Mammoth Lakes is known for having some of the best hiking trails in California. There are endless day hikes to explore and adventures to be had in Mammoth!
The Heart Lake Trail is a secluded wilderness trail in Mammoth that is short in the distance and rarely crowded. This hike leads to an alpine lake that’s shaped like a heart with an option to go on a quick detour to a historic mining settlement in the forest.
In this post, we share where the Heart Lake Trail starts, what to expect, and other helpful hiking tips.
Psst! Before you embark on your upcoming adventure, these 10 best hotels in Mammoth Lakes will ensure you’ll have a cozy experience!
Heart Lake Trail Highlights
Here are a few quick trail highlights before we go into more details:
- Length: 2.5 miles out and back
- Elevation Gain: 550 feet
- Time Needed: 2-3 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Dogs allowed?: Yes, this trail is very dog-friendly
Location & Parking
The Heart Lake Trail starts at the end of the Coldwater Campground in Mammoth. There is a paved road that leads to the trailhead which can be easily accessed from Mammoth Lakes Town within a 15-minute drive.
The drive to the trailhead is easy but the road narrows as you make your way through the campground. Be sure to keep an eye out for people walking around and any cars that might stick out of their campsites.
The Heart Lake Trailhead shares the same parking lot with the Duck Lake Pass Trailhead. The Heart Lake Trailhead is not marked on Google Maps but you can set directions to the Duck Lake Pass Trailhead. Once you reach the parking lot, you will see the Heart Lake Trail entrance on the North-East end of the parking lot.
You can also use the AllTrails hiking app and set the directions through the app. These directions will take you to the exact point of the Heart Lake Trailhead.
At the visitor lot, you have access to bear-locked trash bins and restrooms with running water – quite the luxury for the outdoors.
If you have extra time after completing the Heart Lake Trail, I highly recommend checking out the Skelton Lake Trail as well.
Location: Parking lot, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
About Heart Lake Trail
Heart Lake Trail is a popular 2.5-mile long day hike in Mammoth Lakes, California. It is free to hike this trail making it a wonderful activity for people visiting Mammoth.
The Heart Lake Trail is not very difficult but it does climb steadily up 550 feet in elevation until you reach the lake. Overall this is a family-friendly trail but the elevation climb can be tiring for kids and older people. You might also feel winded from the altitude – if you feel tired or dizzy, take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water!
You also have the option to explore the Mammoth Consolidated Gold Mine at the beginning of this trail where you can see historic artifacts, ruins, and remnants of a gold mining community that was built as part of the great Gold Rush. I highly recommend stopping here and checking out the gold mine, it’s very fascinating and a part of Mammoth’s history.
Past the mining site, the Heart Lake Trail follows the same path for the entire time so you won’t need to make any turns. But even on easy day hikes, it’s possible to lose track of the route so we always recommend using a hiking app like Maps.Me or AllTrails to stay on track.
Dogs are also welcome to use the Heart Lake Lake Trail. Overall, Mammoth is a very dog-friendly place and most people bring their four-legged friends on trails with them.
Here’s a couple of things that I pack for outdoor trips with my dog:
- Collapsible dog bowl. A collapsible dog bowl is essential for hiking, camping, and road-tripping with a dog. Collapsible bowls are lightweight so you can throw one in a backpack and easily carry it everywhere.
- RUFFWEAR dog boots. I always keep these in my backpack when hiking with my dog in case the sand gets too hot during the day or the trail has sharp rocks that can cut his paws. It can take a few days for your dog to get used to hiking boots so it’s best to practice walking at home or in your neighborhood before heading out into the mountains.
- 2 Hounds No Pull Harness. I love this harness because it comes with multiple clip-on points providing more comfort for my dog and extra control for me when hiking.
- Biodegradable poop bags. Dog’s waste can be harmful to wild animals and nature. It’s always good practice to bring extra poop bags and carry dog waste out on day hikes. These waste bags are also biodegradable – even better for Earth!
