The trails near Goat Creek have multiple personalities. The first mile of Goat Mountain Trail No. 205 isn’t steep, and leads to a spectacular 248-foot-tall waterfall.
It’s a popular, kid-friendly hike for visitors to the northern part of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, which is outside the blast zone.
A few miles farther up the trail are a half dozen less spectacular but still lovely waterfalls and a small lake. Even farther is a wild ridgetop and miles of more trail to explore.
The trails are in upper northern finger of the volcanic monument, though Mount St. Helens is out of sight from most of the trails.
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Recently, members of the appropriately named Mount St. Helens Club made the hike.
“I think it’s one of my favorite hikes,” said club member Jerry Calbaum. “It’s just beautiful, the greens along with the waterfalls.”
He likes the Goat Creek trail as well as Eagle Creek, a well-known waterfall trail in the Columbia River Gorge. But unlike Eagle Creek, the Goat Creek trail isn’t crowded, he said.
“I especially like the big trees near the bottom” of the Goat Creek trail, club President Bruce McCredie said. “It’s rare you find big trees outside a park.”
Reaching the trailhead requires driving 9 miles off Highway 12. The access road, part of which crosses private land, is closed during times of high fire danger, so it’s a good idea to call ahead for conditions.
Despite the showers the weekend I went, the parking lot still was nearly full.
Seeing Cathedral Falls -- about a mile up the trail -- for the first time is an “oh wow” moment. “You can’t believe it,” McCredie said.
A flat ribbon of water whooshes over the cliff face and tumbles into a pool below. For the best view, climb down a steep, damp side track, though the scenery is fine from the main trail too.
Cathedral Falls is so-named for the cavernous space behind it, which is fun place for kids to play in the mist. It’s also called Leona Falls -- the man who designed the trail for the Forest Service told The Daily News in 1995 that he named it after a romantic interest and relatives.
Many people who visit the trail probably go no farther, through they’ll miss marveling at old growth trees which line the trail past Cathedral Falls. That section of trail crosses a rock ledge where the trail was blasted along a cliff, so small children need a guiding hand.
Two miles from the trailhead is the junction with Tumwater Trail 218, which climbs steeply to Tumwater Peak.
For more falls, stay on Goat Creek Trail 205, which climbs steadily along one of the creek’s forks.
This time of year, crossing side streams require rock hopping. About 4 miles from the parking lot, a slippery log serves as a makeshift stream crossing. It looked too dicey for me with a full pack, so I switched to sandals and waded across the creek, which was only a few inches deep.
Just past that crossing, the small unnamed lake at 3,800 feet elevation would be another good turnaround point for a day hike.
I spent the night at one of the moderately nice campsites at the lake.
Travelers with a lot of hauling capacity had thoughtfully left a dozen bright 5 plastic buckets and several folded blue tarps to decorate the area, though one of the buckets came in handy as a cover for lighting my stove in the rain.
I saw a few fish rise on the lake, but the marshy shores made access difficult for casting.
Above the lake, the trail climbs steadily to a ridge at 4,700 feet elevation.
One spur trails climbs to the summit of Vanson Peak, elevation 4,940 feet, which on a clear day reportedly has views of Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, Riffe Lake and the northern end of the Mount St. Helens blast zone.