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Eagle-Benson Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as a Closed Hike. Some or all of this hike has been closed by a governing body and hikers may be liable for fines or even arrest. At least part of this route may be dangerous and hard to follow, or it may cross areas with sensitive plant life or wildlife habitat. Trailkeepers of Oregon does not endorse or recommend hiking this route. When restrictions are lifted, this notice will be removed.
This page is marked as a Lost Hike. The "trail" may be dangerous and hard to follow and is not recommended for beginning hikers without an experienced leader. Carry detailed maps of the whole area and/or a GPS unit and compass.
View from the cliffs along the Eagle-Benson Trail (Jim Sifferle)
Eagle Creek from the Eagle-Benson Trail (Jim Sifferle)
Wy'east Falls from a cliff top viewpoint on the Eagle-Benson Trail (bobcat)
Eagle-Benson Loop topo map
  • Start point: Eagle Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Camp Smokey
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 15.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 4260 feet
  • High point: 4,110 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: June-Oct
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: Yes (on Eagle Creek Trail)
Falling
Poison-Oak

Contents

Falling Hazard

Be careful with dogs or small children on the Eagle Creek trail. There is a steep cliff to one side of the trail. Maybe this isn't the best trail for dogs or small children.

Hike Description

NOTICE: The Ruckel Creek and Ruckel Ridge trails are still closed. The Eagle-Benson Trail is technically open, but it was severely damaged by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire along its entire length and has not been maintained for years. Only strong, experienced off-trail hikers should attempt the trail at this time. A much longer, alternate loop would involve the PCT and the Gorge Trail #400 back to Eagle Creek.

This hike is a demanding loop, showing off all the Gorge has to offer. You encounter everything from cliffside trails and waterfalls to incredible vistas and quiet sub-alpine forests. Trails vary from extremely well maintained to occasional maintenance by volunteers. Some sections are easy and well graded, while others offer rugged climbs and knee pounding descents. There is limited seasonal water availability on this route, so bring enough for the entire trek. Potential water sites are Ruckel Creek near the top of the Ruckel Ridge route, a small spring .1 miles below Camp Smokey on the Eagle-Benson Trail, and a few spots on Eagle Creek where creek access is feasible.

The Eagle Creek Trail can be crowded, while most of the rest of the hike offers relative solitude. There are several variations to this hike. You can start out easy (Eagle Creek) and finish hard (Ruckel Creek or Ridge), or get the hard stuff out of the way first and cruise to a finish. I recommend the latter for several reasons: 1) You will get the toughest climb out of the way first while you're fresh. 2) You start out enjoying solitude rather than the throngs of people hiking Eagle Creek. 3) It is easier to descend the Eagle-Benson Trail due to the overgrown tread and the extensive blow-down. 4) You finish with a leisurely stroll down the Eagle Creek Trail in the late afternoon or early evening when it is less crowded.

When starting the hike, you must first decide on your route to the Benson Plateau. You can choose between Ruckel Ridge and the Ruckel Creek Trail. While both trails are a stiff climb, Ruckel Ridge is a more demanding but rewarding thrill ride. The Ridge doesn't lead to a destination as much as it is a destination. The Ruckel Creek Trail offers the single best viewpoint between the two trails, and impressive hanging meadows laced with wildflowers in the spring. You can't go wrong either way. Pick your poison and make your way to the Benson Plateau. See the Ruckel Ridge Loop Hike for specific route descriptions for this first section.

Following either route, you will eventually end up at the junction of the Ruckel Creek Trail and the Ruckel Ridge route. There is a large network of trails and camps on the Benson Plateau, some marked and some not. Your goal is to end up on the Pacific Crest Trail on the southern end of the plateau. The most direct route for this loop is to follow the Ruckel Creek Trail south into the heart of the plateau. Take the Benson Way Trail #405B to the right (SW) when it intersects with the Ruckel Creek Trail. Benson Way generally follows the western edge of the Benson, connecting with the Pacific Crest Trail 1.8 miles later.

Continue on the Pacific Crest Trail about .4 miles to Camp Smokey at the intersection with the Eagle-Benson Trail #434. This trail was maintained by the Mazamas, and the middle third needs frequent brushing out and logging of blowdown. In mid-summer, you may be pushing down switchbacks through thickets of big-leaf maple and thimbleberry, but volunteers usually had this brushed out by late August. (The condition of the route in 2021 was unknown.) Follow the Eagle-Benson Trail as it takes a 3 mile, 3000' dive into Eagle Creek Canyon. Afternoon winds can really whip through the trees as the trail skirts a ridge line. At .5 miles, check out the incredible view north and west. Tighten your laces, as the descent only gets steeper. After a mile or so, you start hiking through a burned out area. This is the area that can be extremely overgrown, so watch your step. You will also be climbing over and under a myriad of blown down trees before reentering the forest.

As you approach Eagle Creek from above, the trail narrows to a cliff-side 12" tread, many places covered in small loose rocks. Watch your step here, as a fall would be very bad. Get an excellent view of 140-foot Wy'east Falls, cross its feeder creek, and make the final descent to Eagle Creek. From here, you can choose to add the short 2 mile out and back trip to Tunnel Falls, or simply head back down the Eagle Creek Trail to the trailhead. Unless you're running low on energy or daylight, I highly recommend the additional miles, as Tunnel Falls is a Gorge highlight.

On the return trip, follow the well graded Eagle Creek Trail back down to the trailhead, taking in the waterfalls along the way.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Eagle-Benson Trail #434 (USFS)
  • 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
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Regulations, fees, etc

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required; fee kiosk at the trailhead
  • Restrooms, picnic tables, information kiosk, nearby campground
  • Dogs on leash on Eagle Creek Trail
  • Limited parking; if lot is full, go back to the Eagle Creek Day Use Trailhead
  • On the Eagle Creek Trail, overnight camping permitted only above the High Bridge; campfires not allowed!

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • none

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.