Low Point: 80'
High Point: 4150'
DirectionsFrom Portland, Drive East on I-84 to the Eagle Creek exit, number 41. Turn South and follow the road a short distance to the trailhead. From the east, drive to the Bonneville Dam exit, and re-enter the freeway eastbound, taking the Eagle Creek exit.
The Benson Plateau loop is a tough 16.5 mile trip beginning in the beautiful Eagle Creek Valley, before steeply rising to the plateau and good views of Mt. Hood and the Gorge.
The first 5 miles follow the Eagle Creek Trail through the green and waterfall-filled valley. Just beyond Wy'East Camp, look for a trail leading to the left and making a nice grade up the valley wall (on our trip, there was some red caution tape hanging from the trail sign...always a comforting sign). The trail immediately breaks onto an open slope before re-entering the woods where the lack of trail maintenance is evident. The trail crosses the Wy'East Creek (no issues crossing), and again begins to climb emerging onto steep open slopes again. Wy'East Falls can be seen, but care should be taken through this section, since the steep slope could result in a serious fall.
The trail reenters the woods and stays mostly along the ridge line as it makes its way steeply towards the PCT. 1.5 miles from the Eagle Creek Trail, the path enters a burned area. Some views of the valley are gained, but the overgrown brush and fallen trees slow progress substantially. The burned portion lasts for a mile with the trail entering and leaving it several times. At 2.5 miles, the trail enters the woods with some finality, and the walking improves. There is a nice vantage point with views towards Bonneville Dam and the Columbia River to the north. The trail continues at a nearly level grade until crossing a small creek, and then meets the Pacific Crest Trail, a rough three miles from the Eagle Creek Trail.
Compared with trail 434 (the one you just came up), the PCT is great. The grade is perfect, and the walking is easy. Mt. Hood can be seen to the south, as well as the Herman Creek Valley, and Tomlike Mountain. Walk the PCT for 1.25 miles until a signed fork for the Ruckel Creek Trail (405). The level trail passes several nice campsites, and a few ponds (with their mosquitoes) before crossing Ruckel Creek on a small bridge, and then meets trail 405C. Stay right at the intersection as the trail begins to drop, crosses the creek again (no bridge, but no problem), and begins working its way down the ridge. There are several nice campsites just beyond the creek crossing. The trail steeply descends before it levels out and pulls away from the creek. It passes through some broad meadows with good views and emerges along the ridge line, where views of the Gorge, Cascade Locks, and Mt. Adams warrant a much needed break. The path once again steepens its grade, before leveling out and crossing under a set of power lines before emerging on a service road next to I-84. Walk the road towards the west, or take the Gorge trail which appears a short distance down the road back to the Eagle Creek Trailhead.
This loop trip is also a good way to experience the Eagle Creek Trail, without the crowds. We arrived at 9:00 in the morning, before most of the crowds appeared. Since we didn't need to return on the Eagle Creek trail, we missed all of the afternoon crowds, and once we left the Eagle Creek Trail, we didn't see another person.