The Mountain Loop Highway, originating in Granite Falls, is rich with amazing hikes. Growing up further north of Seattle, I had easy access to the plethora of adventures offered here. However, I hadn’t yet conquered Goat Lake.
Despite it’s 10 mile price-tag, Goat Lake does not have a massive amount of elevation gain, making it fairly easy (compared to Mailbox, at least). It’s down the road quite a few miles after many popular hikes along the Mountain Loop Highway, making it slightly less crowded. I would still consider getting an early jump if you plan on staying overnight, especially on a weekend. We saw people heading up at 4pm with overnight gear–unsure where they ended up staying, as every campsite was spoken for when we were at the top.
Once you park, put up your Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass and hit the pit toilet–it’s 5 miles before the next one. Unlike so many other hikes, Goat Lake is a leisure meander upwards, not an immediate, knee-breaking slog like others. Not far up into the birch trees, you have a selection to of Upper Elliot or Lower Elliot trails. Following other’s advice from WTA, we took Upper Elliot up–it has a far more delicate gain in elevation compared to Lower Elliot.
Upper Elliot had tons of breathtaking views of the mountains, babbling streams, and one of the largest downed trees I had ever seen! There were also plentiful wildflowers (mostly Foxglove) along the way as well, as well as banana slugs to avoid stepping on. This trail was fairly shaded, which helped as it was a pretty hot day.
I kept an eye on my Runkeeper to see how we were doing, but as the trail’s incline was so gradual, the miles melted away. My friend Sonya was excellent at noticing the various bugs and beetles we encountered along the trail, and I was impressed by some of the largest Devil’s Club (Devil’s Clubs?) I had ever seen. Once Upper and Lower Elliot re-joined, we had about 1.5-ish miles to go. From here, the trail did get a bit steeper, with more big rocks to climb over.
However, the steepness eventually came with the sound of rushing water and clearings in the trees–we were getting close to the top. A gushing waterfall was on our right, and after a quick detour to peek at this, we continued as the trail curved up and to the left. For a brief moment, the trail gets super narrow as you navigate through the brush, but there are some areas wide enough to allow for pulling over for descending hikers.
You rejoin the rushing water, only now you are above the waterfall. There was a few campers set up here (props for setting up a proper fire ring!) so we did not venture closer for pictures. Even well before the waterfall the water was moving swiftly, so I’d avoid swimming here. There were signs pointing to the official campsites and pit toilet, but we were ready for a lengthy snack at the lake. Again here, the trail narrowed immensely and it got slightly unclear what were ‘official’ trails–there is one spur to the right that takes you to the sunny part of the lake (via a mass of driftwood), a spur to the left that is a trail from the campsites, and continuing straight will get you to the shady shores of the lake.
Our heads were on a swivel–gorgeous mountains surrounding us, the crystal-clear lake–a typical, gorgeous Washington alpine lake hike, with the landscape only touched by Mother Nature. We had an adorable chipmunk keep coming very close to us as we ate snacks. We dubbed him Sir Cheeks, but given his boldness around humans, I am guessing Sir Cheeks has been enjoying crumbs left (or given) by hungry hikers for some time. There was a moderate breeze and we actually got a bit cool in the shade here, but none of us minded. The only thing missing was a cold Session IPA. I was shocked to hear a plane fly over us, and it did jolt me back to the 21st century, but other than that, it was perfect.
We moved back out to the driftwood logs, far warmer than the shade. This was a great reminder to reapply SPF! I am not surprised that the logs were filled with photographers, both amateur and more professional. After a while, we tore ourselves away to begin the descent downwards. The trail did seem a bit more crowded–we had started hiking at 10am, and I felt a little bad for those battling the heat upwards as the later hour.
Maybe it was fatigue, maybe it was mental, but many of the rocks we had hiked up minutes prior felt far less stable under our feet now.We opted to take the Lower Elliot trail at the junction to see all of what Goat Lake had to offer. While it was steeper than Upper Elliot, being along a river for most of the hike provided stunning views (and a bit of a cooling breeze). The steepness also made other hikers scarce in this area as well. While Devil’s Club was still abundant, other plants like skunk cabbage were present.
By now, the three of us all had aching bodies and empty bellies. When we converged back onto one trail, we struggled to remember how much distance we had walked up before the split. However, we pretty much turned a corner and there the end was! It sneaked up on us far quicker than expected, so if you have a bursting bladder when the Elliots re-join, fear not–the end is near.
It was a gorgeous hike, perfect for a long dayhike or backpacking (albeit with a very early jump if embarking on a Saturday). I might have to make this an annual adventure!
Distance (according to WTA): 10.4 miles (Using Runkeeper, we were at around 9.8 miles–I am unsure if one of the Elliot trails is longer than the other?)
Elevation (according to WTA): 1400 feet (my RunKeeper had 1676–again this could have been due to taking two separate trails)
Parking: Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass
Bathrooms: Pit toilet at trailhead and lake
Food storage if backpacking: Not required, but always smart