A mellow, easy hike to a beautiful lake nestled in the rugged Monte Cristo peaks

 Location: Mountain Loop Highway
 Length: 10.4 miles RT
 Elevation: 1400 feet
 Getting there: Drive the Mountain Loop Highway for forever, past Barlow Pass/Monte Cristo trailhead and then another 3.5 miles down the dirt road until you reach the turn-off to “Elliot and Goat Lakes” trailhead, FR4080.

 NW Forest Pass required

With the forecast calling for a beautiful Memorial Day Monday, we decided to take the pooches out and visit a lake that has been on my radar for a while now — Goat Lake. Located off the Mountain Loop Highway and past Barlow Pass where the pavement ends, the Goat Lake trail has a reputation for being quite popular and pretty crowded. Because of this reputation, we opted to leave Seattle early and head out to the trail. We departed Seattle around 7:30am that Monday and arrived at the trail head at just before 9am. Pulling in, there were only about 10 or so cars already present — not too shabby for a holiday.

There are two trails to Goat Lake and the junction splits soon after you leave the parking lot. The upper trail is along an old road-bed and is pretty wide with a mild grade. If you’ve hiked to Monte Cristo, it’s very reminiscent of that route. The lower Elliot Creek trail is more of your standard northwest trail and follows Elliot Creek most of the way before joining up with the upper trail about 3 miles later.

We decided to take the lower Elliot Creek trail in to the lake and opt for the upper route on our way back out.

The lower Elliot Creek trail was a bit muddy in places and was home to many easy creek crossings. The sound of Elliot Creek rushing down the hillside broke the silence of the dark, forested path.

The thick canopy kept the sun at bay as evidenced by the abundance of moss everywhere. When the sun did breakthrough, it made for some pretty spectacular ambience.

The forest illuminated.
The forest illuminated.

After about 3 miles, we began to hear voices from the hill above us and I knew we were coming to the junction with the upper trail. Up to that point, we had only passed one woman on her way out, and two other hikers taking a break along the trail.

As soon as we reached the junction, traffic noticeably increased.

We continued along, passing more and more hikers as we made our way to our destination. The trail stays wide and flat until the last climb before the lake where it gives you a few switchbacks to the outlet. As we made our way up the last push, a loud roar echoed through the trees; Elliot Creek pours out of Goat Lake in a thunderous cascade.

We reached the lake a leisurely 2 hours after leaving the parking lot and there was already a large clump of people hanging out at the first open area. We pushed on along the lake shore trail, passing the cut-off trail to the campsites. Most of the lake shore was already inhabited so we pressed on.

MCP_GoatLake_771
First view of Goat Lake

Goat Lake is a pretty brushy lake and shoreline is at a premium. We were lucky to find a spot on the water with no one nearby. We spent our time soaking up the sun, eating lunch, and skipping rocks.

On our way out, we began to see a LOT of people. We passed groups coming in pretty regularly and I wondered where they were all going to fit. Once we reached the junction with the Lower Elliot Trail, we opted to take the upper trail back to the Jeep. While the trail is pretty ho-hum in terms of interesting things, the wide path was pretty fast. We only passed a few people coming in that way as most of the others must have taken the lower trail. We did happen to cross paths with a couple on their mountain bikes and I wondered if they were going to ditch them before getting to the lake (the trail has a sign not long after the two trails reconnect stating it is for hikers only).

The upper trail felt a bit longer, and, seeing how my GPS was acting up, I didn’t get any data on the hike. There is a long switch back that may contribute to the “are we there yet” feeling though.

When we arrived back at the Jeep my jaw dropped at the sheer number of cars that were now littering the parking lot, the approach road, further down the road, and even further. My estimation is there were at least 50 vehicles, if not 500. Yikes.

As someone who has tackled some of the PNW’s more rugged paths, the Goat Lake trail was a pleasant reminder that one does not have to sacrifice their body to get to a beautiful location. Overall, it was a great hike to take the dogs on and the lower Elliot Creek trail would definitely be my route of choice. Just get there early!

One Comment

  1. That was my experience at Goat Lake–no place along the shoreline that isn’t already occupied! We actually lost the trail on the way up, bushwhacked over to the creek/falls, and followed it straight up to the lake. We weren’t the only ones–a couple with their dog kept passing us (because they were young and fit!), but we’d pass them every time they stopped for a smoke. Weird day. Your pictures are lovely, as usual.

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