Evening settles over Gold Creek Valley in this view from the Forest Service road leading to the trailhead. August 03, 2013.
Opening northward from Snoqualmie Pass, Gold Creek Valley offers glimpses of the rugged landscape of peaks, creeks, and lakes deep in the Cascade Mountains. From their shared trailhead, the Gold Creek Pond Loop and Gold Creek Trail offer varied opportunities to enjoy this window into the wilderness.
The Gold Creek Pond Loop circles Gold Creek Pond, which was once a gravel pit that contributed paving material to nearby Interstate 90 and has since been restored to natural subalpine habitat for the benefit of wildlife and humans alike. Alternating between pavement and smooth-surfaced bridges and boardwalks, the Gold Creek Pond Loop is a fully ADA-accessible trail that offers spectacular views and a bit of wilderness just a short drive from the freeway. Level and beyond reach of the avalanches common to the area, the loop is also a popular wintertime snowshoeing and cross-country skiing destination. (During winter’s snows, the parking area at the trailhead is closed, limiting access to those who can reach it by foot from one of the nearby Sno-Parks.)
The non-ADA Gold Creek Trail branches from the loop trail and tracks Gold Creek upstream through alternating forest, scrub, and talus for approximately 5.00 miles/8.00 km. The trail ends abruptly, but, as indicated by signage, unmaintained bootpaths continue, one proceeding farther up the valley and the other, profiled here, climbing steeply to Alaska Lake high on the valley’s western wall. Beyond the maintained trail, be prepared to encounter eroded terrain and low-hanging branches in return for increasing mountain views and a bit of backcountry solitude.
Unlike the Gold Creek Pond Loop, the Gold Creek Trail crosses several avalanche chutes, the largest of which has scoured a massive swath down the western flank of Alta Mountain and flattened forest on the opposite side of the valley. Avalanches shape this rugged landscape and have proven near disastrous to snowshoers traversing their chutes on this trail in winter — when snow is present, be sure to check avalanche forecasts before taking to the trail.
At least one additional permit may be required to access the trails when snow is present. In winter, the trailhead parking lot and road are maintained by the State of Washington and require a state-issued Sno-Park Permit for access, in addition to a federally issued Northwest Forest Pass. And, if parking at the nearby Hyak Sno-Park and proceeding to the trails on foot, be aware that the Hyak Sno-Park requires a state-issued Discover Pass, rather than a Northwest Forest Pass.
A short path from the parking area and trailhead joins the Gold Creek Pond Loop just before reaching a large picnic area. Take the right fork to round the pond counterclockwise and save the most impressive views for the loop’s finale or to reach the Gold Creek Trail. Gold Creek Pond Loop, October 28, 2017.
As the loop trail rounds Gold Creek Pond, glimpses of the surrounding mountains begin to appear; here, Rampart Ridge lines the valley to the east. Gold Creek Pond Loop, October 28, 2017.
The pond’s far shore offers placid views from a bridge where one of several small creeks joins its waters. Gold Creek Pond Loop, October 28, 2017.
The picnic area on Gold Creek Pond’s western shore provides a magnificent view of Gold Creek Valley, which traces the creek’s path to its headwaters just below Chikamin Peak on the far horizon. The valley is walled by Kendall Peak to the west (left) and Rampart Ridge to the east (right). Gold Creek Pond Loop, October 28, 2017.
Given its relative ease of access and scenic beauty, the loop trail is popular year-round. Gold Creek Pond Loop, December 26, 2017.
The Gold Creek Trail branches from the Gold Creek Pond Loop not far from the trailhead and tracks the creek up the valley through alternating conifer forest and dense copses of willow and alder. Gold Creek Trail, July 28, 2015.
The many forest clearings along the Gold Creek Trail provide views up to the mountain ridges that bound the valley. Here, Kendall Peak’s peaks rise westward beyond the closely thicketed wayside. Gold Creek Trail, July 28, 2015.
The trail crisscrosses Gold Creek, which, depending on the season, can trickle between easily topped steppingstones or rush deeply and widely enough to render fording its waters difficult. Gold Creek Trail, July 28, 2015.
Few wildflowers dot the heavy wayside brush. Around the debris-filled avalanche chutes that cross the trail, look for lofty spikes of fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) (top), which thrives where the soil and other vegetation have been recently disturbed. Hedge-nettles (Stachys sp.) (lower left) and false bugbane (Trautvetteria caroliniensis) (lower center) brighten the shadows along the creek and tributary streams. Similar in flower and form to false bugbane, the distantly related western baneberry (Actaea rubra) (lower right) differs by bearing vivid clusters of poisonous berries. Gold Creek Trail, July 28, 2015.
At approximately 4.00 miles/6.40 km from the trailhead, the Gold Creek Trail reaches the largest of the avalanche chutes that crosses its path. Here, avalanches sweeping down Alta Mountain have scalped the mountainside down to its stone foundation, save one lone tree miraculously spared high on its crest. Gold Creek Trail, July 28, 2015.
In the winter of 2007-08, a particularly destructive avalanche swept down Alta Mountain’s avalanche chute shown in the previous photo with such force that it surged across Gold Creek and up Kendall Peak’s steep northeastern slope on the opposite side of the valley, felling a swath of forest beyond its usual path. Bones of the fallen trees still litter the mountainside where they fell. Gold Creek Trail, July 28, 2015.
Where the maintained portion of the Gold Creek Trail ends at approximately 5.00 miles/8.00 km from the trailhead, a bootpath forks left and climbs a steep, overgrown mile/1.60 km to Alaska Lake. The effort is rewarded by expansive mountain views as the path ascends. Here, Four Brothers’ serrated summit tops the northeast horizon. Gold Creek – Alaska Lake Trail, July 28, 2015.
As the bootpath to Alaska Lake climbs from the valley floor below, Alta Mountain dominates the southeastern view. Gold Creek – Alaska Lake Trail, July 28, 2015.
Alaska Lake pools in a deeply set cirque just below the mountain ridges that form Gold Creek Valley’s western wall. Gold Creek – Alaska Lake Trail, July 18, 2015.