Sweetleehachu / Goat Lake and Elliot Creek

Trail Highlights:Mountain, lake, and creek views; waterfalls; wildflowers; old-growth forest; historic context
Round-trip Distance:7.60 miles / 12.20 km (Elliot Creek Loop)
≅ 12.00 miles / 19.30 km (Elliot Creek and Goat Lake) (add 1.00 mile / 1.60 km if taking the Upper Elliot Trail both ways; subtract 1.00 mile / 1.60 km if taking the Lower Elliot Trail both ways)
Location:Henry M. Jackson Wilderness and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest,
Mountain Loop Highway / Sauk Valley, Washington North Cascades

Ancestral lands of the Sauk-Suiattle and Skagit
  • 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

    This page profiles the trail to Sweetleehachu/Goat Lake, located in Snohomish County, Washington, rather than the lakes by the same name in Jefferson, Lewis, and Pierce counties, Washington

    Cadet Peak’s mirrored image forms a fantastic backdrop to Goat Lake.
    Goat Lake Trail,

    The trails along Elliot Creek (spelt “Elliott” on some maps) to Goat Lake offer much to commend themselves:  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-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 exuberant floral neighbors.

    Approximately 0.25 miles/0.40 km from the trailhead, the trail forks into the Upper and Lower Elliot trails, which rejoin approximately 4.30 miles/6.90 km from the trailhead and continue on as the Goat Lake Trail.  The Upper Elliot Trail follows an old logging road and is thus broad and flat with little incline.  The Lower Elliot 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.

    Goat Lake is at its most intense hue on a clear day when the sun is directly overhead. It 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.

    Ever clad in glaciers, Cadet Peak forms the lake’s dramatic backdrop and is often mirrored on its surface. It is named for the Cadet Mining Company, which, along with the Penn Mining Company, bored numerous mine shafts into Cadet Peak and neighboring Foggy Peak in the late 1800s. Gone now, their mining camps once stood at either end of the lake and included cabins, a blacksmith’s shop, and even a hotel. The mines proved unproductive and were abandoned, along with the camps, after only about twenty years. The Lower Elliot Trail is a remnant of the plank wagon road that led to these outposts.

    Goat Lake is a popular 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. Do note that the eastern section of the Mountain Loop Highway that provides access to the trailhead is closed during the winter months and occasionally during other periods of severe weather. To confirm that it is open, check the “Additional Trail Info” links above. Finally, don’t rush — plan sufficient time to savor all the sights this remarkable trail has to offer throughout.

    Slender, arched trunks of 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 wounded, similar to the oxidation of an apple when cut.
    Upper Elliot Trail, Washington.
    The Lower Elliot Trail skirts Elliot Creek’s tumbling, boulder-strewn waters for approximately 1.00 mile/1.60 km before climbing to rejoin the Upper Elliot Trail. Fed by glacial meltwater from the peaks surrounding Goat Lake, the creek maintains its whitewater rush throughout the summer. Lower Elliot Trail, Washington.
    Both the Upper and Lower Elliot trails duck beneath reposing giants, which are passed with little effort by stooping or straddling. Upper Elliot Trail, Washington.
    Here and there, demure blooms dot the shadowy woodlands, including, first column from left, sylvan goatsbeards (Aruncus dioicus) (top), Pacific coralroot orchids (Corallorhiza mertensiana) (center), and Siberian springbeauties (Claytonia sibirica) (bottom); second column, American twinflowers (Linnaea borealis) (top), western bunchberries (Cornus unalaschkensis) (center), and pipsissewas, or, western prince’s-pines (Chimaphila umbellata) (bottom); third column, coastal brookfoam (Boykinia occidentalis) (top) and wood roses (Rosa gymnocarpa) (bottom); fourth column, kneeling angelicas (Angelica genuflexa) (top), salal (Gaultheria shallon) (center), and cut-leaved foamflowers (Tiarella trifoliata) (bottom); and, fourth column, ghost pipes (Monotropa uniflora) (top), largeleaf avens (Geum macrophyllum) (center), and western columbines (Aquilegia formosa) (bottom).
    Upper and Lower Elliot trails and Goat Lake Trail, Washington.
    Shortly after the Upper and Lower Elliot trails rejoin, the path continues into mostly evergreen forest, where massive, old-growth western redcedars (Thuja plicata) abound. Unrelated to true cedars, western redcedars and their kin are actually cypresses misnamed as “cedars” because of their similarly aromatic, rot-resistant wood. As cypresses, western redcedars are characterized by broad, buttressed bases – some approaching the girth of redwoods – that taper quickly as they rise.
    Goat Lake Trail, Washington.
    At approximately 6.00 miles/9.70km from the trailhead, the trail begins switchbacking along Mackintosh Falls‘ massive stairstepped cascades. Here, Elliot Creek plunges 266 feet/81 meters in several distinct sections, although not all are visible. Pictured here is just the first drop near the creek’s exit from Goat Lake (lower right). The scale and power of the falls thundering just beyond the forest fringe is awe inspiring. The trail’s long switchbacks provide almost 0.50 miles/0.80 km of intermittent waterfall viewing. Boot paths lead from the main trail to the torrents’ very edge, but exercise caution when approaching the brink. Goat Lake Trail, Washington.
    Around a long bend in the trail, Goat Lake gradually comes into view in crayon-bright shades somewhere between teal and cerulean. Goat Lake Trail, Washington.
    The trail leads to the tip of a point on the eastern lakeshore that affords a direct view of Cadet Peak, with Foggy Peak on the right. Around 1900, several mines were delved into the peaks. The Foggy Mine was bored approximately 10,495 feet/3,199 meters into Cadet Peak’s northeast face, just above the large snowfield at the lower left of the peak in this photo. Goat Lake Trail, Washington.
    Hosts of other summer wildflowers inhabit the sunnier trailside glades and shoreline meadows, including, first column from left, purple foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) (top), oxeye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) (center), and ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor) (bottom); second column, Canada goldenrod (Solidago lepida) (top) and common cow parsnips (Heracleum maximum syn. Heracleum lanatum) (bottom); third column, fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium syn. Chamerion angustifolium); fourth column, hooded ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) (top), Columbia lilies (Lilium columbianum) (upper center), white rein orchids, scent bottles, or, bog candles (Platanthera dilatata var. dilatata) (lower center), and alpine leafybract asters (Symphyotrichum foliaceum) (bottom); fifth column, pearly everlastings (Anaphalis margaritacea) (top), Cascade penstemons, or, Cascade beardtongues (Penstemon serrulatus) (upper center), broadleaf arnicas (Arnica latifolia) (center), scarlet paintbrushes (Castilleja miniata) (lower center), and common harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) (bottom); and sixth column, hardhack, or, rose spiraea (Spiraea douglasii) (top), Pacific ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus) (upper center), common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) (center), sticky monkeyflowers (Erythranthe moschata) (lower center), and yellow willowherbs (Epilobium luteum) (bottom).
    Upper Elliot Trail and Goat Lake Trail, Washington.
    The return trek toward the lake’s outlet and the descending trail beyond provides a placid vista of its own.
    Goat Lake Trail, Washington.

    © 2014-2024 Anthony Colburn. Images may not be used or reproduced in any form without express written consent.


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