Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Darrington
Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Roundtrip: 10.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,400 feet
Green trails Map: Mountain Loop Highway-No. 111SX
Access: From Granite Falls, follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 31 miles to Barlow Pass and end of pavement. Continue for 3.5 miles turning right onto FR 4080 (From Darrington, follow Mountain Loop Highway 19.5 miles). Follow FR 4080 for .8 mile to road end and trailhead.
Note: NW Forest Pass required.
Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest;
Good to know: kid-friendly, dog-friendly, wilderness rules apply, historic, waterfalls
One of the first wilderness lake hikes off of the Mountain Loop Highway to melt out, Goat Lake has been a popular destination for more than a century. The lake once hosted a grand hotel and offered workers from a nearby (and long defunct) bustling mining operation a nice respite from the grind. Today hikers of all ages and abilities come to this large body of water within the Henry M Jackson Wilderness. Despite the distance, the walking is easy with a moderate elevation gain. And if the hike is too much for a day, there are a handful of backcountry campsites at the outlet waiting for your tent.
Two trails diverge from the trailhead. The lower trail (right) offers a slightly shorter and more interesting route along Eliot Creek and through old-growth than the upper trail (left) which utilizes an old logging road lined with alders. The upper trail however is easier to travel and offers some nice views. Follow the upper to the lake and return on the lower for a nice 10.4-mile loop.
In one mile come to the Chokwich Trail taking off left to reach the Bedal Creek Trail. Continue right through thinning forest crossing numerous cascading streams. At about 3.0 miles begin a slight descent meeting up with the lower trail at 3.6 miles. Continue straight on the old logging road which soon becomes trail. Enter cool mature forest taking time to admire a handful of humongous cedars. After crossing a braided stream enter the Henry Jackson Wilderness. The trail now climbs hugging a high bank of Eliot Creek and heading along a washed out streambed. Where the trail makes a sharp left turn, look right. Here you can see remnants in the form of cedar puncheon (planking) of the original wagon road that serviced the area. The old mining town was located across the creek from this spot.
Continue up the trail to Goat Lake passing magnificent McIntosh Falls. After marveling at the cascading waters reach the lake. Pass the camping area and head straight for the day use area located just beyond a brushy meadow. Cast your eyes across the rippling waters to snow-capped Cadet Peak hovering above. A primitive path continues a short ways along the lake’s eastern shore offering better vantages of that prominent peak that lured more than its fair share of past fortune seekers.
For more detailed information on this hike and many others off of the Mountain Loop Highway, consult my best selling Day Hiking North Cascades guidebook.