Most hikers enter the Goat Rocks Wilderness from the western side, but those who come in from the east find the wilderness just as beautiful and wild, and much less crowded. The Surprise Lake Trail is one of the few that enter from the east, and it is also one of the most gentle and scenic.
From the parking area, hike up the closed road, past the Bear Creek Mountain trail to a red gate. Look for the trail to the left of this gate.
The trail climbs gradually from Conrad Meadows — a broad, grassy meadow in the valley bottom-to the high alpine lake at trail's end. Along the way it passes through a seemingly endless series of forest meadows. These elk pastures are broken up by beautiful stands of ponderosa pine and spruce forests, and are home to not only elk but also white-tailed and mule deer and a host of small critters.
The first 3.5 miles of trail thread through these patchwork wildflower meadows, but the upper end of the route is enclosed in denser forests until, near the lake, the route breaks out into alpine clearings. Above the pretty little lake loom some of the great craggy peaks that give the Goat Rocks Wilderness its name. With a pair of binoculars and a little patience, it's possible to spot the creatures themselves. Mountain goats scramble among the rocky slopes high above the lake, jumping lightly about the cliffs that lie between the forest and the glaciers. Look for them on the bare rocks above green fields of moss and grass.
There are good campsites at the lake and along the numerous meadows farther down the trail. If you choose to camp in a meadow, though, wander as far off trail as is reasonable and look for a campsite that is sheltered from the trail by a stand of trees. This will shield your camp from other hikers so they can continue to enjoy their sense of solitude in this wild, beautiful area.