Mt Shasta, in Northern California, is a draw card and stopping point for the majority of road trippers as they make their way up to Oregon or down to Redding on the way to San Francisco. Suffice to say that it can be crowded at the best of times.
But what if I told you there’s another way to take in the epic Mt Shasta views, while hiking the trail less travelled? That’s where a hike on Castle Lake Trail comes in.
We hiked Castle Lake Trail to Little Castle Lake on our honeymoon road trip because we wanted something a little different. Lucky for us, the trails also afford gorgeous views – and for those who want to go a little further to Heart Lake, you’ll get to see Black Butte and Mt Shasta.
Where is Castle Lake?
You probably haven’t heard of Castle Lake before. It’s a glacial lake nestled in the Trinity Mountains, which is west of Mt Shasta, in California’s north.
The lake and surrounding protected area spans 47-acres of mountains and valleys that seem to stretch forever. Castle Lake is one of the three largest lakes in the Klamath Mountains, for the trivia-lovers out there. It’s a popular place for swimming, kayaking, and canoeing in the warmer months, and attracts ice fishing and snowshoeing in the wintertime.
You can get to the Castle Lake Trail head by popping the address into your GPS: Castle Lake Road, Dunsmuir, California, 96025.
For those who want to know how it fits into a road trip from Redding:
- Head north on the Interstate 5
- Take exit 738 toward Central Mt Shasta
- Follow signs for Lake Siskiyou (away from the city)
- The hike begins at the very end of Castle Lake Road (a 7-mile drive).
Why hike Castle Lake Trail?
We visited in late June on a beautiful summer’s day but the area didn’t feel crowded at all. There was no one on the lake, and we only passed a few hikers on our trip, so it was a great visit.
The Castle Lake Trail not only gives you the feeling of being utterly surrounded by beautiful wilderness, but it also affords you views that you won’t soon forget.
The Castle Lake Trail hike we took wound its way up to Little Castle Lake. Really, the only answer I have to anyone asking why they should hike the Castle Lake Trail is simple, it’s gorgeous from every angle.
Castle Lake Trail to Little Castle Lake Stats
The Castle Lake Trail to Little Castle Lake is listed as being a moderate one. However, you should know that it is riddled with tree roots and rocks, so take hiking poles unless you’re sure of your footing.
- Trail name: Castle Lake Trail to Little Castle Lake
- Trail type: Out-and-back
- Distance: Approx. 2.5 miles (4 kilometres) all up
- Elevation change: 645 feet (197 metres)
- Terrain: Rocky with tree roots
- Climate: Expect ice and snow, even during the beginning of summer
- Add-on: Continue on to Heart Lake.
- Dogs: Are allowed on the trail.
Find the right trail head
As mentioned above, I took us on a wild goose chase at the beginning of this hike. Unless I’m staring at a compass, I don’t know my north from my west.
In the hopes that you don’t also follow a goat track that sends you bush-bashing for longer than necessary, here are my tips for finding and staying on the trail.
- As you walk towards Castle Lake from the parking lot, you’ll come across a trail that crosses your path. Turn left and follow it.
- You’ll hit a stream that you’ll need to cross. There is no getting around this – you will have to cross this stream. It has some stones sunk in that you can use to get across.
- Walk on for a few more meters and take the trail to your right. From here you’ll be fine. There will be a tree on your left a little ways up with the below sign.
Along the trail
Since the trail up to Little Castle Lake is mostly an uphill battle, you might be inclined to keep your eyes firmly on the ground in front of you.
Especially since you’ll be navigating around those tree roots and rocky outcrops. But don’t forget to take some rest breaks to take in the bigger picture.
Gazing at the ground will show you the trail and the pretty flowers like larkspur and flox if you make it in late spring or summer. You’re hiking through a pine forest right now, so breathe in that fresh, piney scent.
Stop and look back at Castle Lake, where you started your trip, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you climb over it, and how beautiful it looks from above.
We visited in the last week of June, and still managed to find patches of snow on the ground, so keep your wits about you!
About the Castle Lake area
Gather round, it’s history time – my favourite part of any story or blog post.
The Shasta and Wintu Indian tribes, who once inhabited Castle Lake, knew the area as the “Castle of the devil” because they believed an evil spirit lived there.
The spirit, dubbed Ku-Ku-Pa-Rick, made strange echoing noises during the winter months. These sounds were later found to be the noises that ice made as it moved.
California’s Gold Rush in the mid-1800s was devastating for the Shasta and Wintu people. Their hunting and fishing grounds were being destroyed by the influx of thousands of miners looking to make their fortunes along the rivers, lakes, and streams.
They succumbed to diseases introduced by the miners that they had not been exposed to before, and as a result of fighting for their land. In the late 1850s the Shastan peoples of California were forcibly removed to two reservations elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the Wintu people were forced to work as labourers in gold mining operations, and the mining work polluted their water sources. “Settlers” are said to have invited Wintu and Nomsuu people to a “friendship feast” in 1850, where they were served poisoned food.
What you need
- Dress in layers
- Long pants so you don’t get scratched
- Hiking poles if you’re unsure of yourself
- Plenty of water (walking uphill is thirsty work)
- A hat
- Sunscreen (I got burned)
- Sturdy shoes with good grip
- A snack
- A sense of adventure
- Your camera
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