To the marsh and back

My sister has been telling me about a hike to Goat Marsh, up in the Mt. St. Helens Monument area, but she said that there was one spot that was too hard for me, a steep ascent up a wash-out that she said she had to crawl up. However, a month or so ago, she took my brother and sister-in-law, and they discovered a way around the wash-out. So, last Sunday, on a cold but sunny day, my sister and I went to Goat Marsh.

Here is the first body of water of Goat Marsh Lake. In the foreground are frozen ice crystals and on this cold day the marsh was frozen, although I’m not sure you can tell from this picture. If you take the trail around the lake, you end up with a view of Mt. St. Helens, I’m told. There is a second, larger body of water, but we didn’t get that far.

With the long cut, this is an easy hike that ends up at the marsh, a protected scientific area. We went during elk season, and the national forest was full of elk hunters (and mushroom hunters), but we felt safe in this area and only ran into one other party. We could hear guns off in the distance.

Goat Marsh Trail

Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Monument near Cougar, Washington

Distance: 2.4 miles in and out

Difficulty: easy

Panting stops: 1 or 2

Elevation changes: 275 feet

Parking at a barely noticeable slot for two cars, we headed up a continuation of the Kalama Ski Trail. The trail at this point is an easy downhill, fairly wide and not rough. However, note that this first part is downhill all the way, so that means, of course, that the end of the hike is uphill, but at a relatively easy slope.

I’m guessing about a quarter mile down the trail, the Kalama Ski Trail goes off to the left while the Goat Marsh trail goes straight. The ski trail is subtle, though, so you have to pay attention. Take that trail to avoid having to climb up the steep wash-out (and it really is steep and high—we went and looked at it). Just a short way down that trail, there is a sign that points back sharply to the right to Goat Marsh or to the left to continue the Kalama Ski Trail. Go right.

The trail goes easily along through forest of lodgepole pine and some old growth mostly of noble fir until you get to a little crease of a wash-out. I think this might be a continuation of the big wash-out farther up. It is a steep descent but only of a couple of feet and then steep back up, so easy enough to get over. It just is a place to be aware of your footing. It was at that point that I realized the ground was frozen solid. We were there on a cold day, with temperatures in the 30’s in October. This area is probably muddy at other times.

After you get across this cut and walk a bit further on, you intersect with the Goat Marsh trail, and if you go back along it, you see a very deep slope that’s the steep climb that you avoided. Turn back up the trail, which continues through the forest to the wooden fence indicating the Goat Marsh scientific study area. In the Goat Marsh be sure to stay on the trail (well, we went off just to go up to the edge of the marsh—I suppose technically we weren’t supposed to do that). However, I saw no signs that my dog wasn’t allowed or even that he had to be on a leash. Since he always stays on the trail, we let him off leash.

Until you get to the first lake, the trail goes through a beautiful forest area, and then it opens up with a view of the mountains across the marsh. None of it is difficult. Because I dropped my dog’s leash in the marsh area and had to turn around and go back to it, we didn’t end up going farther, but my sister told me that trail just comes to an end after you go through a bit more difficult areas, whereas another hiking page says there’s another lake further on. We had intended to walk around the marsh for a view of Mt. St. Helens, but we decided to turn back because my sister was cold.

How to get there

From Battle Ground or farther south

Take WA-503 north toward Cougar. About 3/4-1 mile after you pass Yale Park on the right, take National Forest Road 81 on the left. Follow NR 81/8100 back quite a while past Lake Merwin and into the Gifford Pinchot Forest and then into the Mt. St. Helens Monument. When you get to the intersection of 8100 and 8123, where there is a sign pointing you toward Blue Lake Trailhead to the left, take 8123 to the left. This is a rough road. There is a small pull-out on the left side of the road, so keep your eyes out. This is the Goat Marsh trailhead.

From Woodland or farther north

Take I-5 south to the Woodland exit for WA-503. Take WA-503 toward Cougar. About 3/4-1 mile after you pass Yale Park on the right, take National Forest Road 81 on the left. Follow NR 81/8100 back quite a while past Lake Merwin and into the Gifford Pinchot Forest and then into the Mt. St. Helens Monument. When you get to the intersection of 8100 and 8123, where there is a sign pointing you toward Blue Lake Trailhead to the left, take 8123 to the left. This is a rough road. There is a small pull-out on the left side of the road, so keep your eyes out. This is the Goat Marsh trailhead.

Parking and facilities

The pull-out for two cars at the trailhead is the only facility. The gate to the 8100 road is closed in the winter, so be sure not to go too late. Dogs seem to be allowed. Horses are allowed on the Kalama Ski Trail but not in the Goat Marsh, nor are any vehicles. Only hikers are allowed there.

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