Mushrooms are under rated.
I recently went for a hike/trail run on the Goat Lake Trail. I was repeatedly brought from a run to a dead stop by the color and variety of mushrooms along the trail — red, orange and even a deep, rich purple.
If you haven’t been out hiking in the fall, you’re missing out. Fall is a fabulous time to hike around here, and I strongly suggest the Goat Lake Trail. It’s somewhat long, at 10.4 miles, but it’s an easy 10.4 miles and it feels like less. The elevation gain is only 1,400 feet, making it not particularly steep, except in a few places.
Goat Lake is a popular trail, but on a recent Monday, I had the whole place to myself.
The trail is off the Mountain Loop Highway, a little more than 4 miles after Barlow Pass.
It begins on old roadbed and soon splits. To the left, the route follows the old roadbed. To the right, the trail stays near a creek and is narrower and slightly rougher. The routes are separate for roughly two-thirds of the distance to the lake before rejoining. You can take either route and come back on the other, for a loop of sorts. (The lower route is the one with the best mushrooms.)
I prefer to head up and left at the junction, leaving the lower path for the return trip. The route is gentle, heading through mostly alders with some evergreen trees. Two people can easily walk side by side here, making the route great for chatting with a friend. Or, if you like, it’s an easy trail run.
When the two trails merge again, the route soon gets steeper and rougher. Follow along until you hear the sounds of waterfalls and see a huge rootball. If you head right, you’ll get a nice view of the falls after climbing over a few logs. After admiring the falls, ignore the confusing way trails. Instead, head back the way you came and continue on the main trail from the big rootball.
After some more climbing you’ll soon come to the lake. Be sure to check out the waterfall at the lake’s outlet. When I was there, the water was lower than I’ve seen it and the falls were prettier than ever — the low flow exposed the black step-like rocks. Continue past a rather large backcountry camping area (with very rustic toilets) to the lake.
If you’re brave, jump in. Either way, pause and enjoy some lunch while admiring the view. Colors were starting to show up along the trail and at the lake. They should be even better by now.
When you head back, you have a choice to make at the junction. Right takes you on the gentle, alder-lined path. Left takes you on a steeper course with countless mushrooms. Really, they’re just mind-blowing. If for some reason you only want to take one of the two options, take the lower path. It’s mostly easy going, but leave yourself time. It’s impossible to not be stopped by luridly colored mushrooms.
To get there
From Granite Falls, follow the Mountain Loop Highway to Barlow Pass, where the pavement ends. Go 3.5 miles farther, then turn right at the signed junction. The trailhead is less than a mile ahead, at the end of the road.
More fall hikes
Pratt Lake Trail: This trail, just off of I-90, offers vibrant fall colors and good mushroom habitat. If you go all the way to the lake, it’s 11 miles. But you don’t need go that far to enjoy the colors. There are several options for side trips as well. Read more and get directions here.
Lord Hill Regional Park: This park, near Snohomish, is excellent for hiking, biking or horseback riding. You’ll find a number of trails, looping all the through the park, as well as fall colors and mushrooms. Read more and get directions here.
6 more options: Check out suggestions for hikes in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, as suggested by the trails coordinator for the forest. Read about those here and check out a photo gallery here.
More on the Mountain Loop: For a short, easy trip, check out Youth-On-Age nature trail. The loop is roughly a quarter mile, and paved for most of the way. Short dirt trails lead to a side channel of the South Fork Stillaguamish River. There are interpretive signs and splashes of fall color. Big Four Ice Caves, a 2-mile trip, also offers pretty fall color. Monte Cristo, a former mining site, is an 8-mile, easy trip with good color as well.
Safety note: Hiking has the potential to be dangerous at anytime, but even more so when the weather starts to change in the fall. The WTA has some excellent tips for staying safe.
Mushrooms: Thanks to Lorraine Olivas-Romey of the Snohomish County Mycological Society for assistance identifying these mushrooms.