Goat Lake in the Sawtooth Wilderness

My final backpacking trip of the year (due to school and moving) included me, Nate Schneider and Lance Stewart heading into the Sawtooth Wilderness.  The ultimate goal was Thompson Peak and our overnight camp was to be Goat Lake.  Three years ago my first hike into the mountains of Idaho was to this same lake.  Within that time I’ve become an avid hiker and backpacker and was anxious to see how grueling the hike would be now, especially with a fully loaded pack.  I remembered it being pretty tame until the “off-trail” section where it steeply ascends to the lake.  It was tiring and strenuous but not nearly as bad as some of the hikes I had endured over the past two summers.  Getting to the lake was especially rewarding since it took about 3 1/2 hours.  This gave us plenty of time to set up camp and relax for the evening.

After supper I was deciding whether or not to shoot sunset.  This lake faces east so sunrise is the prime time.  I figured sunset would light up some surrounding peaks and possibly result in a decent capture.  I left camp to scout out some possible morning locations.  I crossed the creek and then decided to go up the boulder field for a nice view of the lake.   I had told myself I didn’t want to hike any more but since I was there I might as well go up and shoot.  Here is shot from that evening.

Sunset over Goat Lake and the Sawtooth Mountains

Evening at Goat Lake

The next morning I woke up around 5:45 to get ready for sunrise.  I had my cereal and granola bars and set out.  The pre-dawn light was very nice but the sun would soon be rising.  I set up, took a few shots but wasn’t pleased with the location.  I decided to cross the creek again and go to the boulder field side of the shore.  There I was afforded with nice, clean views of the mountains and lake.

Sunrise at Goat Lake

After we all awoke and filled ourselves with breakfast we left for the ultimate destination:  Thompson Peak.  I’d estimate the distance at 2.5 miles and the elevation gain around 2500′.  The total round trip hiking time was close to 9 hours (we’re not exactly pros).  I had opted (painfully) to leave my tripod behind.  There were a couple pictures that would have benefited from it and some I altogether didn’t take without it.  Still, I came away with quite a few photos from the hike.  It was probably a good idea leaving the tripod behind.  I might be saying I painfully decided to take it than the previous statement.

I have been on five previous backpacking trips into the Sawtooth Wilderness but this area was far away the most beautiful.  I would be willing in a heartbeat to backpack into Upper Goat Lake and camp for a couple of nights.  The Upper Goat Lake basin had five additional lakes along with streams and cascades.  It all sat in a deep horseshoe cirque with large, steep snowfields at the end.  The rocky shorelines and marbling of the granite fascinated me.

Cliffs in Upper Goat Lake basin

Upper Goat Lake cliff and shore

As mentioned, the basin abruptly ends and a steep climb is necessary to get to another basin sitting below Thompson and Williams Peaks.  There was a nice rocky spine that we were able to follow and avoid the snowfields.  It was a tiring climb but the basin that was reached was otherworldly.  There was a large field of granite outcroppings amidst snowfields which had melted into tarns.  Some of these still had ice!  I could only image how much snow that area sees every winter.

Lance and Nate in Thompson Peak basin

Thompson Peak and tarn

The most imposing peak happened to be Thompson Peak.  We knew we had to head south, past the peak and up to the saddle.  From there it was a steep hike up to the top.  The views once on top were very impressive.  The weather was perfect with a nice breeze and lovely cumulus clouds dotting the sky.

Looking east from Thompson Peak

The hike back to camp was long even though we stopped only once to fill up our bottles and have a snack.  Once back to camp we were like zombies having been totally sapped of energy.  I was glad that the prior evening and that morning resulted in good photos because I was planning on walking as little as possible.  After getting back to camp I didn’t take another picture.  It was very nice to sleep in the following morning.

I have limited experience in the Sawtooths (compared to a few people I know) but wouldn’t hesitate putting this area (Upper Goat Lake) at the top of anyone’s list.  I had previously fallen in love with Lake Kathryn and it remains #2.  However, Goat Lake is a relatively easy backpack destination (much easier that Lake Kathryn!) and the upper basin is amazing.


4 thoughts on “Goat Lake in the Sawtooth Wilderness

  1. Thinking of doing this hike/climb with some friends, but have heard that the climb after Goat Falls is near impossible. Is this true, or is it just locals trying to keep people out of there? How hard is the climb up and down after the falls? Is there ground to pitch a tent at the 1st lake?

    Thanks for posting this, great pics!

  2. Rob,

    The climb is strenuous but not impossible. Alpine Way trail to Marshall Lake from Iron Creek has an unmarked trail that leaves it at a sharp turn and this leads to the lake. It is a good trail but abruptly ends at some granite outcroppings. This is where the climb begins. Once you get past the granite you’ll see the trail which is steep. There are a handful of camping spots at the lake but most are pretty small and tight. The hike to the upper basin area (done by hiking through a snow field) is definitely worth it. I hope this helps!

  3. “Getting to the lake was especially rewarding since it took about 3 1/2 hours.”

    Is this 3 1/2 hours from the trail head or 3 1/2 from the falls?

    To get from the falls to the lake no you need climbing knowledge or just need to be experienced hikers. My husband and I are ages 65 and 62 in good phsyical shape and we hope to be able to make the hike to the lake. Love your photos – I hope I make so I can get some nice ones.


  4. Ruthann: It’s approx. five miles from the Iron Creek trailhead and probably 1/2 of a mile from the falls to the lake. Like you say, there is no climbing knowledge needed even if you go to the upper basin area.

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