backpack: Goat Rocks – PCT & Cispus Basin
On this three night backpacking trip, we camped near the Pacific Crest Trail and did day hikes on the PCT from Old Snowy to Cispus Pass.
- distance & elevation gain to campsite: 5.25 miles, 1,700 ft. gain
- day hike options: PCT North towards Old Snowy, Cispus Basin
- best months: mid-July to September
- location: Goat Rocks Wilderness; nearest town: Packwood
- land management: Gifford Pinchot National Forest: Cowlitz Valley Ranger District
- trail conditions: Snowgrass Trail #96
- hike description: Washington Trails Association – Snowgrass Flat
- permits: self-issued at the trailhead
- trailhead pass: none required
Day 1 – hike in to camp near PCT
5.25 miles, 1,700 ft. gain
I’ve backpacked in Goat Rocks four times and camped off the Lily Basin Trail, but for this trip, I wanted to camp up higher near the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It was hot and and a bit buggy on the hike up through the forest, but once we reached the subalpine areas at the junction of the Snowgrass and Lily Basin trails, the bugs weren’t as heavy as they were in the forest.
One of my favorite things about Goat Rocks are the meadows. During this trip, they were completely filled with blooming wildflowers, including white and pink mountain heathers, scarlet paintbrush, lupines, bistort, western pasqueflower in seed head stage, purple asters, arnica, and many others.
At the junction with the Lily Basin Trail, we continued on the Snowgrass Trail and found a campsite about a quarter mile from the PCT with good access to a stream with running water. Our camp was large, with plenty of room for our three tents and a large separate kitchen area. We also had views of Mount Adams through the trees as well as views of Goat Rocks. After we setup camp and had dinner, we walked up the trail to take photos at sunset.
Day 2 – hike north on PCT towards Old Snowy
3.5 miles, 800 ft. gain roundtrip
We spent the morning hiking closer to the peaks of Goat Rocks, heading north on the PCT. There were a lot of thru-hikers on the trails all weekend, and we saw at least 20 on this short hike.
We took our time and explored side trails, checking out campsites with expansive views.
Stopping to check out two giant rocks that appeared to be split apart, we took a short break at the base of them.
Continuing on the trail, we crossed several small snowfields. All were easy to cross, although a bit slick due to the melting slushy snow.
Now above tree line, rocks filled the scenery around us.
Wow! The scenery at the base of Goat Rocks is unreal, looking much like a moonscape.
Once we reached as far as we were going to go, we found a spot off trail in the rocks and had lunch with a big view of Mount Rainier while we watched everyone crossing the snowfield to reach Old Snowy and the Knife Edge. On the left in the photo below, Hawkeye Point sits above still frozen Goat Lake.
The drop-off from this snowfield is much steeper than appears in the photo. We watched a steady stream of people heading to Old Snowy. The snow was slushy and slick and several people slipped while crossing this section, although all of them made it across safely.
Day 2 – sunset scenes around camp
After our hike, we had dinner at camp and headed out to take photos at sunset.
Day 3 – hike south on PCT to Cispus Pass
7.5 miles, 1,000 ft. gain roundtrip
To reach Cispus Basin, we headed back to the PCT and hiked south through a mix of meadows, open forest, and talus slopes.
Views of the expansive basin came into view along the ridge.
To continue to the basin, we crossed a wide creek below a waterfall.
The Cispus valley is quite grand… and much larger than appears in photos.
Below a craggy rock peak is the beginning of the Cispus River, with snow bridges that have melted out and left high banks of snow on the sides.
Looking down the Cispus River towards the valley
Wow. It’s difficult to describe how vast this area feels when you are here.
We continued across the basin up to Cispus Pass, where views of the Klickitat River valley stretched below.
On our way back from the pass, taking in the views of Cispus Basin.
We stopped for a break at a campsite with a rock ledge that had views of the basin.
After returning to camp, we spent our final night taking in the sunset one more time.
Day 4 – hike out
5.25 miles, 1,700 ft. loss
The hike out was uneventful and much easier than the hot hike in. It seemed like everyone who had been camping here over the weekend hiked out at the same time we did, with many groups passing us on the way out. Goat Rocks Wilderness has a lot to offer and I’m glad I explored different parts of it this time. I’m already looking at maps, figuring out which part of this area to explore next.