Backpacking to Heart Lake in Mt. Shasta

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While our overnight backpacking trip up to Heart Lake in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest allowed us to experience stunning alpine terrain and awe-inspiring mountain vistas, it only required a short 3 mile round trip hike! It was short, sweet, and thoroughly epic.

Heart lake with Mount Shasta in the distance
We had visited Mt Shasta nearly a year ago, during the first couple of weeks of our new life on the road. Back then, we were traveling incredibly fast, staying only a night or two in an area before moving on to the next place. We had been told about Heart Lake by our very affable camp host (yeah, back then we didn’t know how to free camp, so we stayed in campgrounds a lot) but we didn’t have time to go check it out. So coming back to Mt. Shasta this time around allowed us a second chance, and we were determined to not let it pass us by.

Two people on the rocky shores of a lake
Many don’t know about Heart Lake because it’s overshadowed by the much larger and much more accessible Castle Lake. This large, clear water lake is a favorite summer hangout for paddle boarders, kayakers, and anyone else looking to cool off. But high up in the rocky cliffs behind it, you will find Heart Lake. Its water is not as clear, but due to its small size, it tends to warm up a lot faster than Castle Lake – which is great news for folks like us who feel compelled to jump in just about every body of water we come across.

Heart lake with Mount Shasta in the distance
Heart Lake also allows for some spectacular views of Mount Shasta. Because the lake is at elevation, you can gaze out across its waters see the massive snow-capped volcano looming in the background. If the conditions are right and you can find the right angle, you can even get a mirror reflection of Mt. Shasta in the surface of the water.

But the best thing Heart Lake has going for it is the short hiked required to get to it. Not only does this weed out some of the less dedicated individuals (who will not make it past Castle Lake), but it also allows you to experience some stunning alpine terrain with having to commit to a grueling multi-day hike out.  

Michael hiking on a trail
While many people visit Heart Lake as a day hike, we wanted to spend the evening up there so we could experience sunset and sunrise. So we packed up our overnight backpacking gear, parked the car down at the trailhead, and made our way up.

A backpacking tent set up with Mount Shasta in the distance
We passed through the wooded shores of Castle Lake, scrambled up exposed rocks, and passed through alpine meadows all over the course of a mile and a half hike. It was like experiencing a trail in a real life montage. Once we arrived at Heart Lake, we found a few suitable spots to pitch a tent, before finding the most epic campsite we’ve ever had to date. The site had been slightly built up with a rock circle around it, and looked out over the valley towards Mt. Shasta. Hands down the best view we’ve had all trip.

Megan is airing out a sleeping bag in front of a backpacking tent
A note about pitching a tent in the backcountry: The ecosystem in these high alpine meadows and lake areas is incredible fragile. The vegetation up there takes a long time to grow and can be damaged very easily. We know the meadowy grass looks inviting, but it is extremely important you only pitch your tent on rock or dirt.

Megan swimming in a lake
It was an extremely hot out, so we spent the day swimming and sun bathed on the rocks. While the bottom of the lake was covered in brown silt, on the surface, the water was clear and warm. It was a perfect place to practice our floating. Later in the day, as the sun started to set, we made dinner – a fried rice recipe that you can check out here. After dinner we had to hurry up and clean the dishes because the light show was already starting.

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Heart lake with Mount Shasta in the distance
It can be a spectacular experience to see the sunset in the mountains. Nothing compares to seeing the shadows creep into the valleys, watching the light turn from yellow to orange to red to purple, and spotting the last ray of alpenglow slide off the top of the highest mountain and disappear into the night sky.

The silhouette of a tent Against a starry sky
The next morning, we were treated to an equally spectacular sunrise. The first rays of the light came very early and warmed the sky on the eastern horizon. Neither one of us were overly eager to get out of our cozy sleeping bags. But thankfully, all we had to do to enjoy the morning was zip up the side of our tent. From the comfort of our beds, we could gaze out toward Mt. Shasta and greet the dawn of a new day.

