When I ask PCT hitch-hikers about the most scenic part of the PCT so far, they often say it was the Goat Rocks Wilderness of Washington in section H.
And the most memorable? The Knife Edge gets compared to lofty spectacles like Forester Pass in the Sierras.
Goat Rocks is indeed the highlight of section H. It comes just a day before exiting the section at White Pass.
If you’re not hiking the full section, you can enter via Walupt Lake and pick up the PCT at Sheep Lake. The best thing about Sheep Lake is the marketing. It does have some nice tent sites, good swimming and ample July wildflowers.
The PCT straddles a divide between the Goat Rocks Wilderness and the Yakama Indian Reservation, which features expansive vistas of untrammeled wilderness. It even dips into the Yakama Nation for a mile between Sheep Lake and Cispus Pass.
North of Cispus River are a couple of dry campsites with nice views. One thru hiker told me he stayed in one of them the previous night and it was the best tent spot of the entire trail for him.
It’s worth taking an extra day to explore west of the PCT in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Snowgrass Flats is a lovely, easy stretch of trail through alpine meadows. Goat Lake sits in a rugged basin with numerous campsites (and even more numerous weekend campers).
Side trip opportunities begin with trail 97, which connects to Lily Basin trail 86. The scenery north along trail 86 becomes increasingly jaw-dropping as you approach Goat Lake with its tall waterfall spilling into alpine meadowland. The “no camping” imperative doesn’t restrict your options if you camp on trail and there are several sites around the 86-96-97 junctions.
Unfortunately there’s not an easy way to reconnect with the PCT once you detour to Goat Lake. The best way back to trail is to backtrack via trail 96.
You’ll be glad you didn’t miss this section of the PCT as it approaches the base of Old Snowy Mountain. A cluster of tent sites are on trail at 7000 feet just south of the mountain with beautiful views, gusty exposures, and water within 1/4 mile. Mount Adams is visible from half the sites, and Mt. Rainier is visible from the others. There might be a site hidden in the shrubs with views of both.
Ask SOBOs about the blue vs red trail alternatives. The glacier is very small these days, but persistent snow from year to year could influence your decision to cross it. If you’re scrambling Old Snowy, you need the alternate route anyway.
Old Snowy is worth scrambling on a clear day. See photo. Nuf said.
There are a couple of airy tent sites on the trail to Old Snowy, including one just below the summit block.
The Knife Edge has quite a reputation. Whether or not you have issues with balance or vertigo, take your time and watch your step. The scenery from up here is amazing, and the last grand views of section H before you drop into trees and ski resort infrastructure toward highway 12, Kracker Barrel and the Packwood shuttle.