Little Castle Lake is a small trail-side lake in the Castle Lake Trail System on the way to Mount Bradley. During the summer, the sun warms the water in Little Castle Lake to extremely pleasant swimming temperatures, making it a great option for those who don't enjoy the cold of higher altitude swimming. The lakeside also offers room to pitch a tent or cook up a lunch up over a fire pit to fuel your daytime activities. Along the hike, panoramic views of Mount Shasta and Black Butte will keep your eyes wandering off trial.
The lake itself is glacially formed like its bigger brother, Castle Lake, which you will pass at the trailhead. The hike to Little Castle is safe and short enough (barely over a mile) to do for an early sunrise/ day hike. Hikers can choose to continue on to Mount Bradley for a longer day hike or turn around to reach Heart Lake and Castle Lake Overlook in the opposite direction. It is recommended to hike to Little Castle Lake first, however, to enjoy the spectacular views from Heart Lake and Castle Lake Overlook later in the day for sunset.
Little Castle Lake offers much more swimming real estate than Heart Lake, and it stays much less crowded than Heart Lake and Castle Lake. To the north lies a small meadow with a view of Mount Shasta through the evergreen forest. While swimming, you will be looking at a glorious mountainside rising above you to the south. Because of the small grove of trees that separates the trail from the lake, the lake seems like its own little oasis within the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
To get to Little Castle Lake, start at the Castle Lake Trailhead and follow the self-explanatory trail for the first 0.6 miles until you reach the saddle. Once you have reached the saddle, take a left, and move southwest while keeping an unnamed peak on your left at all times. You will quickly find yourself at a meadow in which deer can sometimes be found during the early morning. Hug the left side of the meadow until the trail forks again, and keep right. You will descend for a few minutes through a shaded and narrow portion of the trail before a clearing is reached with a second meadow on your left. Make sure to look up and see Mount Shasta's peak beyond the pines. Take a right at the next fork and find yourself fronting upon the north side of Little Castle Lake.
Immediately you will see a site to pitch a tent. For a better site, continue under the shade of the trees on your left to a site with more space and privacy as well as better water access. This small grove of trees is also perfect for hanging a hammock for an afternoon snooze. The lakeside can be somewhat muddy or brushy depending on the traffic that summer.
To reach Heart Lake and Castle Lake Overlook, return to the saddle and turn left to hike uphill for 0.4 miles. Castle Lake overlook is just 0.3 miles past Heart Lake, and it provides uninhibited views of Castle Lake, Shasta, and Black Butte.