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Wahtum Lake to Benson Plateau Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mount Hood from Chinidere Mountain (Tom Kloster)
The outlet of the East Fork Eagle Creek from the west end of Wahtum Lake (bobcat)
Pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys) on Chinidere Mountain (bobcat)
Ruckel Creek on the Benson Plateau (bobcat)
The Pacific Crest Trail on the Benson Plateau (bobcat)
The route via the PCT to the Benson Plateau from Wahtum Lake (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Wahtum Lake TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Benson Plateau
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 13.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2780 feet
  • High point: 4,673 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: June into October
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: Around Wahtum Lake


Hike Description

The Pacific Crest Trail follows the high ridge between Waucoma Ridge and the Benson Plateau, with the only significant descent and ascent being right at the beginning of this hike. The route will take you from a beautiful mountain lake to the edge of the Columbia River Gorge. There are campsites on the Benson Plateau if you want to overnight. The highlight of the ridge walk is the summit of Chinidere Mountain, which offers views up and down the Cascades from Mount Rainier to Mount Jefferson. North of Chinidere Mountain, you'll run into the zone of the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire where there was an expanse of crown fire along the ridge, but the Benson Plateau itself escaped relatively unscathed.

The trail begins down to the right of a large campsite. You'll come to a junction at a map kiosk and wilderness permit box. From here, go left down the Wahtum Express Trail #406J. This stepped trail (258 steps by one count) descends steeply as you pass the wilderness entry sign under old-growth silver fir, noble fir and mountain hemlock. Pass the junction with the horse trail, and then come to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. Here, proceed left along the lush shore of Wahtum Lake. Thickets of bugbane, false bugbane, and thimbleberry crowd the trail. At another junction near the west shore of the lake, make a right for the Eagle Creek Trail #446. Soon you'll arrive at the junction with the Chinidere Cutoff Trail #406M and go right. This trail descends to the East Fork of Eagle Creek where it flows out of Wahtum Lake. A couple of logs have been placed as a bridge across the logjam here. The trail heads up in younger silver fir woods past several campsites before it crosses the creek in a bear-grass and huckleberry understory. The tread drops to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.

Turn left and in 50 yards find the Chinidere Mountain Trail heading up to the right for 0.4 miles. After six switchbacks, the trail reaches an open area where a side trail leads off to the left across scree and blooming wildflowers, especially gentians. Back on the main trail, exit the woods and switchback on a talus slope to reach the summit of Chinidere Mountain, the site of a former lookout. On a clear day, the views are extensive, with Wahtum Lake gleaming below and a vista of Gorge high peaks from Larch Mountain in the west to Mount Defiance in the east. Cascade stratovolcanoes from Mount Jefferson in the south to Mount Rainier in the north should also be visible.

Return down the Chinidere Mountain trail, and head right on the Pacific Crest Trail, which passes through an open area blooming with fireweed. Enter a noble fir copse, and then wade through a thicket of thimbleberry, angelica, columbine and paintbrush. Asters will be blooming trailside in late summer. After crossing another scree slope, you'll pass under old growth silver fir, noble fir and Douglas-fir. The trail reaches a saddle and then makes a level traverse on the western side of the ridge in scrappy silver fir woods. By now, you've entered an area affected by the Eagle Creek Fire, and soon you'll be on the ridge crest where the conifers were killed by crown fire. The Pacific Crest Trail switchbacks down twice and then crosses a scree slope, passing around the east side of a knoll. Continue past the site of Camp Smokey, which was destroyed in the Eagle Creek Fire. The trail ascends below a talus slope, and soon comes to the Pacific Crest-Benson Way South Trail Junction.

To explore the Benson Plateau, go left on the Benson Way Trail #405B. Hike along the fire-scarred western edge of the Benson Plateau among noble fir, silver fir, western hemlock, and Douglas-fir. Go right at the junction with the Benson Spur Trail #405C and drop gradually, passing a small tarn meadow. Reach an unmarked junction with a scratchy trail and keep left. The next junction is with the Ruckel Creek Trail, where there is a sign. Keep left here on the Ruckel Creek Trail, and descend steeply to Ruckel Creek. Cross the creek and head along its east bank to reach the junction with the Benson-Ruckel Trail #405A.

You can continue a short distance on the Ruckel Creek Trail to reach Hunter's Camp, but to cross the center of the Benson Plateau, make a right on the Benson-Ruckel Trail. The trail rises gently as the plateau tilts from east to west. Douglas-fir, silver fir, and noble fir have colonized areas where there used to be meadows. In 0.8 miles, you'll come to the Pacific Crest-Benson Ruckel Trail Junction, where you'll make a right. This hike along the eastern rim of the Benson Plateau offers no real views, and you'll soon pass the junction with the east end of the Ruckel Creek Trail. Past a small tarn meadow, and then hike just below the high point of the plateau to stay left at the Pacific Crest-Benson Way South Trail Junction. Continue south along the ridge to return to the Wahtum Lake Trailhead.


  • 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
  • Self-issued wilderness permit; wilderness rules apply
  • Outhouse, information kiosk, fee campground at trailhead

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon by Eli Boschetto
  • Day Hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon & Washington by George & Patricia Semb
  • Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon & Washington by Jeffrey P. Schaffer & Andy Selters
  • Hiking the Oregon Skyline by Charles M. Feris

More Links


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.

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