|Trail Highlights:||Mountain, lake, and creek views; waterfalls; wildflowers; old-growth forest; historic context
|Round-trip Distance:||7.00 miles / 11.30 km (Elliot Creek Loop)
10.40 miles / 16.70 km (Elliot Creek and Goat Lake)
|Location:||Henry M. Jackson Wilderness and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest,
Mountain Loop Highway / Sauk Valley (historic homeland of the Sauk-Suiattle and Skagit), Washington North Cascades
|Directions:||From State Route 92 in Granite Falls, Washington, turn left onto the Mountain Loop Highway
Proceed 30.10 miles / 48.40 km to the fork and end of pavement at Barlow Pass
Take the left fork, signed for "Darrington"
Proceed 3.50 miles / 5.60 km
Turn right onto Forest Service Road 4080, signed for "Elliot Creek and Goat Lake"
Proceed 0.80 miles / 1.30 km to the parking lot at the end of the road
|Required Pass:||Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent for U.S. Forest Service sites
|Additional Trail Info:||Washington Trails Association
U.S. Forest Service
Northwest Waterfall Survey
Sunlight intensifies Goat Lake’s deep peacock blue. Goat Lake Trail, July 06, 2013.
The trail along Elliot Creek (spelt “Elliott” on some maps) to Goat Lake offers much to commend itself: delicate, yet striking deciduous forest, a large grove of old-growth conifers approaching the size of redwoods, a series of thundering waterfalls, a jewel-hued lake set against a snowy peak, and a bit of local history. During the summer, an array of shade- and moisture-loving wildflowers and ferns abounds throughout the forested trailside. In the lake basin’s sunny clearings, the demure woodland blooms give way to showy displays of their more exhuberant floral neighbors.
Approximately a quarter mile/0.40 km from the trailhead, the trail forks into the Upper and Lower Elliot trails, which rejoin approximately 3.50 miles/5.60 km from the trailhead and continue on to Goat Lake. The upper trail follows an old mining road and is thus broad and flat with little incline. The lower trail drops down to Elliot Creek, which it follows a bit before climbing to rejoin its counterpart. Each trail is worth exploring and hikers often take one trail on the way to Goat Lake and the other on the return. Those wishing a shorter, tranquil stroll through deep alder forest may hike the Upper and Lower Elliot trails as a loop.
The lake is a popular, yet not crowded, weekend hiking and camping destination. Expect to encounter others scattered along the lakeside or, perhaps, visit on a week day for a little more solitude.
Goat Lake is named in English for the mountain goats that can sometimes be seen on the surrounding peaks, although its historic Native American Sauk-Suiattle name is “Sweetleehachu.” The mountain goats are culturally significant to the Sauk-Suiattle and, in former times, were important sources of food and clothing to them.
Slender, arched trunks of the red alder (Alnus rubra) form airy corridors about the Upper and Lower Elliot trails. Cousin of the birch, the red alder is clad in similarly smooth, white bark speckled with grey and black. It takes its name from the bright red color its inner bark turns when injured. Upper Elliot Trail, July 12, 2014.
Sunbeams dappling the alder wood paint the trailside with mesmeric textures. Lower Elliot Trail, July 12, 2014.
The Lower Elliot Trail skirts Elliot Creek’s rushing, boulder-strewn waters for approximately one mile/1.6 km before departing for more tranquil forest. Fed by glacial meltwater from the peaks surrounding Goat Lake, the creek maintains its tumbling flow more consistently throughout the summer than many others without such regular sources. July 12, 2014.
Both the Upper and Lower Elliot trails pass beneath reposing giants. Lower Elliot Trail, July 12, 2014.
Here and there, demure blooms dot the shadowy woodlands. Clockwise from the top left: salal (Gaultheria shallon); foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea); pipsissewa, or, western prince’s-pine (Chimaphila umbellata); Siberian miner’s lettuce (Claytonia sibirica); and coastal brookfoam (Boykinia occidentalis). Upper Elliot Trail and Goat Lake Trail, July 12, 2014.
Shortly after the Elliot trails converge, the Goat Lake Trail leaves the alder wood behind and enters stately evergreen forest, where giant, old-growth western redcedars (Thuja plicata) abound. Unrelated to true cedars, redcedars and their kin are actually cypresses misnamed as “cedars” because of their similarly aromatic wood. Goat Lake, July 12, 2014.
An old western redcedar (Thuja plicata) appears to gorge on – or disgorge – a hapless boulder. Goat Lake, July 12, 2014.
