We love a good backpacking adventure in the North Cascades! Kate here, and for my second wedding anniversary I set aside a long weekend with my husband to hike up and camp out at Goat Lake. The North Cascades are a popular day hike during the summer months when the Mountain Loop Highway is open, so we gave ourselves Friday off to increase our chances of snagging a preferred camp site. Goat Lake is a 5.5 mile hike and makes for a fun day hike or varied backpacking trip. My husband and I chose it because we knew we would get the variety of wildlife and scenery that makes the Pacific Northwest pop: mountain views, tree groves, wildflowers, alpine lakes, waterfalls, and fishing.
When we arrived at the trailhead we ran into a camper (and her fur baby) who let us know she was one of two humans there during the week and that we would have our pick of camp sites—great news! We set off down up the trail at noon with a little too much boxed wine and a lot of excitement. We made our way onto the Upper Elliot Trail and hiking amongst the treetops at a steady grade for about three miles. The upper trail is a lot wider to start as it follows an old road, so it was fun to walk side-by-side and take in the views for the first half of the hike.
When the trails (Upper and Lower Elliot) re-joined, we started the switchback journey up the last 1.5 miles of the hike. We took gratuitous breaks in recognition of the extra wine weight and bear canister…and to keep the mood light and fun on the first day of our adventure together. An epic view of waterfalls is the grand welcome to the campsites, which lie along the mouth of the river and sloping up the hill to the left. There were about three tents when we arrived, and we opted to climb an additional 200 feet up the hillside to seclude ourselves above the rest of the traditional campsites. We found the perfect patch with a series of three trees to hang our hammocks side-by-side and directly facing the water through the trees.
We spent the rest of the day filtering water, jumping in (and for me, quickly back out) of the alpine lake at sundown, boiling our Mountain House meals and eating them from the comfort of our sleeping-bags-inside-our-hammocks, reading, and taking down an early bedtime. Saturday was spent sleeping in, greeting a misty morning, eating breakfast, and exploring around the lake. We found lots of fish along the beach and took in the view of the foliage and melting snow. We also ventured across the log jam to
the opposite riverbank from camp (*highly recommend) to see how far along we could walk. Unless you’re an adept scrambler, the journey towards the snow field quickly cuts off across a couple of rock falls. However, the walk along the river is short and epic. There are a couple of outcroppings where you can sit at the base of the first falls and watch the water amble down the mountainside. We spent our lunch doing just that with a glorious carton of wine. You can also hike a little further down the
mountainside to where the first steep falls give in to gravity. If heights are your friend, you can lay along the rocky edge and peek your head over the side.
A day full of adventure was sealed with dinner in our hammocks and another early bedtime (one of the best parts of camping, in my opinion). With the burn ban, most of the campers went to bed around sundown. We woke the next morning to a clear sky, a slow breakfast, and a toe-dip in the water before packing our belongings. We took our time to say goodbye to the lake and then started the journey back down the mountain. The first 1.5 miles are the steepest, so lace your boots tightly and be patient with the rocks as you choose your footfalls. We opted to take the Upper Elliot Trail down due to our desirefor a gradual downhill journey, rather than an up-and-down journey through the Lower Elliot Trail. Besides, you have to save something for next time, right? The light dancing through the trees was a
wonderful way to make our journey to the trailhead. After a few hours, we were back in our car and making our way through the North Cascades again, hearts full and heads serene.
*Note you need a Northwest Forest Pass, which can be purchased at Big 5, REI, or online before your adventure. If you plan to fish, make sure you acquire a seasonal fishing license at Fred Meyer or anywhere else fishing licenses are sold.