Our Hiking Time: 5h 30m
Total Ascent: 1600ft
Highest Point: 3200ft
Total Distance: 10.5 miles
Location: N 48° 1.1040, W 121° 20.9640
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
This week found us back out on the Mountain Loop Highway trekking up the Elliott Creek Trail to Goat Lake. A sunny summer day was the perfect chance to tackle a popular hike that has something for everyone – history, waterfalls, and an alpine lake. It felt like maybe, just maybe, summer had finally arrived.
Goat Lake sits in a cirque surrounded by Sloan, Foggy, and Cadet Peaks within the 102,673 acre Henry M. Jackson Wilderness. Originally named “Sweetleehachu" by the Sauk Indians, miners gave the lake its current name in reference to the mountain goats that roamed the basin’s steep slopes in the early 1890s. As prospectors rushed into Monte Cristo and Mineral City hoping to find gold, they branched out into areas like Goat Lake hoping to strike it rich. The first claims in the basin date back to 1891, quickly followed by a road built by the Penn Mining Company in 1895. Many tunnels were dug into Cadet Peak and Foggy Peak, though these mines produced mostly lead, silver and zinc and very little gold. A small mining town sprang up near the lake outlet, anchored by the Penn Mining Company offices and workers cabins, as well as a lodge that operated from 1927 to 1936 by the MacIntosh family. The 266ft waterfall just below Goat Lake is named MacIntosh Falls in honor of the family. By the 1940s the buildings were abandoned and largely forgotten, until an avalanche swept most of the buildings into the lake. Today a few structures still remain, though the bridge across Elliott Creek has long since washed away making it a little difficult to explore the former townsite.
Elliott Creek Trail #647 begins easily, following the remains of the mining road that once provided access to the lake. Within the first half-mile you’ll find signs pointing to Upper and Lower Elliott. Lower Elliott follows the creek and is about a mile shorter than the upper trail. However, the upper trail is a smoother trail, and is little easier to navigate than the lower trail. We recommend braving the rockier, muddier, and more picturesque lower trail on the way out to the lake. Save the Upper trail for your return trip when the extra mile might be worth a little less strain on your knees.
Either way you’ll cross a number of streams and bubbling cascades along the way, as the forest slowly transitions from alder, fern and bleeding heart to old-growth cedar and moss-covered fir. At three and a half miles you’ll enter the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, and trade any semblance of road for a winding trail. Continue another mile or so to the roaring MacIntosh Falls, following the faint trails out to get a closer look. Linger here for a few minutes or push up the few remaining switchbacks to Goat Lake. Once you reach the lakeshore, follow the increasingly faint trail until you find a quiet place to settle down and have a snack. Cadet Peak sits at the far end of the lake next to Foggy Peak. If you’re willing to brave the overgrown trail out to the end, you’ll find Bridal Veil Falls tumbling down the cliffs of Sloan Peak.
Popular with both day hikers and backpackers, Goat Lake sees some significant traffic on summer weekends. And it’s easy to see why. While the trail is on the longer side, the grade is mostly gentle and the trail is clear and well-maintained, making this hike approachable for most hikers. The destination is stunning; on a sunny day the reflection of snow-covered mountaintops in the lake is an impressive sight. And, if that wasn’t enough, getting a close-up look at massive MacIntosh Falls is more than worth a four mile hike. We recommend this hike for almost everyone, though be prepared to share the views if you go on a weekend.
To get there, take I-5 North to Exit 194. Follow Highway 2 for about two miles. Stay in the left lane and merge onto Lake Stevens Highway 204. Follow for two miles to Highway 9. Take the left onto Highway 9 toward Lake Stevens. In just under two miles, you’ll reach Highway 92 to Granite Falls. Take a right and follow for about nine miles to the Mountain Loop Highway. Follow the MLH for a little over 30 miles to the end of the pavement. Continue another three and a half miles to FR 4080. Take a right and follow FR 4080 about a mile to the Elliott Creek Trailhead. – Nathan
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