Gothic Basin will thrill and enthrall those who pay the admission. Day hikers will wish they’d brought their tents and bags and the backpackers will ache from shouldering the load. But neither will be disappointed. Be wary of this trail's apparently lowish elevation gain and mileage. The miners who constructed it had little time for switchback or nicely graded trails.
It is quite steep at times and even includes a scramble or two. Steep sections remain snow-covered late into the season, and once it begins to melt out, snow bridges appear. Note also that depending on how far you wander once you arrive in the basin, your total mileage may vary from what is posted here.
Your hike begins at the parking area in Barlow Pass with a one-mile road walk down a closed road that parallels the Sauk River. From the large parking lot, walk east along the highway for about 200 feet to a large gate with two signs requesting you to keep the area clear. Pass the sign and hike the closed road for one mile, looking for a trail heading off to the right and an outhouse, your last best bet for relief before the trail hits exposed talus fields that characterize the upper section of the trail.and into the woods.
After turning off the road, it's an easy half-mile of forest rambling before Weeden Creek must be crossed. Take a moment to appreciate a scenic waterfall here--the trail begins climbing steadily as soon as you make the crossing. The business of ascending begins in earnest after Weeden Creek, with intermittent views and creek crossings. Several spots along this trail require light scrambling over frequently wet rocks.
Take your time and enjoy the views, both micro and macro. The peaks of the Monte Cristo area loom off to your left. Some mining remnants remain, and crazy abundances of wildflowers choke the trail well into the end of July. Snow crossings also last until late in the season. As always, caution should be exercised as the trail can be blocked or made difficult to navigate by avalanche run-outs late into the season. Scrambling is necessary year-round in this section, so be sure you're comfortable with doing so before embarking on this adventure.
Once in Gothic Basin, you'll be greeted first by Gothic Lake, gateway to this special place and deserving of much respect. Melting ponds, gurgling brooks, chirping marmots, and towering rock faces greet you in every direction. The temptation is to wander aimlessly. Instead, remember the Leave No Trace principles and confine your travels to durable surfaces such as rock and snow. If you’re looking for further wandering, head to Foggy Lake, off to the right as you follow periodic cairns and the most prominent footpath. Allow yourself extra time to find the path and to appreciate the natural beauty surrounding you.
WTA Pro Tip: This is a popular area for camping. On a sunny weekend, start early to allow plenty of time to find a site. Note that Gothic Basin is an extremely fragile area, so be sure that you're camping on an established site or sturdy surface, like rock or dirt, and avoid camping in meadows or grasses, as this can damage the landscape. You’ll also want a bear can, as there are no trees in Gothic Basin suitable for a bear line.