Hiking Heart Lake Trail
So what can you expect to see along the trail? Here is the detailed breakdown of the Heart Lake Trail covering what the hike is like and highlighting some of the main stops.
Once you enter the trail, you have the option to turn right and follow the signs for Heart Lake Trail or go left to venture into a 0.5-mile long loop of the Mammoth Consolidated Mine.
At the Mammoth Consolidated Mine, you can see buildings where miners used to live, cook and sleep. Keep going along the loop and you’ll come across old gold mining equipment and engines from an ore processing mill along with some office buildings.
The gold mining times in Mammoth were not long-lived. It started as a boom in 1877 when gold and minerals were discovered on the slopes of the Red Mountain in Mammoth and were already over by 1881 although some mining and construction continued until 1933.
Eventually, the mines closed due to The Great Depression, and the Mammoth economy switched from mining to tourism.
Once you’re done exploring these historic buildings and artifacts, you can connect back with the Heart Lake Trail and continue your trek to the lake.
The rest of the hike starts with a gradual incline in a forest. As you climb up, you can expect to see views of the surrounding jagged mountain peaks in the distance.
The trail continues to travel partially in open space and partially in an enclosed, shaded forest giving you plenty of opportunities for resting breaks. Despite being so high up in the mountains, the weather in the summer can be very sunny and hot so come prepared with proper clothing and plenty of water.
This is a great trail to keep an eye out for wildlife like deer. I saw a couple of deer in the forest along this trail. You’ll also have the opportunity to see some beautiful wildflowers, even later in the summer.
The best part about this trail was that I barely saw other hikers. Whereas trails like Skelton Lake Trail, Crystal Lake Trail, and McLeod Lake Trail get a lot more foot traffic, Heart Lake offers a serene trekking option that rarely gets crowded.
The last bit of the trail follows through a forest again and ends at the lake. I anticipated seeing parts of the lake beforehand but the lake was unexpectedly right in front of me as I came out of the forest clearing.
Heart Lake itself is a wonderful place to take a break, eat a snack or even jump in for a swim.
I tried walking around the lake itself to get different perspectives but much of the trail was overgrown so I didn’t get very far.
After spending some time by Heart Lake, I turned around and started heading back the same way that I came.
- Bring bug repellant. The lakes in Mammoth attract tons of mosquitos and they are very persistent. I even saw people turn around and exit trails because the bugs were too much to handle.
- Use trekking poles. Overall, this is not a technical trail but trekking poles can always help when you start getting tired.
- Carry plenty of water. I always carry several bottles of water, even on short day hikes. Our California summers are just getting hotter and hotter so it’s important to bring plenty of water. If you don’t want to carry heavy water bottles, you can also bring a Sawyer water filter and get freshly filtered water from the alpine lakes and rivers in Mammoth.
- It’s easy to get sunburned on elevation hikes, even on trails that pass through a forest like this one. Nothing ruins a trip more than a bad sunburn. Pack mineral sunscreen, lip balm, polarized sunglasses, and a hiking hat to help with the sun.
- I always bring a first aid kit, headlamp, and a portable phone charger, even on quick day hikes. It’s always best to go prepared!
There are many great campgrounds to choose from in Mammoth. Some of the most popular ones are:
The Coldwater Campground is located right by the Heart Lake Trailhead so this is the closest campground to choose from.
During my trip, I stayed in my Promaster Campervan at the Heart Lake Trailhead parking lot. This parking lot is flat, decent in size, and has a restroom with running water.
If you’re looking to stay at a private rental instead of camping, check out this list that covers 10 amazing VRBO vacation rentals in Mammoth Lakes, California!
Other wonderful hikes to explore nearby:
- Sherwin Lakes Trail In Mammoth Lakes
- Horseshoe Lake Trail In Mammoth Lakes
- Crystal Lake Trail In Inyo National Forest
- Hiking Skelton Lake Trail In Mammoth Lakes
- Hiking TJ Lake Trail In Mammoth
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