A view out the door of a backpacking tent
Once the sun was fully up, we crawled outside our tent to make breakfast. We prepared a spinach and pepper scramble while lazily sipping our coffee and gazing out towards the mountains. The temperature was beautiful that morning, but we could tell it would soon become uncomfortably hot. So after we cleaned up, we broke down camp and began our descent down to the trailhead. It was a short trip, but the sights we got to experience made it feel like we had been out all week.

Megan is standing and holding a cup of coffee she is looking at the sun rising and Mount Shasta in the distance
We are so happy we were able to come back to Mt. Shasta and experience this hidden gem. While travelling across the country the temptation is always there to just keep pressing forwards. But our hike up the Heart Lake was a perfect way to to slow down the tempo and appreciate the moment.

If you’re interested in hiking to Heart Lake yourself, there is some trail information about it here.

Backpacking gear laid out on the groundSome of these are affiliate links, which means we earn a small commission should you make a purchase. These are all items we use & love. Thanks for your support!

Our Packing List for this Trip

Michael’s Gear
Osprey Atmos 65 AG
Montbell Down Hugger 0 F
Therm-a-rest Prolite Plus
Merrell Moab Ventilators
Aether Space Jacket (discontinued)
Aether Cashmere Hat
Tmbr Atlas Sunglasses
Canon 70D

Megan’s Gear
Osprey Kyte 46
Sierra Designs Vapor 15 (discontinued)
Therm-a-rest Prolite Plus
Merrell Moab Ventilators
REI Co-Op Down Jacket
Poler Mole Hair Beanie

Tmbr Snapback Trail Hat
Canon 5D Mark iii

Shared Gear
Tarptent Double Rainbow
Bear Vault
Tmbr Cell Phone Cases
Enerplex Jumpr Stack 6
Enerplex Kickr Solar Panel
GoPro 4 Black
Coola Sunscreen Spray
Skin So Soft Bug Guard Towelettes
Opinel Knife
Black Diamond Cosmo Headlamp
Adventure Medical Kit .7

Cooking Gear
MSR Pocket Rocket Stove
Fuel Canister
Snow Peak Cook N Save
Snow Peak Insulated Mugs
SteriPen Adventurer Water Purifier
Miscellaneous Adventures Spoon
Dr. Bronner’s Hand Sanitizer

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  1. Incredible photos. Have enjoyed trying some of your recipes.

  2. Gorgeous photos! Looks wonderful.

    1. Fresh Off the Grid says:

      Thank you so much Zaneta!

  3. Diana Thy Tran says:

    This looks so awesome! Did you guys have to get permits to camp at Heart Lake? It seems impossible to find information on this!

  4. Lilianne de la Espriella says:

    Did you need a backpacking permit for this? How crowded was it? I’m thinking about going friday to sunday morning at the end of april

    1. Fresh Off the Grid says:

      We did not need a permit for this hike. While we were there, it wasn’t crowded at all.

  5. Samantha M Flanders says:

    Thank you for sharing the beautiful pictures and your experience.
    I was wondering if you needed a permit/ or to check-in with anyone before camping up here. Is it safe to leave your car parked at the trailhead?


    1. Fresh Off The Grid says:

      We researched and couldn’t find any information about whether you need a permit or not to camp there. This is what the Forest Service department has about it. When we did this hike years ago, there was no indication at the trailhead that we needed to obtain one.

  6. Hello! Just read your blog about Heart Lake in Shasta. Are there trees near the lake? I’m interested in hiking in but I would be sleeping in my hammock. Thoughts?

    1. Fresh Off The Grid says:

      We did this hike awhile ago, but if my memory serves me correctly there are spots to set up a hammock, but not many – and not directly next to the lake. So if you’re going on a popular weekend, you might need to walk around for a bit to find a suitable spot.

  7. hi! what an awesome spot. do we need a permit to camp here? my quick search seemed to indicate it was private land – or does that not matter? thanks!

    1. Fresh Off The Grid says:

      So we did not get a permit when we hiked here. The trail does pass through a section of private land, but the camping is in the national forest. If you want to have a campfire (which we didn’t) you would need to get a permit, but otherwise, it doesn’t appear a permit is required.