If you have read anything about the Goat Rocks Wilderness, chances are it was about the Snowgrass Flats loop. This loop can be started from the Berry Patch or Snowgrass trailheads. The wildflowers blossom in the fields shortly after the snow melts and the drainage from the Goat Rocks fills the basin. This is usually in late July or early August. Once the word is out, the parking lots will be packed, so make sure to get to the trailheads early.
The route can be done clockwise, or counter-clockwise. Either way has a few miles of climbing to get above the timberline where the flowers bloom and the Goat Rocks come into view. You can actually smell the sweet lupine before you see them. Indian paintbrush, bear grass, and devil’s horn are abundant among the Jordan Creek basin.
Going clockwise from Berry Patch, take the Goat Ridge Trail #95 for 4.5 miles and 2200′ of ascent to Lilly Basin Trail. Goat Lake will be in view on the right, and Hawkeye Point is on the left. The loop goes right, but the .4 mile climb up to Hawkeye Point is well worth the effort. Hawkeye Point offers views of both Mt. Ranier and Mt. Adams and looks straight down at Goat Lake.
Come back down from Hawkeye Point and head back to Goat Lake via the Lilly Basin Trail #86. The trail will follow the southern edge of Goat Lake. When this lake thaws in August, there will be several goats in the area.
Continue on Lilly Basin Trail for 3 miles through Snowgrass flats through thick wildflower gardens and spectacular views of Mt. Adams. The trail connects to Snowgrass Trail where the route heads left up to the Pacific Crest Trail. This is a popular place for hikers to camp based on the beauty of the flowers and the expansive views of the Cascades.
After a half-mile, the trail connects to the PCT. The loop goes right, but there are some treasures heading North on the PCT that can’t be missed. Save the legs for Old Snowy Mountain. There won’t be much running up to Old Snowy. This used to be part of the PCT, but the trails are rocky technical and hands will be needed for some sections, so it is now the PCT alternate route. At 7930′, Old Snowy is the second-highest point in all of Goat Rocks. The time and effort will be worth it as all the Washington volcanoes come into view. Goats will be cooling themselves on the glaciers below, and the headwaters of the Cispus, Cowlitz, and Tieton Rivers will be in sight.
The other highlight of heading North on the PCT off the loop is the Knife’s Edge section of the PCT. On the descent of Old Snowy, there is a sign pointing to the PCT heading North. Follow that back down the PCT where the Knife’s Edge section starts and ends a mile and a half later at the Coyote Trail intersection. It’s called the Knife’s Edge because the trail sits on top of a ridge around 7000′ and on the Eastside is the McCall Glacier and to the West is the Packwood Glacier. Goats rest thousands of feet below on the glaciers. One false step and it would be a long fall. Several hikers have died in this section due to hypothermia as there is no shelter to protect from a storm. For strong technical runners in nice weather, this section won’t be a problem and will be well worth the challenge.
Run back on the Knife’s Edge to continue on the Snowgrass flats loop. Four miles from turning around at Coyote Trail is a Bypass Trail off of the PCT. This is easy to miss, so look for cairns marking the intersection. After a mile on the Bypass, the trail meets Snowgrass Trail #96. Turn left at the trail through more wildflower meadows and views of Mt. Adams.
Continue on the trail for 3.6 miles for a descent back through the forest. Several streams and creeks are accessible for water. Filter water away from the stream as horseflies and mosquitoes will be happy to use hikers and runners as a meal in this area. Near the bottom of the trail is the trail to the parking lot for the Snowgrass Trail. Continue for another .6 miles to the Berry Patch lot.
The Snowgrass Loop is just over 14 miles. The route with all of the suggested extensions adds about 7 more miles.
Good on you for sharing.