63 – Lower Elliot Trail (Day 1 – Goat Lake Backpacking Trip)

Putting that new backpack and the hiking accessories received for my birthday (see: Happy Birthday – Sweet Sixty) to use, our first backpacking trip of the summer found us following the scenic Mountain Loop Highway to the Goat Lake trailhead. We registered for two nights of camping at the lake.

Registering at the Goat Lake trailhead

Described by Craig Romano in the book Day Hiking – North Cascades as follows:

A spectacular backcountry lake – one of the largest in the area – awaits those who walk this way. Once the site of a bustling mining operation, complete with company town and lakeside hotel, Goat Lake boasts plenty of history along with its fine views. Waterfalls too! So grand is Goat that the Washington Department of Transportation chose it to grace its official road maps in the early 1990s. But you can’t drive there, so millions of map admirers never got any closer than a dusty road. You, however, are on your way.

As we set off on the Elliot Creek Trail #647, we indeed were on our way.

(pic by Kent) Heading into the forest

Within a half mile, we had reached signs pointing to the Upper and Lower Elliot trails. We decided to brave the rockier, muddier, but more picturesque, Lower Elliot trail for our hike up to the lake. Thinking we might be a bit fatigued after a weekend of hiking and hiking, we thought we would save that easier-to-navigate upper trail for our hike back down.

Intersection for Lower & Upper Elliot trails . . . we took the Lower Elliot trail

The roar of Elliot Creek was almost constant as the trail led us through the beautiful Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. With temps in the lower 80s, it felt warm as the trail continued to gain in elevation and we carried our heavy packs on our backs. Kent dipped my rolled bandana in the glacier-fed water of Elliot Creek several times so I could tie it around my hair and be instantly cooled as we continued along in the afternoon sun.

Along the Lower Elliot trail

With several streams to ford, a bullfrog or two hopping along in front of us, plenty of wild flowers in bloom, huge rock formations and plenty of waterfalls along the rapidly flowing Elliot Creek, the Lower Elliot really was a wild and scenic trail.

(pic by Kent) Along the Lower Elliot Trail

The lower trail along Elliot Creek had led us through a beautiful old-growth forest for its first two miles, then tansformed into second-grow timber about where it rejoined the Upper Elliot, and we had another 1.6 miles to go to reach Goat Lake.

That way to Goat Lake . . .

Pretty as the summer sun shone through the alders, this trail started out smooth and level but became increasingly rocky as it gained in elevation.

Along the trail . . .

As our trail led us into the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, the forest made another transition – this time, back to old-growth cedar and moss-covered fir.

Entering the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness

The trail led deep into the wilderness and finally an old stream bed full of rocks and rubble, had completely obliterated all signs of the trail, so the map was pulled out.

Trail washed out . . . checking map for directions

Looking around, we saw a pink plastic tie on a branch along the edge of that old stream bed, so we walked up that and managed to find the trail again. Before we knew it, we were back on track, and once again in the bright sunshine.

Back on the trail again . . .

With only a few more streams to ford and a few more hundred feet of elevation to gain, we finally reached the sign for Goat Lake.

Arriving at Goat Lake

With packs off (mine weighed in just under 30 pounds, and Kents, much closer to 40), we picked out our campsite.

Packs down . . . ready to set up camp

Quickly running out of daylight, Kent worked fast to get that new backpacking tent set up.

Setting up camp . . .

Packing in ravioli stuffed with butternut squash, they were boiled up with sundried tomatoes and drizzled with olive oil and shredded cheese, so after our camp was set up, we enjoyed a wonderful, gourmet dinner. Because bears find human food so tasty (and convenient), after dinner Kent threw a rope over a branch high up in a tree, attached a pully and secured our food up and out of the reach of any bears.

Hanging food in trees . . . above reach of the bears

Located in a cirque surrounded by Sloan, Foggy, and Cadet Peaks, the night sky was crystal clear over Goat Lake, so we walked down to the shore and picking out a few of our favorite constellations, star gazed.

Goat Lake at night . . . under a starry sky

To get to Goat Lake Trail #647 from the Darrington Ranger Station, drive south along the Mountain Loop Highway (FS Road #20) for 22 miles to Elliot Creek Road  #4080, turn left and continue to drive 0.8 miles to the trailhead parking lot. A U.S. Forest Service pass is required.

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