While the trail near Gold Creek Pond is a great spot for hikers of all ages, the trail back towards Alaska Lake is a more rugged experience. Starting flat, it heads into the heart of the Central Cascades on an old road for four miles, where it then crosses an impressive old avalanche path before heading straight uphill to remote Alaska Lake.
Begin at the Gold Creek Trailhead. Head counterclockwise around the paved Gold Creek Pond Trail. This is an excellent place for young kids, strollers, or wheelchair hikers.
Follow the signs to the junction with the unpaved Gold Creek Trail, approximately a fourth of a mile. The Gold Creek Trail follows a road through private property over a mile before entering the national forest and becoming a trail. Please respect the folks who live along this road and stay to the trail.
At two and a half miles, enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Continue up the Gold Creek Valley through deep second-growth forest, open talus fields and several large avalanche tracks, enjoying occasional glimpses of Gold Creek.
Four miles in, arrive at an impressive sight. In the winter of 2007, an especially large avalanche came crashing down the east side of the valley through the trees below Alta Mountain. It crossed Gold Creek with such velocity that the snow and debris went up the west side of the valley, knocking down trees that fell uphill, rather than down.
Pause to take this in before continuing on. Here, the trail becomes more challenging: fords require wading, and a crossing of Gold Creek at milepost 4.3 may not be safe in the spring or during high water.
Luckily, there are a few good campsites along the creek, to wait out a high water time, or simply to call it a day.
Five miles from the Gold Creek Pond trailhead, the maintained trail ends at a junction. Beyond this point, the trail is overgrown and difficult to follow.
A trail to the left climbs one steep mile through vine maple, alder and talus to Alaska Lake at 4,230 feet. The righhand fork stays lower, proceeding a little less than two miles up the main valley, climbing through avalanche greenery and forest to the base of Alaska Mountain. From here, a steep and hazardous boot path on a staircase of rocks and roots climbs to Joe Lake at 4,624 feet.
Note: Between December 1 and March 31 — and possibly also November and April depending on how the snow looks — a Sno-Park permit is required to park at the Gold Creek Pond trailhead.