The popular out-and-back Norse Peak hike can be converted into a lollipop loop through the open terrain along the PCT and back along the Goat Lake trail. While it is longer and has fewer views, it provides a more secluded return to the trailhead. With side trips to camping at Goat Lake, Big Crow Basin or Basin Lake, this can be a 2- or 3-day backpack trip. A detailed map of the area is essential on this hike due to a multitude of unmarked trail junctions throughout the route.
While there are many variations on the hike, the basic 11.5-mile trip is described as a day hike in a counter-clockwise direction for better views. Starting on a clear morning, the view of Mount Rainier from the Norse Peak Trail is sunlit, rather than the afternoon view which is backlit. Backpackers tend to do the loop in a clockwise direction.
From the parking area along Crystal Road (elevation 3950 feet), hike up Gold Hill Road for 0.2 mile to the trail sign for the Norse Peak Trail. Follow the trail for 2.6 miles of climbing switchbacks in the forest and then burned forest to the junction with the Goat Lake Trail (elevation 5920 feet).
At this junction, go right on the Norse Peak trail for 1.5 miles, climbing through open terrain to an unmarked junction on the ridge crest (elevation 6650 feet). The abandoned trail to the left (east) descends to the Pacific Crest Trail and provides a shorter return, bypassing Norse Peak. Continue on the Norse Peak Trail for 0.6 mile to the former lookout site on Norse Peak with expansive views (elevation 6856 feet). After enjoying the views, backtrack down the Norse Peak Trail for 0.1 mile to an unmarked junction with a secondary trail.
Follow the secondary trail south as it descends along the ridge into the forest for 0.4 mile to the Pacific Crest Trail at Scout Pass (elevation 6550 feet).
From the pass, follow the Pacific Crest Trail northbound into the open area that stretches all the way to Barnard Saddle (elevation 6130 feet). While most of the 1.7 miles is a traverse, there are short sections across basins. In the first 0.9 mile, there are junctions with the Basin Creek Trail, the informal trail from the ridge crest, and two trails into Big Crow Basin.
From the Barnard Saddle, re-enter the burned forest and continue north for about 0.2 mile to an unmarked junction with the Goat Lake Trail. Turn left (west) on the fainter trail and follow it for 0.7 mile as it wanders through the burnt forest, reaching open country with a good view across the Goat Lake Basin and the start of a long traverse above Goat Lake. Continue on the trail for another 0.3 mile, crossing a large scree slope and steep gully to an unmarked junction with an access trail to Goat Lake.
From the junction, the trail starts a climbing traverse for 0.3 mile to a pass (elevation 6130 feet) and the last views of the Goat Lake basin. From the pass, it’s 0.2 mile to the junction with the Norse Peak Trail to close the loop.
Turn right on the Norse Peak Trail and retrace the descent to the parking area.
WTA Pro Tip:
In early summer, be prepared for extended snow travel and cornices on this trip, especially on the Goat Lake Trail, which is on a north facing slope and quite steep in places.
Extend Your Trip:
Goat Lake: The access trail switchbacks 0.4 mile and descends 320 feet to the lake, becoming harder to follow lower down as it mingles with streambeds and many social trails. There are camps dispersed at the southeast of the lake and one large one near the lake.
Big Crow Basin: The old rundown shelter is accessible from either trail junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. It is a 0.4-mile hike with a 300 foot descent from the south junction and a 0.3-mile hike with a 150 foot descent from the north junction. There is usually water available into late summer in the basin.
Basin Lake: Heading north on the PCT from Scout Pass, this is the first junction you’ll arrive at.Follow the Basin Creek Trail for 0.3 mile to its junction with the Basin Lake Trail. Turn left onto the Basin Lake Trail and follow it for 0.5 mile to Basin Lake. The lake is 580 feet below the Pacific Crest Trail.