Hike Goat Lake | North Cascades National Park
Goat Lake | Northern Cascade National Park | Washington
Distance: 10.4 Miles (16.7km)
Elevation Gain: 1400ft. (426m)
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Drive Time From Seattle: 2 hours
So you are in Seattle and you want to get out of the city, you know, do what Seattleites do? A hike to Goat Lake is the perfect option for you if you love waterfalls, glacier lakes, and jagged peaks. One rainy afternoon, a friend of mine invited me to tag along on a hike to Goat Lake with her. I have never really been a fan of the rain (weird since I chose to live in Seattle), so me agreeing to this hike was based solely on the fact that I had to check out this glacier lake that had been recommended to me so many times before. It had been on my list for entirely too long, and I just needed to cross it off.
Most of the trail felt like an easy stroll through the woods. After you choose your path at the junction of Upper and Lower Elliot trails (both of which end up at the lake), the trail is straight and wide for quite a while. During the first part of the journey, you will walk through pockets of alder trees that seem very out-of-place in the evergreen forest. If you choose the Lower Elliot Creek trail, you will walk along Elliot Creek which will provide some peek-a-boo views of a few different waterfalls. I am a huge sucker for waterfalls, so we obviously chose this option. Many people will take one trail on the way to the lake and the other on the way back, as not to miss anything.
Since the hike is 10.4 miles round-trip it feels like you are walking forever. Most of the hikes I do are around 7 miles round-trip so the extra three miles were slightly painful. We didn’t cross paths with too many other hikers, probably because of the rain, but it is a super popular trail, so you definitely won’t be alone. During the summer months, many people decide to overnight at the lake before heading back, so if you prefer a camping option, this is still a great hike for you. The few people we did run into just kept telling us that the easy part was almost over. It was reassuring since we had already considered quitting early because we were bored of the flat trail.
After the two trails merge, you will come across a dry creek bed that you will have to cross over. This is the beginning of the “hard part”. I am a pretty experienced hiker, and I have done some of the toughest hikes in the area, but I was still out of breath after the ascent. After you cross the creek bed, you will walk up some rocky switchbacks for a mile or so before you reach the campground above the lake.
All of the glacier lakes that I have seen have been a milky turquoise color due to the sediment deposits from the glaciers. I had heard from others that Goat Lake was no different. However, we rounded the corner from the campground to see an eerily green lake in front of us. I don’t know if it was simply the rain, the time of year or why the lake had seemingly magically changed colors, but we definitely didn’t mind. I guess we will just have to head back this spring on a sunny day to see the difference.
Here is the skinny on what you need to bring. Hiking boots are probably not necessary, as most of the hike is flat. However, there are a couple areas where you will have to cross a few creeks, and you might want boots just for the waterproofing. We brought a ton of snacks because 10.4 miles is long enough to get very hangry. Even with a couple protein bars, nuts and seeds, and a Camelbak of water, we were still snapping at each other by the end of the hike. If you would prefer not to cancel out your exercise by hitting the drive-thru on the way back to the city, I suggest packing a real lunch. If you have a filtration water bottle, you can definitely drink out the lake, so plan to fill your bottle again once you get there. Drinking glacier water is something to check off the bucket list anyways! I had my dogs off-leash the entire trail, but it is up to you whether or not you want to risk it. We didn’t see any wild animals, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t any. The area is known for bears and cougars, so if you do plan to overnight at the lake, bring something to string up your food and a canister of bear spray just to be safe. As always, respect the trail, pack out everything you bring in and have fun!