Larch March to Goat Peak Lookout

Another fall, another trip to Winthrop for a breathtaking larch hike.

After cancellation after cancellation after cancellation, Marissa from Postcards to Seattle and I were determined for a hike to finally work out in our favor. With a batch of recent cancellations for smoke, we were super-hoping to see some fall color, especially the blazing larch. As we are both overplanners, that meant frantically refreshing trip reports and smoke forecasts and coming up with plans A, B, C (and maybe even D) depending on conditions.

After a miserable drive that at one point got way too close to comfort to the McAllister fire (turning the sun red and making our eyes burn in the car), on a Wednesday (I said it before–very much worth burning a vacation or sick day to not deal with weekend crowds on Hwy 20!), we parked at Cutthroat Pass and stepped out. We decided ten miles in even mild smoke was not something worth permanent lung damage, so we decided to bang out Cutthroat Lake and one other short hike nearby we both wanted, Goat Peak Lookout–in N95s if we had to!

Goat Peak Lookout is visible from Mazama and Highway 20. Originally built in the 1920, the current iteration has been there since 1950 (with a monument to past lookout buildings at the top). As we turned off Hwy 20 and headed straight for the tower, I wondered just how far from town we were going to drive. Marissa had been a little quiet as my navigator–turns out its around 12 miles of washboard and cattleguards before your hike, reminding me a bit of Tiffany Mountain in that regard. To my utter shock, a few miles in, we came across a herd of cows on the road! We had another herd on the road to pass near the top, and there were even fresh cow pies on the trail. If bringing a pup, I’d keep a close leash on them in case of cows.

Green trees on either side of a steep, rocky trail.
Steepness is always hard to convey in a picture.

Even midday on a Wednesday, the lot was surprisingly full. If planning for next year, this hike on a weekend might not be as crowded as ‘the big 4′ on Highway 20, but parking could be tricky. Both the drive and the steepness of the hike did not appear to detract as many as I’d thought it would. We got our poles out (highly recommend) and set off. The smoke hovering above the Methow Valley had gotten progressively worse, but to my surprise, after only a couple minutes our view to the northeast (I think) was clear as day. However, the climbing southward, towards the larches, lookout, blinding sun, and smoke, was up. Loose rocks further justified the need for poles. We started seeing more and more people headed down, nearly all older women (to still be doing challenging hikes at that age–what a goal!). Our Achilles’ both burned nearly as much as our throats had driving through the worst of the smoke that morning. A quick breather and a stretch helped immensely (and no one needs to know how early into the hike it happened).

Loved how these branches were growing straight up!

Also helping immensely was the larches already coming in to view. We had climbed well over 1000 feet and the reward was golden. While the hillsides around us were all green, just this knob had blazing larches, at or maybe even past prime by a hair. Also lifting our spirits was that a downward hiker had told us a brief downhill was coming. We were pumped for that!

We heard tons of birds chattering, and saw a Blue Grouse as we climbed onward and upward. The lookout was currently out of view, but our thudding hearts let us know we had to be close. At this point, we had gained over 1200 feet of elevation, so even though our muscles would appreciate the brief downhill, we’d have to regain it in the end. We turned a corner and saw both the downhill and the camel-hump the lookout was on, speckled with larches.

Giddy at the view before even reaching the tower!

We timed it perfectly, having the area to ourselves. We dawdled a bit, as the approach was wonderous, but knew there was a bench with our names on it (figuratively!) at the lookout itself, perched at 7001 feet elevation. We were pinching ourselves with delight that we had finally done a successful hike that was new to us both, and the smoke was better than we’d dreaded. Once at the bench facing westward from the top, we were only a little distraught about the smoke impeding the 360* view, although from the north an ominous cloud was growing and approaching (guessing it was the Parks fire shifting in the wind, but still a little scary). The bench is available to all, but the tower itself is locked, only staffed on-call when storms merit the set of eyes.


With another couple approaching, we decided to move along. Our low beer-lights were on, and we were straddling the line between hiker hunger and knowing we had an amazing dinner at my in-laws’ coming. We convinced ourselves the trip down would be easier, and set off. The trip down was fairly uneventful, although between hunger, smoke, the sun setting earlier on this side of the mountains, and the sun dipping behind the mountain it felt more like 6pm than 2:30. We saw no one else coming up, and we braced ourselves for the arduous journey back to the main road.

While tough, this hike is worthy at any accessible time of year, but it was especially great for the larches.

In summary:

Distance: 3.6 miles roundtrip

Elevation: Nearly 1400 feet gained, topping you out at 7001 feet!

Parking: NW Forest Pass/America the Beautiful Pass

Bathrooms: Pit toilets at the trailhead.

Best Beer Bet: Just opened in summer 2022 is an Old Schoolhouse Brewing location in Mazama! That’s the closest beer to the trail, but check hours especially on weekdays. Next closest bet with better availability is the Mazama Store (always worth a stop!) which has several beers on tap at their patio.  We went to Old Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop which opened at 3pm on a Wednesday, with cider and wine in town too.


One Reply to “Larch March to Goat Peak Lookout”

  1. Woohoo! So glad you found a mostly smoke free larch hike…well done! This looks like a great option!

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