Until last summer I had never been on the Mountain Loop Highway east of Granite Falls. After climbing Mt. Pilchuck last year and hiking to Heather Lake and Lake 22 this year the area is really starting to grow on me. Today's trip up to Goat Lake did nothing but stoke my enthusiasm (even if we did get unexpectedly soaked). The lake itself is gorgeous and the trails to and from are a dream for anyone who loves waterfalls. Plus, it's nice and easy.
To get to the Goat Lake trailhead we drove way out the Mountain Loop from Granite Falls, beyond cell phone range, and even beyond the end of paved road. There are many fantastic views on this highway and great campgrounds that I didn't even know about. About 3 1/2 miles past the end of the pavement we found the road up to the trailhead (Northwest Forest Pass required).
We found the trailhead mostly empty a little before 9 AM (a late start by our standards). The trailhead is at 1900 feet and the lake is at 3200 feet so it's a bit of climbing but nothing too bad (we later saw old ladies doing the trail so no excuses). There are two possible paths to take to the lake - the Upper and Lower Elliot trails. The Upper Elliot trail is longer but much gentler as it follows an old logging road that is slowly being reclaimed by the forest. The Lower Elliot trail is shorter but a bit rougher. We decided to take the Lower Elliot to the lake and return on the Upper Elliot. Green Trails map #111 indicates this route is 4.7 miles to the lake and 5.2 miles from the lake for a total of just under 10 miles but other sources indicate it is closer to 10.5 miles total. Both trails rejoin for the final 1.6 miles of the hike before the lake.
The pictures in the set below are from the Lower Elliot trail which closely parallels Elliot Creek. The creek today was running high and fast with whitewater almost all the way up. It was very impressive considering the amount of snow up above that would be required to maintain this much outflow from the lake to the creek even into mid-July. Another feature about this area is huge trees. There was one massive tree down over the lower trail that you can see in the 6th picture below. For reference my buddy is about 6'2" tall.
The set of pictures below is from the section after the lower and upper trails rejoin for the final climb to the lake. The majority of the hard climbing occurs in this last section. Along this section we started getting our first looks at the massive peaks to the south and southwest.
In the 7th picture below is a bit of logging history. The cutouts in the trunks were done by loggers and I can't even guess how long ago it was. Anyway, loggers would cut the notches in the trees with axes and then stick boards into the notches to stand out while they cut away higher up.
The last several pictures in the set were one particularly impressive set of falls just below the lake. We had to go off the main trail a bit and climb down to the falls to grab these photos. EXTREME CAUTION must be exercised on the rocks by these falls as a slip into the water would mean certain death. A quick video of the falls follows the photos.
Upon our arrival at Goat Lake my buddy and I quickly agreed that it's one of the prettiest lakes we've visited. Where the water flows out of the lake into the creek was a big pile of old trees. The water itself was incredibly clear (and cold). We counted no less than a dozen waterfalls coming down the various peaks into the lake. The sun was shining (for the moment) and we were invigorated as we hiked around the west side of the lake looking for a place to have lunch. The trail follows the lake quite a ways but it is a bit of a bushwhack through some particularly thick brush (6th picture below).
We found a nice spot to have lunch and sat down to relax but within minutes dark clouds started to form and we could hear thunder above. Pictures 7 through 10 below were taken within about 3 minutes of each other as it went very quickly went from sunshine to rain showers. I threw on my rain jacket but left my rain pants in my pack. The results was a complete soaking from the waist down, especially after hiking back through the very wet brush. We returned back to an area near the lake outlet that was in the trees to dry out and change our socks. Within 10 minutes the sun was back out and the lake was still as can be seen in the last 3 photos.
I absolutely loved Goat Lake and I see it as a possible place to bring my son on his first backpacking trip later this month. However, it does appear to be very popular as we later saw four different parties of campers heading up the trail. Come early or risk not finding a good site.
The last few pictures below are of the Upper Elliot trail we returned on. In short, this trail sucks. It's long, flat, and boring. There are multiple stretches where you can see far in front of you and that just adds to the boredom. There were more big trees and some massive boulders but that's about it. If I knew then what I know now, I would have returned on the lower trail.
All in all with the hiking around the lake I'd estimate we went around 11 miles total. It took us a little over 2 hours each way.