GET OUT: Prime time for Goodwin
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Goodwin Lake is one of those hikes I have to do every year. It’s sort of a benchmark trek where you’ve done it so many times in just about every condition (from in shape to not-so-in shape to early season-still-snow-everywhere to late season-low-lake-levels) that it is a handy trip to kind of measure everything by. I mostly do it now with no water and half-jogging.
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Goodwin is a good option for this time of year if you want to head into the woods without having to worry about wearing blaze orange head-to-toe. Hunters don’t come up here. Maybe the best part about Goodwin Lake is that it offers easy access to a high mountain lake (9,500 feet) without having to climb hardly any of it. You drive most of the elevation on the way there. The trailhead is at 8,000 feet above sea level.
The bad part is the road. It is possible to feel guilty about what you are doing to your vehicle’s undercarriage even if you’re driving a rental. The last half-mile is brutal. The hike is not all that bad, really, a total of 3.7 miles each way with no stupendous uphills to speak of. The path is well defined and rocky on top, making it a pain in the ass for horses who will need to choose their footfalls carefully or sparks will be flying.
Because of the fairly heavy traffic on this route (there is ALWAYS someone besides you parked in the trailhead lot), you probably won’t see any animals. There is an alt-route via Forest Road 30440 that connects with the main trail via a faint two-track. You will notice it on your way back down but probably not on the way up. I sometimes take this and might spook out a deer or two.
Turn around some. The views of the valley are awesome for much of the first mile. After that, the trail heads into cover. You will eventually be treated to the Sheep Creek drainage on your left (east). Watch for bighorn sheep on the far western slope of Table Mountain.
One of my favorite things about this trail is the plethora of trees near the top that have multiple trunks. I don’t know what the technical arborist term for them is but there are a disproportionate number of trees that have, like, three or four or five trunks growing together out of the ground. What’s going on with the soil up here?
The lake is rimmed with snow until July. I’ve gotten up here in June but early in the month is usually pressing your luck unless you want to posthole some. In 2005, I encountered snow at the lake in mid-September. My favorite part of the hike is jumping off the rock that’s on this little jetty on the far side of the lake. I usually do it au naturel unless there’s a crowd. I’ve also fished Goodwin with mild success – mostly small ones.
From Goodwin, adventurous hikers with gas left in the tank can tackle Jackson Peak. Some mistakenly scramble up the scree field above the lake thinking they will top out on Jackson. Not so. You will be on an unnamed lesser peak at 10,280 feet with another half-mile of climbing to go. This is the most direct route but it is arduous boulder hopping.
Better to circle the lake and pick up a trail heading south. By the way, keep an eye out for a connecting trail shooting off on your left (east). This accesses Sheep Creek and a ski cabin less than a mile from the lake. You could return via this Sheep Creek trail.
On to Jackson Peak: It’s another 1.5 miles with some serious steep sections. You’ll gain 1,200 feet over the mile-and-a-half stretch, much of it in the last half-mile. At just under one mile from the lake, you’ll notice a trail split. Take a right. A left will put you on a trail that drops down into the Cache Creek drainage or connects you with the headwaters of Flat Creek and a trail back to the ranch and Flat Creek Road. Or push further southeast to Turquoise Lake from here.
From the top of Jackson Peak you will look down on nearly everything, including Nowlin Peak, named for DC Nowlin, the second state game warden Wyoming ever had. He served for eight years and later managed the Elk Refuge.