Benson Plateau Loop
Central Gorge, Oregon
View from Benson Plateau looking towards Washington (photographer: John Carr)
Hike Details
Type:
Out to a loop and back
Distance:
16.2 miles round trip
Elevation Gain:
4080 feet
Difficulty:
Expert
Trail Features
Family Friendly:
No
Restrooms:
Yes
Trailhead Pass:
Trail Details
Wildflowers
Starting at the Herman Creek Trailhead, climb up the Herman Creek Trail through a power line clearing to a junction with the Herman Creek Bridge Trail. Turn right and follow the Trail downhill less than half of a mile to the bridge, then climb almost 500 feet to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. Once on the PCT, you'll climb from 960 feet to about 3700 feet in elevation in the first 2.7 miles. At the 2000 feet level, you'll enter the Hatfield Wilderness Area. Shortly thereafter, the trail flattens onto the summit of the Benson Plateau.
 
Continue south another 1 1/2 miles and pass a first junction with the Benson Way Trail, then a second junction with the Benson Ruckel Trail (#405A). Turn right and follow the Benson Ruckel Trail ~1 mile to the Ruckel Creek-Benson Ruckel Trail Junction.  Turn left here, and follow Ruckel Creek Trail about half a mile across the upper reaches of Ruckel Creek to a junction with the Benson Spur Trail. From here, head south on the Benson Spur Trail to a junction with the Benson Way Trail. Turn right here and you'll be heading back north on the Benson Way Trail. This trail skirts the west side of the plateau with views of Larch Mountain. It's 2.3 miles back to the PCT, crossing the Ruckel Creek Trail again at Hunter's Camp. Once you arrive at the PCT, it's an easy trek back down.
 
- Hike descriptions were collaboratively written with the generous support of oregonhikers.org.
 

Driving Directions

Herman Creek Trailhead:  From the west, travel on I-84 to Exit #44/Cascade Locks. At the stop sign turn right/east and follow Wa-Na-Pa street through town. Continue under the freeway and turn left/east on Frontage Road (on the south side of the freeway) to the Herman Creek Campground sign. From the east, take Exit #44/Cascade Locks. Immediately turn left and travel under the freeway. Turn left/east onto Frontage Road (on the south side of the freeway) to the Herman Creek Campground sign. Follow the narrow, paved road that goes up to the campground (to the left) and trailhead (to the right). There is room to park at the trailhead, and along the road towards the campground, but don't block the campsites in the campground. Sometimes in the winter the gate is closed but you can park along Frontage Road. Hike up the 1/2 mile paved road to the trailhead.

Community Connection

Lyle Cherry Orchard’s trailhead is located approximately one mile from the Gorge town of Lyle and is home to the “Lyle” sign that sits above the community. Since this preserve was opened to the public the Lyle Cherry Orchard has provided the community with an accessible natural space right in their back yard. The sunny and dry preserve is the perfect hiking spot to visit during the rainier fall days in the western gorge. Visitors from the Gorge and beyond recreate on Lyle Cherry Orchard and in turn support the local economy.

Photo: View of town of Lyle from Lyle Cherry Orchard (Debbie Asakawa)

Preserve Story

The property where Lyle Cherry Orchard Preserve lies currently was once grazing land for cattle and as the name suggests the eastern part of the preserve held a cherry orchard. The orchard and its trees were well abandoned by the time Nancy Russell purchased the property piece by piece in the 1990’s and later donated it to Friends in 2009. Nancy purchased the property when it came up for sale because it was within key viewing areas on the Oregon side of the Gorge and would have most likely become subdivided for development.

The land is also home to remnants of Lyle Convict Road, a demonstration road built by Sam Hill to convince Washington legislators to fund a Columbia River Highway. When Washington showed no interest in Sam’s project, he invited the entire Oregon legislature to his Maryhill estate to see his "Good Roads" work and Oregon quickly agreed to build on their side of the river what is today the Historic Columbia River Highway.

The trail at Lyle Cherry Orchard was started in when Friends' founder Nancy Russell purchased the property and has been open to the public and maintained Friends and its land trust ever since. In 2019, Washington Trails Association started work to reroute some parts of the trail and add new trail to explore for the benefit of Gorge residents.

In 2013, the land trust and volunteers removed a dilapidated house and outbuildings on the southwestern end of the property. Countless hours were spent removing building materials, old vehicles, garbage, and debris. In 2015 volunteers removed over 1,700 feet of fencing material on the property to allow for the free movement of wildlife across the landscape. Without the help of Friends volunteers and Gorge community members, projects like this would not be possible.

Photos: Before and after cleanup at Lyle Cherry Orchard (Friends' archive)