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Ruckel Ridge Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Hikers working their way up basalt pillars on the Ruckel Ridge hike. (RSDW)
Bonneville Dam and Hamilton Mtn. from Ruckel Ridge (Jim Sifferle)
Hiker negotiating "The Catwalk" on the Ruckel Ridge hike. (RSDW)
Basalt pillars on Ruckel Ridge (Jim Sifferle)
Falling
Poison Oak

Contents

Hike Description

NOTICE: Most trails on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge are closed until further notice because of damage from the Eagle Creek Fire. The closure involves ALL trails between Rooster Rock State Park and Hood River. It is anticipated that most of these trails may not reopen until Spring or Summer 2018. Please check the list of Columbia Gorge trail closures before you plan for a hike.

Ruckel Ridge. The Ruckel Ridge. Widely recognized as the most treacherous day-hike in the Gorge, this is not a climb for inexperienced hikers, dogs, or children. You'll need good boots, good route-finding skills, a lot of stamina, and dry weather. The Benson Plateau is normally covered with snow during the winter and early spring and finding the initial descent route along the Ruckel Creek Trail can be difficult in these conditions. First-time hikers should not attempt this hike in winter without companions who are familiar with the terrain. Soloists (at any time) also should exercise due caution, because this is one outing that's best done with companions.

But don't worry too much, because if you're in reasonably good fitness, you'll probably find the ascent more "fun" than strenuous, as the route presents a series of hand-over-hand obstacles that keeps everything going at a reasonable pace. Where stamina becomes an issue is the final 1,000-foot ascent to the Benson Plateau (3,700 ft.), and then the descent on the Ruckel Creek Trail, which is an actual USFS-maintained route (unlike the ascender, which is definitely "user maintained"). Down-climbing Ruckel Ridge isn't a good option, so start early in the day and plan on completing the entire nine-mile loop.

The first difficult part of the Ruckel Ridge hike might be finding your way to the "real" trailhead. The trail begins in the Eagle Creek Campground, near Campsite 5. You should park next to the bathrooms by the Eagle Creek Camp host. If parking isn't available there, park at the lower lot just before the Eagle Creek Suspension Bridge. Start your hike by heading up the paved campground road, until you see a sign for Gorge Trail 400. Follow the Gorge Trail as it climbs to the top of a bluff, then travels next to a protective fence for a ways. Just before the trail drops down hill, take the fork to the right. Follow the path around the perimeter of the campground, passing an old amphitheater. You will pass a metal sign for the Buck Point Trail between camp sites 5 and 6.

The sign says it's 3/4 of a mile to Buck Point, but it's closer to 0.4 miles. Hike up through a series of switchbacks through the forest. When you break out into a power line clearing, you're at Buck Point. Enjoy the views for a bit, then continue across the clearing, under the power line and into the trees. The trail dips downhill and to the right a bit (somewhat of a miracle on this hike) then traverses a lichen covered talus slope.

Here's where the Ruckel Ridge hike begins in earnest — switchback up the rockslide, following occasional cairns to the crest of the ridge, and plan on using your hands in spots. After reaching the top of the talus and scree, the trail then ascends directly up the crest of the ridge, alternating between steep sections and very steep sections. In places the "trail" consists of short rock climbs — it's not technical rock climbing by any means, but again, there probably is no classic Gorge hike that requires the use of your hands as much as this one.

After about two miles, you'll come to The Catwalk, a very exposed section on the crest of the ridge at about 2,700 feet. This rocky spine weaves through the trees for about 1/10 of a mile, sometimes only a foot wide, and there's no practical way to walk across it, so plan on packing away your trekking poles for a moment and walking out along it as far as safety permits. Beyond there, the narrowest section can be traversed carefully with hands, feet, and patience. A fall here could mean big trouble, so facing the rock and slowly working backwards is the best strategy. Fortunately, for hikers who want to experience Ruckel Ridge but don't like exposure, there's an alternate "bail-out" path below The Catwalk on the south side.

After The Catwalk, the trail drops a bit into a saddle and then begins a steep climb to the Benson Plateau. Once you finally level off at 3,700 feet, you'll drop a bit to a crossing of Ruckel Creek. Cross the creek by wading or rock hopping and you'll soon come to a trail junction with Ruckel Creek Trail.

Turn left here and start down. That's right, down. Your sore legs will thank you, but your soon-to-be sore toes might be less pleased. The Ruckel Creek Trail stays high above Ruckel Creek, passing through hanging meadows that are filled with wildflowers in the spring. After about two miles, there are two great viewpoints, the first looking south to Mount Hood, the second looking north to Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, as well as the Columbia River Gorge. The trail continues switchbacking down, after a while passing through a beautiful moss-covered field of talus and scree, which is a Native American sacred site with ancient stone pits.

After a bit more walking downhill, you'll find yourself sore and exhausted at the Ruckel Creek Trail trailhead and the paved Historic Columbia River Highway Trail. Turn left, cross the Ruckel Creek Bridge and head west. A few hundred feet beyond the bridge, in sight of the freeway, is a junction with the Gorge Trail #400. Turn onto the Gorge Trail, walk uphill a bit and then past the campground, and then return to your car.

Maps

Ruckel Ridge Loop topo map

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass required

Trip Reports

6/5/06 10/22/06

  • (Click here to add your own)

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hike! Columbia Gorge, by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • Afoot and Afield Portland/Vancouver, by Douglas Lorain
  • 35 Hiking Trails, Columbia River Gorge, by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Columbia River Gorge, 42 Scenic Hikes, by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Hiking the Columbia River Gorge - 1st and 2nd Editions, by Russ Schneider
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon - 3rd Edition, by William L Sullivan

More Links

Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.