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Benson Plateau Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Ruckel Creek on the Benson Plateau (bobcat)
The Herman Creek Bridge (bobcat)
View to Nick Eaton Ridge from the Pacific Crest Trail (bobcat)
Small tarn meadow in the middle of the plateau (bobcat)
Benson Way crossing of Ruckel Creek (bobcat)
The route to the Benson Plateau from Herman Creek Trailhead (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Herman Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Benson Plateau
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 16.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 4030 feet
  • High point: 4095 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Late May into October
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: Yes
Poison-Oak

Contents

Hike Description

The Benson Plateau is a flat-topped ridge on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge just south of Cascade Locks. The north side of the ridge was sheared off by the Missoula Floods about 12,000 years ago. The plateau itself is thickly forested by youthful conifers shading a carpet of bear-grass, but that has not always been the case. In the first half of the 20th century, shepherds drove flocks up to the plateau and set up sheep camps at the many meadows. There are small tarns and springs on the plateau, so there's the opportunity to overnight; however, wide-ranging views are limited due to the forest cover. The Benson Plateau was little damaged by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, being singed only around the edges. You could also start this hike at the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead, adding an extra three miles to the round-trip.

The Benson Plateau is not named after the philanthropist Simon Benson but rather honors Thomas C. Benson, who arrived in eastern Oregon in the 1860s. He moved to Cascade Locks around 1900, and apparently was one of the stockmen who herded sheep up to the plateau.

The path drops from the Herman Creek Trailhead but then switchbacks up twice before traversing. There are two more switchbacks in shady big-leaf maple, hemlock, and Douglas-fir woods. Reach the powerline corridor and cross it, heading up to the right to reenter the woods. Here, you'll begin to see the effects of the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, with the understory burned away but slowly recovering and the conifer canopy mostly intact. The trail winds through an area of large, moss-covered boulders and then passes an old forest track leading off the left. (This track drops down to Herman Creek Road.) Pass around the nose of a ridge, switchback twice, and traverse up to the junction with the Herman Bridge Trail #406E, 0.6 miles from the trailhead.

Bear right here, and descend the slope. At a talus opening, you'll get a view up to Nick Eaton Ridge. After you bend left to follow an old road bed, you'll hike along a forested rim. Switchback down to the Herman Creek Bridge, a large steel truss footbridge, and get views up and down Herman Creek as it runs past a verge of alders, maples, and cedars. After the bridge, the trail becomes the northern boundary of the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. From here, the trail passes through a maple bottom where both maples and cedars were scorched by the 2017 fire. The tread snakes up a moss-carpeted slope and continues ascending, crossing two talus fields. When you reach the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail, make a sharp left.

Rock buttresses rear above - look for vultures soaring out from their high perches. Cross an open talus slope to get views down to the eastern outskirts of Cascade Locks as well as across the Columbia to Table Mountain and Greenleaf Peak. Make two switchbacks up in woods of Douglas-fir and big-leaf maple before passing across a small meadow. Then you'll round the nose of a ridge and find yourself above the Herman Creek valley. The trail traverses upward and makes two switchbacks to reach a rocky ridge crest. There's a long traverse where you pass some big Douglas-firs before switchbacking three times in vine maple woods. Cross a meadow that blooms with balsamroot in June, and reach a spur that leads right to a rock outcrop with views over Herman Creek. Two more switchbacks take you to the crest of a ridge before you switchback twice more, getting views of sheer orange cliffs, part of an exposed Boring volcano. Three more switchbacks rise to an open gravelly slope vegetated with with manzanita, common juniper, and rare Fremont's silk-tassel. Hike past a trailside camp, and switchback again in an understory of vine maple, huckleberry, anemone, vanilla leaf and Oregon grape. Another switchback offers you a view to Nick Eaton Ridge. Pass gushing Teakettle Spring, a fairly reliable water source for PCT through-hikers. The trail switchbacks three times under tall hemlocks, noble fir, and silver fir, but then you'll pass through a section of burned forest, part of the 2017 Eagle Creek conflagration. You'll see a campsite before reaching the Pacific Crest-Benson Way North Trail Junction on the east side of the Benson Plateau.

Continue through a secondary forest of noble fir, silver fir, western hemlock, and Douglas-fir, and keep left at the junction with the Benson Ruckel Trail #405A. The PCT takes you another 0.7 miles as you rise to the junction with the Ruckel Creek Trail #405. Turn right here, and descend about 0.7 miles, passing below the source spring for Ruckel Creek and the site of Benson Camp. When you come to the junction with the Benson Spur Trail #405C, head south (left) half a mile to a junction with the Benson Way Trail.

When you turn right here, you'll be heading back north on the Benson Way Trail. This trail skirts the west side of the plateau offering occasional glimpses of Larch Mountain and other points to the west.The Eagle Creek Fire encroached here but didn't too far into the plateau itself. It's 2.3 miles back to the PCT. You'll cross the Ruckel Creek Trail again at Hunter's Camp. Then the Benson Way Trail rises gently along the rim of the Benson Plateau although views are obscured by the trees. The trail undulates, and you can expect to encounter some blowdown. If there is still snow on the ground, follow the burn blazes on trees. There’s a last drop and rise before you meet the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. From here, go left to begin the knee-killing trip back down to your car.

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Bonneville Dam, OR #429
  • Green Trails Maps: Columbia River Gorge - West #428S
  • Geo-Graphics: Trails of the Columbia Gorge
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service/Bureau of Land Management: Columbia River Gorge
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Hood River Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required
  • Restrooms, information kiosk, picnic table at trailhead
  • Wilderness rules apply

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • 100 Oregon Hiking Trails by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 70 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe

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.