A detailed map of the Goat Rocks Wilderness complete with a list of the best hikes in the area.
Published: August 16th, 2021
Learn how to make the most of your time in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. We cover the best time to go, permits, itineraries, water sources, camping, and much more. Let’s jump in!
The Goat Rocks Wilderness offers stunning alpine scenery, ridgeline walks, and glaciers just a few hours outside of Seattle and Portland.
The Goats Rocks Wilderness is a part of the Cascade Mountain Range located southeast of Mount Rainier National Park in Washington and was formed by the remains of a large, now extinct, volcano
Featuring 120 miles of trails, many above the treeline, Goat Rocks Wilderness is an excellent place for day hikes to week-long backpacking trips.
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The Goat Rocks Wilderness has over 120 miles of trail to explore. With a large interconnected trail network, there are countless options from day hikes to week-long trips. Below are our top picks to help get you started planning your adventure.
If you’re going to do one trail in the Goat Rocks Wilderness this is the one. Of any trail in the park, this seven-mile hike packs punch after punch in a short distance.
Less than one mile in you’ll hit your first of many alpine meadows. Depending on the season, you’ll see a wide array of wildflowers. As you make your way through meadow after meadow, you’ll start to get good looks at Bear Creek Mountain. The meadows give way to talus and tarns. And after a steep climb, you’ll reach the summit.
From the top, you’ll gain stunning views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Old Snowy Mountain, and the Goat Rocks.
One caveat, you’ll want a high clearance vehicle for the last two miles of the road to the Section 3 Lake trailhead. If you don’t feel comfortable on this road, a good alternative is to start from the Conrad Meadows trailhead which adds two miles and 1,900 feet of elevation gain.
© John Fowler (CC BY 2.0)
Starting from the Snowgrass trailhead, this challenging 15.3 mile out and back trail heads up to the summit of Old Snowy Mountain. Along the way, it passes through Snowgrass Flats, a beautiful alpine meadow with stunning views of the surrounding mountains. After a brief bit of hiking on the PCT, the trail turns off to the summit. From here, some scrambling is required to get to the top.
Be prepared for snow travel. This section of the trail can be snow-covered late into the summer.
From the top, there are fabulous views of Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and the Goat Rocks. This is a popular trail. If camping be sure to follow LNT principles to preserve this area for future generations.
If you still have gas in the tank you can add another 3 miles to make this a loop visiting Goat Lake and descending Goat Ridge back to the trailhead.
Starting at the Walupt Lake trailhead the moderate nine-mile out and back Nannie Ridge trail begins with a 2,000 ft climb over the first two miles. After that, it’s relatively flat along the ridge passing a few small pools eventually reaching Sheep Lake. Here turn around and head back down to Walupt Lake.
The open landscape allows for great views back toward Mount Adams and during wildflower season the landscape is dotted with color. This can be made into a 14-mile loop with the Walupt Lake trail and the PCT.
Great for a long day hike or a one-night trip.
© Vy Vo
Don’t let the short two-mile length fool you. This is a difficult trail only for experienced hikers. The start of the “trail” is more bushwhack, the steep slopes are hazardous, and the bugs are legendarily bad.
There are no bridges. In the spring and after a large rainfall, the trail may be impassable. But those up for this adventure are rewarded by a magnificent 221 foot waterfall at the end of the trail.
The trail begins near the Walupt horse camp.
Starting at the Berry Patch trailhead, this challenging 10.3 mile hike will take you to Hawkeye Point which sits 1,000 feet above Goat Lake. The first few forested miles climbing to the ridgeline are difficult. Once you’re up on the ridge the meadows, views, and easier grade make you forget about the climb.
Once you hit the saddle, the views really open up as you climb to Hawkeye Point. Nab a nice spot to sit and enjoy the views that stretch out in every direction and down to the turquoise Goat Lake.
You can make this a loop via Snowgrass Flats which adds about two miles.
© Yalbik (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The forested trail to Packwood Lake is a real winner on a hot day, providing shade all the way to the lake. It’s also a relatively easy stroll only gaining 1,000 feet of elevation over the 4 miles to the lake. Arriving at the lake gives stunning views into the Goat Rocks Wilderness.
The total mileage out and back is eight miles.
The Packwood Lake trail is a popular gateway to the rest of the Goat Rocks Wilderness. For those looking for a more challenging day hike, or an overnight trip, heading the three extra miles up to Lost Lake is a rewarding addition to this hike.
Camping is allowed around both lakes. The Packwood Lake trail is an excellent launching off point to explore the Goat Rocks Wilderness.
The 8,184 foot Gilbert Peak is the highest point of the Goat Rocks Wilderness. The summit is a challenging nontechnical ascent with some class 3 scrambling. It’s not uncommon to find snow here year-round. Views of glaciers and the surrounding mountains from the summit are unmatched.
PACIFIC CREST TRAIL
For 34 miles the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) cuts through the heart of the Goat Rocks Wilderness. True to its name the trail sticks near the crest of the mountains and provides some of the best walking in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, and on the entire PCT for that matter.
© U.S. Forest Service- Pacific Northwest Region (Public Domain)
The Cascade Mountains are famous for their glaciers, four of which are in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. On the shaded northern slopes of Gilbert Peak, you can find the Conrad and Meade glaciers and on Old Snowy Mountain you can find the Packwood and McCall glaciers. The PCT and Bear Creek Mountain Trail provide excellent views of the glaciers.
Snowgrass Flat is a wide meadow that sits at 6,000 feet with beautiful wildflowers and iconic views of the surrounding mountains. If you’ve seen photos of wildflowers in the Goat Rocks Wilderness they likely came from here. It can be reached as a moderate day hike from the Snowgrass Flats trailhead.
