther King weekend, I tried to rectify this with a trip to Mount Shasta, both a city and a breathtaking, mystical mountain.
Let me tell ya something about me. I don’t like breaking the rules… much. There’s something about it that just gives me the heebie jeebies, like I’m going to get caught and be punished to the full extent of the law and I’ll rot in jail forever or something. I know, I know, it’s a bit extreme. That’s how I felt about hiking Mossbrae Falls.
I reached out to a few friends on things to do in the Mount Shasta area. The one thing everyone suggested was the McCloud Falls trail.
The McCloud Falls trail is an easily accessible, family friendly hike. Out and back, the trail is about 3.5 miles long with a little over two hundred feet of elevation gain. The trail visits three tiers of waterfalls on the McCloud River.
Over a three day weekend, I had the chance to head up Siskiyou County, or the area near the behemoth that is Mount Shasta. Our first stop was a 3 mile hike to Heart Lake in Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
The trailhead for Heart Lake begins at Castle Lake, a 7 mile paved drive from the enormous Lake Siskiyou. Don’t laugh at the 1.5 miles to Heart Lake. Sitting at 5,280’, folks coming straight from sea level (like me) might struggle a bit. The elevation gain will get your thighs burning, too.
The trail winds around the east side of Castle Lake. For fun, we hiked the west side until the trail disappeared. We considered bushwhacking up to the cliffs where Heart Lake was but decided it was too miserable. We retraced our steps to the proper beginning of the Heart Lake trail, just past the picnic tables and the boat put-in area.
The actual Heart Lake trail begins by crossing the outlet of Castle Lake. There are some slippery rocks to carefully hop across, or just plunge right through. It then begins to gradually ascend above Castle Lake. Here, the trail mostly compact dirt, with the occasional root or two.
As the Heart Lake trail climbs out of the forest, it becomes more rocky. Watch your step. It will seem like you won’t be able to see Mount Shasta behind a pesky little hill. Keep climbing up north west and you’ll start to see Shasta peak out. The trail becomes a little hard to follow, but keep heading north towards a rocky knoll. The trail descends between the knoll and the cliffs.
Soon, you’ll see Heart Lake, a tiny but impressive lake with magnificent views of Mount Shasta. Few lakes are more stunning. We had hiked up for sunset and wanted to take in more of the mountain.
We crossed Heart Lake, frozen at the time, and continued up the ridgeline up a faint trail until Mount Shasta and all her glory was in sight. If you continue to follow this trail, it will take you to the summit of Castle Peak. We didn’t continue up and backtracked our steps to the car and straight to dinner.
Hiking Heart Lake in January
When we hiked to the lake over the 2018 MLK weekend, California had received little to no rain or snowfall. The trail was relatively clear with a few icy patches near Heart Lake. The lake was completely frozen over.
Normally, the Mount Shasta and Lassen area receives the most snow in all of California. This year, it’s still relatively bare. Please note that these conditions are not normal and should not be expected when you hike Heart Lake in the winter.
This post was created in partnership with Discover Siskiyou. Thank you for hosting us over the long weekend.