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Wahtum Lake via Ruckel Creek 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.
Vision quest pits along the Ruckel Creek trail (cfm)
The Bridge of the Gods from the Ruckel Creek Trail (bobcat)
Mount Adams from the trail (cfm)
Wahtum Lake (bobcat)
  • Start point: Eagle Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Wahtum Lake
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 29.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 6270 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: May-October
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

NOTICE: This trail is closed until further notice because of damage from the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. Please check the list of Columbia Gorge trail closures before you plan for a hike.

The first part of this hike has a couple of alternatives. One option is to park near the Eagle Creek Suspension Bridge. You'll start by heading up the paved campground road for a bit, until you see a sign for Gorge Trail 400. The Gorge Trail climbs to the top of a bluff, then travels next to a protective fence for a ways. At a fork, take the left path downhill. Soon you'll reach the Historic Columbia River Highway Trail. Alternatively, if you can handle the freeway noise, you can park at the main Eagle Creek Campground Entrance and hike directly east on the HCRHT next to the freeway. Beyond the junction mentioned above, the Highway Trail is the roadway of the original Columbia River Highway. This is a chance to live a bit of local history as you walk. It's a short chance though, because soon after the junction, you'll cross the Ruckel Creek Bridge and come to a junction with the Ruckel Creek Trail. If the Highway Trail feels like a city bus, then this is your stop. Get off the bus and head up the trail into the forest.

The Ruckel Creek Trail must get its name from this 100 yards. Soon, you'll come to a switchback and that's the last you'll see of Ruckel Creek. It's also the last water of any kind you'll see for miles, so make sure you're stocked up. From here, you'll switchback up past a power line and farther up the side of a ridge. There are a lot of switchbacks here, but there are peaks of views that promise more. Not long after the powerlines, you will come to an open scree slope with what are believed to be pre-colonial vision quest pits built by Native Americans. After about a dozen switchbacks, you'll come to a stunning if risky viewpoint. From here, you'll see Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, as well as the Columbia River, the Bridge of the Gods and all of the lesser mountains on the Washington side of the Gorge. A little farther up, you'll crest a ridge and have a great view south to Mount Hood.

Above here, you'll enter the first of several hanging meadows. These are steep, open areas that are filled with wildflowers in April and May. The rest of the year, they are largely filled with grass, but they still provide great views. The largest of these meadows is at hike mile 3.1. After this meadow, the trail steepens again and you'll switchback through forest mixed with open rock slopes. After passing the wilderness boundary, you'll pass junctions with two trails, the abandoned Rudolph Spur Trail #405D and the always "unofficial' Ruckel Ridge Trail. Then you'll pass junctions with maintained trails including the Benson Way Trail #405B, the Benson Ruckel Trail #405A and the Benson Spur Trail #405C. After all these junctions, the Ruckel Ridge Trail meets the Pacific Crest Trail #2000.

From here, head south on the Crest Trail. You'll pass another great viewpoint of Mount Hood, and the southern junction of the Benson Way Trail. Soon, there's a junction with the Eagle Benson Trail. The trail alternates between flat areas and gentle grades. You'll pass large open rock area and then enter a 1972 forest fire.

Soon, you'll enter the dense network of trails in the Wahtum Lake area. First you'll come to the junction to Chinidere Mountain. Then there's a junction with the Herman Creek Trail. If you have a car or a lift waiting, you can head up the Wahtum Lake Trail to the Wahtum Lake Trailhead.

Alternatively, you can return by one of the other long hikes from Columbia Gorge trailheads to Wahtum Lake. The simplest loop with this hike is the Wahtum Lake via Eagle Creek Hike as both of these start at the same trailhead. Other multi-day loops would be this hike combined with the Wahtum Lake via Pacific Crest Trail Hike and the Wahtum Lake via Herman Creek Hike. This hike could also be a traverse if a car was arranged at the Wahtum Lake Trailhead. From here the Crest Trail loops around Wahtum Lake to a junction with the Wahtum Lake Trail.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required at the trailhead

Trip Reports

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


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.