The Heart Lake National Recreation Trail offers day hikers and backpackers a beautiful trek through Lassen National Forest to a lake just west of Lassen Volcanic National Park. It offers plenty of natural beauty, and the chance for solitude. Note: in 2019 there were quite a few trees down across the trail.
Hiking the Heart Lake National Recreation Trail Key Data
Length: 6.0 miles round trip
Hiking time: 4 hours or 2 days for backpackers
High point: 6,550 feet
Total elevation gain: 1,000 feet
Season: late May through late October
Water: available from streams and Heart Lake; purify first
Maps: USGS 7.5′ Grays Peak, USGS 7.5′ Lassen Peak
Wilderness Permit: none required
Nearest campground: Battle Creek Campground
Information: Hat Creek Ranger District, Lassen National Forest
Heart Lake National Recreation Trail Trailhead GPS coordinates: N 40 25.709 W 121 37.814
Notes: dogs allowed. Possibility of downed trees across the path. Campfire permit required if backpacking.
Driving Directions to the Heart Lake National Recreation Trail Trailhead
Take Forest Road 17, which leaves CA Highway 36 about 100 feet east of the Battle Creek bridge, 0.2 mile east of Battle Creek Campground, and 1 mile west of Lassen Volcanic National Park headquarters in Mineral. Go north for 9.6 miles (always follow signs for M17 and take the best road at forks), then cross the South Fork of Digger Creek. Look for the trailhead and the Heart Lake National Recreation Trail sign 100 feet farther.
Why Hike the Heart Lake National Recreation Trail?
Numerous meadows, melodious mountain streams, dense forest, and the reflection of Brokeoff Peak in Heart Lake’s shallow waters are the highlights of this hike, one of the many hiking trails in Lassen National Forest. It’s best in late spring when you can let the several steep sections of trail help you get into shape for those longer, high-elevation summer backpacking trips. The best camping is at Heart Lake, but occasional level spots near the trail can serve in a pinch.
Hiking the Heart Lake National Recreation Trail
Start the journey with the spicy scent of tobacco brush in your nostrils. After reaching the banks of the creek, climb through a mixed forest of white fir, incense cedar, and Jeffrey pine; near the first of several small meadows, a gargantuan sugar pine just to the right of the trail has dropped numerous foot-long cones.
Ascend past shaded springs and curve away from the creek, eventually reaching a small stream at 1.1 miles. Parallel it uphill past more verdant meadows filled with white, purple, and yellow flowers, noting at 1.5 miles the vibrant white bark and oscillating green leaves of quaking aspen near the stream. You’ll soon spy a few lodgepoles near the water, and then welcome the appearance of stately red fir in the forest community.
Cross the creek and begin an even steeper climb. At 1.8 miles the path briefly levels; gaze between white firs for a westward glimpse of the Sacramento Valley and the Klamath Mountains. Give thanks when the path soon levels, allowing views filtered by western white pines of nearby Rocky Peak to the south and Brokeoff Mountain to the east.
Drop to a log crossing of a stream bordered by mountain alder at 2.1 miles, ascend briefly, run level through an area of downed trees, then drop again at 2.4 miles to the shores of Heart Lake, a broad and very shallow body of water dominated by Brokeoff Peak. This imposing member of Lassen Volcanic National Park royalty rises to a height of 9,235 feet, nearly 2,700 feet higher than the lake.
The path passes level areas suitable for camping on the west shore, then crosses the outlet (Digger Creek) to travel beside a small meadow. Bear right at a trail fork at 2.7 miles and bisect an especially beautiful meadow on the way to more campsites near the lake’s eastern edge.
Want to Hike Nearby Lassen Trails?
Check out my book Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions. It has dozens of nearby hikes in Lassen National Forest and Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Your Take: Heart Lake National Recreation Trail
Done it? Want to do it? Questions and comments below…