I recently had the opportunity to do one of the most challenging and scenic hikes I’ve ever done. On August 17, 18, & 19 I hiked into and through the Goat Rocks Wilderness in southwest Washington state.
Goat Rocks Wilderness
This area is aptly named after the mountain goats that populate it. Although the goats were elusive to my hiking group, we did behold lush alpine meadows full of lupine and other wildflowers, fantastic peaks and valleys, and critters such as marmots and pikas.
The skies were clear, and we witnessed the grandeur of the Cascades, with Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. St. Helens in full view at the same time.
Northwest Forest Pass
The internet and the Ranger station in Randle, WA said a Northwest Forest Pass was required to enter the wilderness area, yet the parking lot where we left our car said we did not need a Forest Pass. However, it did require a self-issued Wilderness Use Permit. Whether we did or didn’t actually need the Forest Pass, it’s worth it to support this pristine and beautiful wilderness – and for the peace of mind that your car will be there without a fine on the return trip.
You’ll want to pack all of the gear and food that you’ll need for your length of time there. There is no place to get supplies, and at times, you will be approximately 10 miles or more from the nearest forest road. My backpack was somewhere between 40-45lbs.
I’m in great shape, but I was definitely challenged by carrying that load. You will definitely need a water purifier. There is no way you’ll be able to carry all of the water that you’ll need. Fortunately, there are plenty of water sources in the area.
Be smart about what you take in. Know that any unnecessary items you bring are going to feel very heavy!
Carry out all of your trash!
- Waterproof jacket
- Warm jacket – Can get pretty cold at night.
- Several pairs of wool socks
- Hiking shoes
- Comfortable camp shoes/sandals
- Hat for warmth
- Hat for shade
- Gloves for warmth
- Underwear – 1 pair/day
- Sleeping bag – Possibly with compression sack
- Sleeping pad
- Hiking poles
- Nalgene – Water container
- First aid stuff
- Lip balm
- Drinking mug for hot liquids
- Bowl (soft or collapsable)
- Carabiners/Straps for attaching gear to bag
- Pillow – Or use your jacket
- Waterproof matches/Lighter
- Backpacking tent
- Toilet paper
- Shovel/Spade – To cover or bury body waste
- Water purifier
- Alcohol/Flask – For drinking!
- Jetboil – Or small/light stove
- Biodegradable Soap
- Freeze dried camping food
- Power bars
- Trail mix
- Ramen soup, or rice noodles (add water)
- Treats to keep yourself happy
Hike The Goat Rocks
To get to the Goat Rocks, we took I-5 north from Portland to Washington exit 68. Then, we headed east on US 12 for roughly 62 miles.
Along the way, we stopped at the US Forest Service Ranger Station in Randle, WA to obtain our forest pass, ask some general information about the area, and buy a hiking book.
About three miles before Packwood watch for Forest Road 21 on your right. Turn there, and follow that road for about 12 miles, then turn left on Forest Road 2150. The road from here on is made of gravel, and is about wide enough for 2 cars. There is a sign for Chambers Lake and Snowgrass Flat, which is where you want to go.
Follow this and then keep right on 2150/040, then turn right again on 2150/405. Park at the Snowgrass Trailhead. The entire drive from Portland is about 3 hours.
With the vehicle parked and our gear on our backs, we were ready to start!
We easily found the Snowgrass Trailhead (#96), and began our 4.1 mile, 1600-ft elevation gain to Snowgrass Flats, the first destination of our walking journey. We trotted along this forest path at an initially easy pace uphill, and it gradually got to be harder. It was a nice way to start while we got used to the weight on our backs and enjoyed the fresh air of the forest.
Eventually we emerged from the forest into the meadows of Snowgrass Flats. Once we got to the Flats, we found a confluence of trails heading in various directions. We continued up #96 for another mile or so until we found an excellent campsite. There were many other sites in this area.
We set up what would be our base camp for the next 2 nights, ate a meal, and stared in awe at our view of Mt. Adams from our campsite.
After that, we still had a couple hours of daylight left, so we decided to continue up #96 for a ways and catch a glimpse of what the next day’s hike had in store for us.
About a half mile farther #96 converged with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and we beheld one of the most beautiful alpine meadows you could imagine.
The next morning after breakfast, we gathered the items we needed into day packs, and set off on a 4 mile hike from our campsite to climb the summit of Old Snowy. At about 7800 feet, it’s one of the highest peaks in the Goat Rocks and during this leg of our trip we traversed more than 2000 feet of elevation gain.
To get there, we headed west on the PCT from where it joined #96. The trail is well-marked, and as we crossed several meadows and snow fields, the terrain gradually became more and more rocky. None of the snow fields required any equipment to get across, but I was extremely happy to have hiking poles during this part, and the entire trip for that matter. Because the snow was still there in August, you will probably want to be prepared with crampons and a pick if you go earlier in the year.
The last half mile or so turned into a boulder field that you have to scramble up in order to reach the summit.
At the summit of Old Snowy we caught fantastic views of Goat Lake, where we would be hiking to the next day, and of Mt. Rainier.
After climbing down from Old Snowy, we decided that there was enough time left in the day for a few more miles of hiking. We decided to head over to Cispus Basin to see the waterfalls that we heard about from other hikers. We walked the 4 miles back to the PCT and #96 junction, and continued south on the PCT.
Approximately three miles later, through more forest, past boulder fields of chirping pikas, and a view across the breathtaking Cispus Basin, we stopped at a waterfall to have a rest and decided that it was time to head back into camp for the night.
The final day of our expedition arrived. We ate breakfast and broke down camp. We were all fairly exhausted from the previous 2 days of hiking, and knew that this last day would be the hardest of all. In addition to dealing with sore bodies, we would need to hike fully loaded with all of our gear, back to Snowgrass Flats, through Lily Basin, up the ridge to Goat Lake, and then back down the other side to the parking area. Roughly ten miles in all.
The last half of this day was all downhill; however, I found this rather difficult. I guess with the extra weight I was carrying, the downward trek was not very agreeable to my knees.
Above: Goat Lake in the distance, excited about the last day of trekking.
Above: I took this self portrait on the Goat Lake trail, I was hoping that this shot would capture how high up and vast it was here. Mt. Adams is in the background.
Above: We finally arrived at Goat Lake sans any goats. It’s late August and it’s frozen! That didn’t bother us one bit. Swimming wasn’t in order, but the views were magnificent!
Above: From Goat Lake I looked across the basin that we had just traversed. In the distance you can see Old Snowy, the peak center left, that we had just climbed the day before.
The final leg of our hike through the forest was a slow plod. Other than some distracting batches of mosquitoes, my mind didn’t wander too far from wondering about the pain in my knees and if I should take another Aleve.
There were mixed emotions as we made it to the car. On one hand, an exhausting weekend was over. Despite the three-hour drive back to Portland, we were headed back to civilization, a hot shower, and a clean and comfortable bed. On the other hand, we were headed back to civilization, and away from one of the most beautiful places, and beautiful weekends I’ve ever had.