Goat Lake in Stanley, Idaho is one of the local bucket list hikes in the area. After having lived here for a full two months, I was ashamed to admit that I hadn’t yet hiked it. So I set off for the trail head one afternoon to see what the hype was all about.
Fast Stats on Goat Lake
- Distance: 8 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 1788 feet
- Trailhead: Iron Creek Trailhead
- Permit: required and free, obtain at trailhead
- Camping: available at Goat Lake
- Dogs: allowed, leash required July 1st- Labor Day
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Why Hike to Goat Lake
- It’s a bit tougher than your average day hike in the Sawtooth Mountains. This means there will be far less people on the trail than more popular hikes, such as Alice Lake.
- Goat Lake is positively gorgeous. To be fair, most of the lakes around Stanley are just as pretty. But you have to work a bit harder to get to this one, so you feel more rewarded.
- It can be done as a day hike. It took me four hours round trip, including a break at the lake. Add some extra time to your hike if you like to take it slow or want lots of time to hang out.
Know Before You Go
- Goat Lake does have quite a bit of snow for most of the year. Be aware that if you’re hiking anytime other than during the heat of summer, this may be something you have to deal with.
- There are several turns you have to make to get to Goat Lake. Bring a map so you don’t accidentally follow the wrong trail and end up at Sawtooth Lake. I use the Sawtooth & White Cloud Mountains Trail Map.
- You can get water from streams along the way or the lake itself. Be sure to bring a water treatment system. I use a Steripen.
- The last section of trail to the top is kind of a free for all. There’s several paths since there’s no official trail. There’s lots of loose scree during the last bit up, so pay attention and take a good route. There’s a few parts that are potentially dangerous if you were to fall.
- There’s no need to scramble over the boulders all the way to the lake. Once you reach the boulder field, head left to the stream. After you cross over the stream, there’s a trail just on the other side.
Hiking to Goat Lake in Stanley, Idaho
I set out on this hike around noon. As I was leaving the ranch where I work, our ranch manager insisted that it was far too late to go and I would never make it back by dark. I promised him I’d be home by dinner.
After arriving at the Iron Creek trailhead, I put on a Joe Rogan podcast and set off on the trail. The first three miles were not bad at all. It was mostly uphill, but a mellow and pleasant sort of uphill. Another plus was that much of it was through the forest, so I wasn’t getting baked in the sun all afternoon.
The real challenge began after I reached the side trail to the lake. There wasn’t a designated route, so I just followed the various paths that had formed from other hikers. This part is steep and tough. My fear of heights was definitely triggered during certain sections.
The views were beautiful though, and I soon reached the boulder field. I scrambled just a short way to the stream, and was happy to find a trail on the other side.
The stream crossing is just upstream from Goat Lake Falls. I have an irrational fear of falling off of the top of a waterfall and dying, so I made sure to find a safe spot to cross.
After the stream crossing, it’s just an easy and short distance to Goat Lake.
On this random Tuesday in mid-July there was only one other group at the lake. So it was definitely worth the effort to get to such a secluded spot.
I ate some lunch and took some photos. A lady curiously watched me take tripod selfies, while I curiously watched her floating around on her child-sized pool floatie. Having promised to make it back by dinnertime, I didn’t linger for long.
I was quickly hiking down from the lake, just following the path in front of me. All of a sudden the trail seemed a little too unstable. The rocks were loose, and it was hard to get good footing. The scree was sliding beneath my feet. I sat down, so I could assess the situation.
That’s when I realized I was no longer on a stable route. I had mistakenly started hiking down a landslide area. No wonder I couldn’t get good footing. Triggered by the heights once again, I looked around for the quickest escape route. There were some trees to my right, so I inched my way over until I reached safety. Then I pushed my way through the limbs until finding the trail once more.
Thankfully, the rest of the hike back to Iron Creek was uneventful. And I made it back to the ranch in time for dinner.
Here’s a map of Goat Lake. If you zoom out you can see the trail and Iron Creek Trailhead.