The Goat Mountain and Green River Loop is an excellent trail to choose for backpacking or a day hike. Swimming holes, wildflowers, and continuous views of mountains are abundant. While the 22-mile loop is a beautiful walk, day trips to Deadman Lake or Vanson Lake still offer wildflower meadows and views of Mount Saint Helens on moderately difficult hikes. Note that the full loop may also be hiked in reverse by crossing the street from the trailhead parking area and starting on the Green River Trail 213, descending a steep half mile downhill, and connecting with the Green River Trail 217, where a few camping sites lie along the shores of the beautiful Green River.
For the 22-mile loop, start at the trailhead labeled Goat Mountain Trail, which is obvious from the parking area. The trail will ascend uphill for 2 miles, becoming steeper as you continue on the path along several switchbacks. You'll climb 1,700 feet in about 3 miles and be rewarded with gorgeous views as you pop out of the forest and onto Goat Mountain Ridge. You should immediately see Mount Rainier to your right and Mount Saint Helens on your left. On a clear day, you will also see Mount Hood in the distance on the left and Mount Adams behind you.
Continue along the ridge through beautiful meadows. The trail will maneuver in and out of some shaded areas until it opens to a meadow filled with wildflowers and numerous butterflies in summer. Upon passing a rock outcropping, the trail will veer up and to the right through the saddle of the ridge. Continue down into the woods for about 1.8 miles. A trail on the left will be marked with a small sign for Deadman Lake, which contains many wonderful camping areas. Deadman Lake will be the first spot to filter water on the trail, and it is also perfect for a hot summer swim, as it is almost completely surrounded by narrow silty beaches. Frogs, salamanders, and electric-blue dragonflies frequent the water's edge.
Past Deadman Lake, continue following the Goat Mountain Trail 217 northwest. Stay straight when passing other trail signs; do not go right (these trails lead to Tumwater Trail, Goat Creek Trail, and 217A; stay on 217). A trail to the left about 2.5 miles from Deadman Lake will lead you down a hill to the Vanson Lake's edge. Vanson Lake is also a wonderful place to camp or to swim. The camping site options are fewer in number than at Deadman Lake, and only one or two beach access points to the lake exist. This lake has a healthy population of salamanders and newts, and the loud sound of croaking frogs will put you to sleep under an amazing white speckled starry sky on clear nights. A tent is still recommended in warm weather due to the flies.
Continue northwest toward the Vanson Ridge Trail junction to stay on the loop. From the ridge you'll have gorgeous views of the valley below before the trail winds down through the forest. After a little over 3.5 miles from the Vanson Ridge Trail junction you will approach a "T" with the Green River Trail. Turn left onto the Green River Trail and cross a footbridge over a small creek. Although some of the creek beds can be dry in some years, there are still many options for filtering water along this trail. Cross another wooden footbridge, and follow the trail along the Green River. In another 2 miles, a few campsites with rock-ringed fire pits will dot the shore of the Green River. These are also fantastic spots for camping and a summer swim.
The trail continues along the Green River for about 9.5 miles toward the Green River Horse Camp through old-growth forests, lush meadows where elk can be seen grazing, and through small birch forests. The trail crosses the road parking area at the Green River Horse Camp and continues past the camp to join Green River Trail 213 just past a creek footbridge. Take Trail 213 for a steep half-mile climb ascending 200 feet to the Goat Mountain Trailhead, a sweaty finish to a beautiful journey.
Note: Water must be packed or purified from streams and lakes. Fire danger may prohibit campfires. Also, the trail is maintained by the Lewis County Backcountry Horsemen. While there may be a lot of horse manure on the trail, the horses help them maintain the trail so we can enjoy the hike!