We'd put this trip off from September...and probably should have waited till...
Goat Lake Loop
Goat Lake Loop
If you were to draw a line connecting together Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, and Mount Rainier, you'd have a near perfect triangle, and smack dab in the middle of that triangle is the Goat Rocks Wilderness. From this highly privileged locale, the Goat Rocks (as they're called) has long been considered some of the finest backcountry in all of the Pacific Northwest. And although there are many adventures to be had in the Goat Rocks, one of the most accessible and rewarding is Goat Lake Loop, a 13-mile trek through two unforgettable alpine basins sporting views and wildflowers galore. Highly recommended.
This loop can be done in either direction, our description makes a counter-clockwise route that begins and ends at Snowgrass Flat trailhead.
After a long drive and much-needed leg stretch, begin on a well-traveled trail (#96) heading northeast through thick forest. At 0.25 miles, you'll reach a junction with a trail heading left to Berry Patch Trailhead. This is your return route. For now, continue straight (right) up towards Snowgrass Flat.
At just under 2.0 miles and hardly any elevation gain, cross Goat Creek on a sturdy wooden bridge. A half-mile later, the trail bends east for a short duration before heading north again at 3.20 miles. It's here that the real work begins. Climb for the next mile (stay left at the intersection with #97 at 3.75 miles), finally emerging from the forest cover and reaching Snowgrass Flat at 4.5 miles and 6,000' elevation.
Snowgrass Flat features several campsites in a nice grassy meadow with views looking south. Several trails seemingly intersect here, you'll want to head left on the Lily Basin Trail (#86). (Heading right here takes you up to the PCT and then Old Snowy.) After clearing the flat, the trail becomes magical. You'll make a steady push north though high alpine country with views of Mount Adams behind you, crossing several streams and cutting across a steep slope beneath Old Snowy Mountain on the way to Goat Lake. Camping between Snowgrass Flat and Goat Lake is plentiful and spectacular.
Reach Goat Lake at just under 7.0 miles and 6,400' elevation. From these heights, the lake is likely to be snow-bound until late in the summer, so plan accordingly. There are several great camping spots at the lake with views right down the heart of the valley to Mount Adams in all her glory.
Continuing on, the trail climbs another 250' to the spine of Goat Ridge. It's here at the signed junction that you say goodbye to Goat Lake basin and head south into the Jordan Basin on the Goat Ridge Trail (#95). The trail drops steeply down towards Jordan Creek and Goat Ridge Meadow (several campsites here), and at 8.0 miles (6,200') cuts directly south along the steep western slopes of the ridge back in the direction of the trailhead.
This section of trail is the last of the scenic wonderland. Enjoy views of Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens as you descend through wildflowers in every direction. Stay left to avoid several spur trails (don't forget to look north at the first intersection with Trail #95A for a great view of Mount Rainier) and drop back down into thick forest once again at 10.0 miles.
At 12.0 miles, arrive at Berry Patch parking and trailhead. (There's a toilet here!) Follow the spur trail (#96A) at the trailhead signage back east toward Snowgrass Flat Trail. Finally, at 12.6 miles, turn right at the junction and arrive back at the Snowgrass Flat Trailhead at 12.8 miles. Give yourself a pat on the back; you've just wrapped up the trip of a lifetime. Well, let's hope anyway.
Permits & Tips
Northwest Forest Pass required. No toilets available at Snowgrass Flat parking area, but there are pit toilets at nearby Berry Patch parking lot and trailhead. Water available for filtering at Goat Lake. Bring bug spray. Snow lingers until late-summer at Goat Lake, be sure to bring proper equipment and be prepared. This loop can certainly be accomplished as a day trip, but we highly recommend splitting up the trip into 2-3 days to explore and enjoy this beautiful area. Buy passes and get the latest on trail conditions at the Cowlitz Valley Ranger Station in Randle, Washington, 15 miles to the west.
How to get there
From US 12, at milepost 129, about 3 miles southwest of Packwood, WA, turn south onto Forest Road 21. This gravel road is clearly signed for Chambers Lake and Walupt Lake. At 0.7 miles, enter Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. At 1.0 mile, veer right to stay on Forest Road 21. Drive for 12 more miles and make a left onto Forest Road 2150 (signed for Snowgrass Flat). Drive for 2.0 miles and turn right on Forest Road 405 towards Snowgrass Flat Trailhead (left goes to Berry Patch Trailhead). Road 405 makes a large loop. Park near the clearly signed trailhead, which is on the east end of the loop.