The Iron Creek Trailhead is one of the most-popular in the Stanley area. Most hikers are seeking the beautiful Alpine Lake or the popular 170-acre Sawtooth Lake. A wonderful alternative is to travel to Goat Falls and then follow an unmaintained trail to the lesser-known Goat Lake. Although smaller than the more famous Sawtooth Lake, both Goat Lake and Goat Falls should be on any hiker's Sawtooth bucket list.
The moderate hike to Goat Falls--6.8 miles out and back with a little more than 1,000 feet of gain--makes an ascent along Iron Creek under a canopy of lodgepole pine and subalpine fir forest. You will enter the official Sawtooth Wilderness at 1.1 miles and soon arrive at a signed junction. Here, turn left on the Alpine Way Trail--a right turn ascends to the Alpine and Sawtooth lakes--and ford Iron Creek with the assistance of a downed tree. Those looking for a short hike or our out with young children will find the shaded, sandy bank of the creek to be a picturesque destination for a shorter hike.
After the ford, the trail crosses a bridge at 1.5 miles and begins a steep 600-foot ascent above a ravine. Wildflowers and far-reaching vistas are plentiful along this segment. After ascending through a few switchbacks, the trail levels and allows you to catch your breath at an elevation near 7,600 feet. Continue through dense forest to another junction at 2.9 miles. Take the right fork and walk through a wildflower-covered hillside to where the trail nearly disappears (3.3 miles), directly north of Goat Falls. For the best views of the falls, descend 100 feet on a small footpath.
To find the incredibly scenic Goat Lake--beyond Goat Falls the hike is not recommended for children--retrace your footsteps to the 3.3 mile mark and look to the south for an angled granite slab. Scree covers the slick slab, which makes footing somewhat precarious. Shimmy up the angled slab about 10 feet to an unmaintained footpath, which ascends to the lake, directly west of the falls and Goat Creek. Make sure to find the footpath as there are many steep drop-offs in the area. The visit to Goat Lake adds 600 feet of gain and nearly another mile (roundtrip) to the hike. Dogs must be on leash anywhere in the Sawtooth Wilderness from July 1 through Labor Day.
Trailhead directions: From the intersection of Idaho 75 and Idaho 21 in Stanley, drive 2.1 miles on Idaho 21 and turn left on FR 619. Continue on the washboarded road 3.2 miles to the large parking area on the right and the Iron Creek Trailhead. You will find a restroom near the trailhead.