From wildflower-filled meadows to top-of-the-world ridgelines, the hike to Goat Lake showcases the beauty of the Goat Rocks Wilderness, a haven for day-hikers and backpackers in the South Cascades. Goat Lake's chilly turquoise waters, situated in a north-facing cirque, are frozen several months out of the year and are often snow-covered well into summer.
From the trailhead at the Berry Patch parking lot, which features one vault toilet, follow Trail No. 95 as it climbs gently into an open and airy forest. Unless you're hoping to add another mile to your hike, ignore the spur trail on your left (Trail 95A) that appears about a mile into the hike and rejoins the main trail a short while later. Both junctions are clearly marked with wooden signs. Other offshoots from the main trail are similarly marked later in the hike.
At the 1.5-mile mark, the forest gives way to rolling meadows. You'll still find tree cover here on occasion, as well as glimpses of the Goat Rocks to the east. When the trail crosses beneath the first of a handful of talus slopes on your right, you've hit the 3-mile mark and will notice a couple of campsites hidden in the trees to your left.
A short while later, the views begin to open up, with Mount St. Helens appearing to the southwest. From here, the trail begins to climb in earnest. For the next mile and a half or so, you'll be working your way up a deep saddle. The landscape of Jordan Basin is built on a grand scale and will encourage multiple camera stops. In late summer and fall, when small creeks run dry during the first half of the hike, water is usually still available at babbling Jordan Creek, which briefly parallels the trail.
When you gain Goat Ridge a little past the five-mile mark, you'll see a sign anchored in a pile of rocks pointing the way to Lily Basin (left). Stay on the main trail (right) and continue along the ridgeline. Mount Adams dominates the southern skyline, while the Goat Creek Basin unfolds below. Watch your step while admiring the view. The ridgeline trail, though sturdy and well-built, is sloughing in just a few places.
Before you spy Goat Lake, you'll see the pink-hued rock walls that loom above it. A few moments later, the lake will appear. While you jockey for the best place to picnic or take a photo, try to stay on the main trail to avoid disturbing the fragile ecosystem that surrounds the lake.
When to go? This hike is optimal in mid-to-late summer, when the wildflowers are blooming and the huckleberries are ripening, and in fall, when the leaves are turning. Snow often lingers at the lake and along the ridgeline well into August.
WTA Pro-Tip: If you'd rather hike a loop than an out-and-back course, continue on the main trail (now Trail 86) and follow it to Snowgrass Flats. From there, follow Trail 96 all the way back to the Berry Patch. This option will add about a mile or so to your hike.