© Tom Hilton (CC BY 2.0)
The Goat Rocks Wilderness is chock-full of alpine lakes. Goat Lake, Lost Lake, Surprise Lake, Warm Lake, Heart Lake, Sheep Lake, Shoe Lake - the list goes on. Most of the lakes, save Shoe Lake, allow camping provided you’re at least 100 feet from the shoreline. Stringing together a route between these lakes makes for an excellent longer backpacking trip.
MOUNT RAINIER-GOAT ROCKS OVERLOOK
This is a bit of a cheat since it’s not technically in the wilderness area, but if you’re short on time this overlook on highway 12 gives you views northwest to Mount Rainier and south to Gilbert Peak. Also on highway 12 are overlooks of Lava Falls and Clear Creek Falls.
WHEN TO GO: Timing, Weather and Seasons
The best time to visit the Goat Rocks Wilderness is late July through September. Snow is the limiting factor to season length.
In heavy snow years, the snow can linger until mid-July and start up again at the end of September. In light snow years, the season can start in June and go through October.
When traveling in the mountains the weather can change quickly, always be prepared for any weather at any time of the year.
July and August is a great time to visit and see the peak of the alpine wildflower season. It’s also a good time to beat the summer heat in the lower elevations. However, this is also peak mosquito and black fly season. The bugs taper by the fall, as do the crowds of hikers, making this a great time to visit for those who don’t mind cooler temperatures.
Due to its proximity to the Seattle and Portland metro areas the Goat Rocks Wilderness can be busy, especially in summer.
Permits are required and campsites can be crowded. To avoid the peak season (and peak bugs) visit towards the end of the season, in late summer or early fall.
HOW TO GET THERE
The best way to get to the Goat Rocks Wilderness is by car.
The two most popular trailheads are Packwood Lake and Berry patch, which require a fee to park at. In total there are 18 trailheads to access the wilderness. 15 on the western, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, side and 3 on the eastern, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, side.
It is possible to get to Packwood, WA via a long bus journey and then hitch to the trailhead. Given the PCT runs through this area motorists may be more accommodating to picking up hikers looking for a hitch.
Permits are needed in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. They are free and are self-issued at all trailheads. Berry Patch and Packwood Lake, the two most popular trailheads, require a Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Pass to pay for parking. These can be purchased at the trailhead or purchased at the Forest Service Ranger Station in Randle, WA.
NAVIGATION: Maps and Apps
Most of the trails in the Goat Rocks Wilderness are well signposted and easy to follow. However, packing a good map is crucial to know how all the trails are interconnected. In the case of low visibility or snow travel, it can be hard to follow even the best-marked trail. A compass (and knowledge of how to use it) is an essential survival tool.
For paper maps, the National Geographic Trails Map 823 covers the Goat Rocks Wilderness. The US Forest Service also offers maps, free to download or paper copies can be purchased from their store. Popular hiking and GPS apps like Gaia GPS, All Trails, and the Hiking Project all cover the Goat Rocks Wilderness.
WHERE TO SLEEP: Camping, Shelters, and Hostels
Inside of the Goat Rocks Wilderness dispersed camping is allowed with a few restrictions. Camping is prohibited within 100 feet of lakes, streams and the PCT. It is also prohibited to camp in the Shoe Lake basin and Snowgrass Flats areas. It’s always good practice to follow Leave No Trace principles and camp in existing sites to minimize impact. In the busiest areas, there are poles marking the designated campsites. Due to wilderness area regulations, there are no facilities inside the Goat Rocks Wilderness. All trash must be packed out. Human waste must be buried in 6-8” catholes or packed out.
Outside of the wilderness area boundaries in the Gifford Pinchot and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests, there are frontcountry campgrounds that can be reserved at www.recreation.gov. These can make a great base camp for day hikes if you prefer to stay near your car. If you’re looking for free car camping options, dispersed camping is allowed on certain forest roads. See this website for full information.
In the nearby town of Packwood, there are campgrounds, cabins, and hotels to stay at. The Hotel Packwood is a favorite of hikers. Operating more like a hostel with shared bathrooms it has rooms starting at $30/night.
SUPPLIES: Food, Water, and Ranger Stations
Packwood, WA, population 342, is the closest town to the trailheads in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. If you’re in need of supplies it has grocery, hardware, and gas services. It also has cafes, restaurants, and accommodation. Even its own brewery for your cold post-hike beer.
Water is abundant in the Goat Rocks Wilderness’s lakes and streams. All water should be treated before consumption. If it’s been a dry year and you’re concerned about water in the backcountry call a ranger station for the most up to date information.
Two ranger stations service the Goat Rocks Wilderness. On the western, Gifford Pinchot National Forest side, is the Cowlitz Valley Ranger Station. On the eastern, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest side, is the Naches Ranger station.
SIGHTS: Nature and Wildlife
The sweeping vistas and postcard-worthy ridgeline trekking are the stars of the show in the Goat Rocks but wildlife also abounds. Elk and black bears are found throughout the wilderness area.
In the higher alpine areas you'll hear, and hopefully glimpse, chirping pikas and marmots. On the rockiest terrain mountain goats pick their way on impossibly steep slopes.
Although rare, fishers, wolverines, and the endangered Cascade red fox also inhabit the Goat Rocks Wilderness.
In July and August, wildflowers colorfully dot the landscape of the meadows. Monkeyflower, lupine, buttercups, Indian paintbrush, and daisies are all common.
OTHER PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Safety and Regulations
Below is a list of practical information specific to the Goat Rocks Wilderness to keep you safe and keep this area intact for generations to come.
By Justin Sprecher (aka "Semisweet"): Semisweet is a Wisconsin-based thru-hiker, adventurer and digital storyteller. You can find him exploring the upper midwest on foot, in a canoe and on a bike.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.
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