The Iron Goat Loop – A Trail for All Seasons

When Chad suggested we hike the Iron Goat Loop Trail this weekend, I was hesitant. I wanted to try something new. But I recalled the extreme beauty of this hike and agreed…and I’m glad I did.

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Our last hike on the Iron Goat Loop was in January of 2014 (Click here to read about that winter hike). At that time there was a lot of snow on the trail and we were glad we had brought our crampons for more secure footing. The trail was a winter wonderland – truly spectacular with ice hanging off the rocks and snow surrounding the various tunnels.

Me walking the trail

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But Iron Goat is a trail for all seasons, as we discovered this past weekend. It was an incredibly warm day with clear blue skies and temperatures in the high 60s/low 70s. It was fun to see the differences in the trail without the canopy of snow and ice that blanketed the trail on our last visit.

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My favorite thing about the Iron Goat Trail is that it is a trail that tells a story. The trail, which goes along the upper and lower sections of an abandoned Great Northern Railway grade, recalls the history of the building of the railway in this area and of the brave and hardworking men who made rail travel possible in this mountainous area. Along the trail are several interpretive signs with old photos and and historical anecdotes.

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We started the trail from the Red Caboose/Interpretive Site (just west of Deception Falls on Highway 2). From the trail register, we continued straight along a relatively easy path. Just past the trail register, you have the option to go right and take a spur trail of many switchbacks and many stairs up to the upper grade. We recommend avoiding this spur, finding it easier to come down the grade at the end of your journey rather than to climb up it at the very beginning of the hike.

We had purchased some sandwiches from the nearby Sky Deli in Skykomish on our way to the trailhead. (The Sky Deli, by the way, is fabulous – they offer custom sandwiches with quality ingredients and the store also sells a wide array of beverages, snacks, baked goods, supplies…you name it, they seem to sell it!).

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About a mile in to the hike, we sat on the bench on the ridge overlooking the adjacent mountains and ate our picnic lunch. It was such a beautiful spring day and our sandwiches were delicious!

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We then came upon the first of several tunnels on the hike. The tunnels were made to straighten out the rail tracks and make train travel safer in general. In one area, the trains had to travel less than 5 miles per hour around a winding ridge or face dangerous derailment. The tunnel allowed for faster, straighter travel.

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Chad and I marveled at the workmanship of these tunnels which were built in the late 1800s – especially today when Seattle is having trouble with our big drill Bertha.

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From the first tunnel, we continued on and traversed across a small but wonderful extension bridge. As we mentioned in our post about our winter hike on the Iron Goat Loop – this trail has everything – so much to capture your senses. On this day, the trail was covered with pine needles and the warm air mixed with the pine needles to give off the most wonderful Pacwest scent! Wildflowers were in bloom and the various spring colors – yellows, whites, pinks – were lovely.

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Despite lower accumulations of snow this past winter, there were many nice small waterfalls along the hike.

There are many tunnels,

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bridges,

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wildflowers, waterfalls, snow sheds and more snow sheds…

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We took the Martin Creek stairs up to the upper grade of the trail.

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The upper grade is more rugged and at times the trail narrows to a slim path. The upper grade has more than its fair share of snow sheds, many of which had waterfalls pouring over the tops.

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There are also a few tunnels on this upper level.

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The best part of the upper grade, in my opinion, is the Windy Point Lookout. It is at the end of the loop trail on the upper grade (if you follow the trail loop as we took it) and offers beautiful unobstructed views of the mountains across Highway 2.

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From the Windy Point Lookout, we backtracked slightly to descend down the Windy Point spur (with its many stairs and switchbacks).

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This is the spur you encounter early in the hike and the one we recommend going down, rather than up. We saw a few hikers going up and they all looked tired! Due to the steepness of the stairs, it is sort of arduous going down, but from the bottom of the spur, our car was only a few feet away, and a welcome site for our tired legs.

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All told, we hiked almost 8 miles, with 700 feet elevation gain. I’m so glad we revisited this trail in the Spring and can’t wait to experience it in the Summer and Fall. As I said, the Iron Goat truly is a trail for all seasons.

Important Travel Notes:

Directions to the Iron Goat Trailhead: Drive East on US 2. The parking lot is 9 miles past the town of Skykomish on the left side of the street as you head east. Look for the red caboose!

Required Credentials: Northwest Forest Pass

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