A pair of old-growth western redcedars (Thuja plicata) dwarfs its surroundings. As cypresses, western redcedars are characterized by broad, buttressed bases – some approaching the girth of redwoods – that taper quickly as they rise. Goat Lake, July 12, 2014.
Saucer-like mushrooms appear to hover in readiness for take-off. Goat Lake, July 12, 2014.
A western columbine (Aquilegia formosa) flutters in the forest understory. Goat Lake, July 12, 2014.
At approximately 3.8 miles/6.1 km, the trail encounters the first of Mackintosh Falls’ series of waterfalls that continues up Elliot Creek alongside the trail for almost a half mile/0.80 km. The falls are often obscured by trees, but can be reached – with caution – by unofficial side trails. Goat Lake, July 12, 2014.
Elliot Creek splits and rejoins, narrows and widens, and slows and speeds as it cascades down Mackintosh Falls. Goat Lake, July 12, 2014.
Elliot Creek plunges down its longest single drop in Mackintosh Falls through a tiered chute approximately 182 feet/55.5 metres long, which forms a roaring wall of water just beyond the forest veil. Goat Lake, July 12, 2014.
At Mackintosh Falls’ uppermost tier, which sits just around the corner from Goat Lake’s outlet, Elliot Creek begins the falls’ rapid overall descent of 266 feet/81 metres. The falls takes its name from that of a local mining family that operated a lodge here on the far side of the creek in the early 1900s. July 12, 2014.
Looking rather like cut flowers stuck into barren ground, western coralroot orchids (Corallorhiza mertensiana) thrive along the Lower Elliot Trail and in the dense forest surrounding Mackintosh Falls. Possessing no leaves or chlorophyll and living parasitically off of fungi in the soil, coralroots and similar plants are not entirely bound to the sun’s annual rhythms and only appear above ground in years that suit them. Goat Lake Trail, July 12, 2014.
Although nearing Goat Lake at the top of Mackintosh Falls, the trail arcs widely afield through an open valley before finally making lakefall at the base of the snow-flecked peaks beyond. Goat Lake, July 06, 2013.
As the main trail follows the lake’s contour, crayon-bright waters in a shade somewhere between teal and cerulean stretch toward Cadet Peak. Goat Lake, July 06, 2013.
The trail leads to the tip of a point on the eastern lakeshore that affords a direct view of Cadet Peak. Around 1900, several mines were dug into the peak, which takes its name from the Cadet Mine on its opposite side. The Foggy Mine was bored approximately 1,000 feet/305 meters into the peak’s northeast face, just above the large snowfield at the lower left of the peak in this photo. Nine minerals are known to have been extracted from the Foggy Mine, although none in large quantities. Goat Lake Trail, July 06, 2013.
In the upturned world of the water’s surface, a sky-hung mountaintop gazes down upon upreaching lakeside foliage. Goat Lake, July 06, 2013.
The main trail disappears into shoulder-high brush on the point, which includes the rose or Douglas’s spirea (Spiraea douglasii), also aptly known as “hardhack” for the difficulty of cutting through it. Nevertheless, intrepid hikers bushwhack a path of sorts to the shore on the other side of the point. Goat Lake, July 12, 2014.
Hikers continuing around the lake beyond the point should be prepared to encounter brush, including briars and stinging nettles, while traversing steep, uneven terrain and a slippery stream crossing. Goat Lake, July 12, 2014.
Along the trail and around the lake, the early summer floral star is a prolifically blooming penstemon, likely the Cascade penstemon (Penstemon serrulatus), also called the Cascade beardtongue for the fuzzy staminode that runs down the center of each bloom’s throat. Goat Lake Trail, July 12, 2014.
A native orchid that goes by many common names, the white rein orchid, white bog orchid, bog candle, or scent-bottle (Platanthera dilatata) adds an understated beauty – and intense, clove-like scent – to the lakeside meadow. Goat Lake Trail, July 12, 2014.
A host of other summer wildflowers inhabits the shoreline garden, including cow parsnips (Heracleum maximum a.k.a. Heracleum lanatum) (top left), wood roses (Rosa gymnocarpa) and alpine leafybract asters (Symphyotrichum foliaceum) (center left); Columbia lilies (Lilium columbianum) and fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) (bottom left), and scarlet paintbrushes (Castilleja miniata) (right). Goat Lake Trail, July 12, 2014.
The return trek toward the lake’s outlet and the descending trail beyond provides a placid vista of its own. Goat Lake, July 06, 2013.