PCT to Benson Plateau, Bridge of the Gods - PCT Trailhead, Portland - Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

PCT to Benson Plateau - 18.2 miles

Bridge of the Gods - PCT Trailhead

Large Bigleaf Maple on the PCT to Benson Plateau

Large Bigleaf Maple on the PCT to Benson Plateau

Round-Trip Length: 18.2 miles
Start-End Elevation: 171' - 3,969' (elevation at Benson-Ruckel Trail #405-A)
Elevation Change: +3,798' net elevation gain (+4,715' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

PCT to Benson Plateau - 18.2 Miles Round-Trip

Benson Plateau (4,000') is a high, flat expanse in the Columbia River Gorge between the Herman Creek (east) and Eagle Creek (west) drainages. This peculiar plateau is a remnant of widespread lava flows that eroded in fickle fashion to the form we see today. Benson Plateau now supports a diverse mid-elevation forest that draws bear, deer and cougar. 

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Crucially for PCT thru-hikers, it marks the final descent in the state of Oregon to the Columbia River Gorge, where they'll cross Bridge of the Gods into Washington.   

For local hikers and backpackers there are several routes up to the plateau; lengths vary but all require a significant climb.

This description begins at Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks and follows the PCT 9.1 miles to the Benson-Ruckel Trail on the NE side of the plateau. From this point you can cross the flats, or continue on the PCT to Chinidere Mountain and Wahtum Lake:

Note that Bridge of the Gods Trailhead is located just north of I-84, and you'll have to pass back under the highway and walk local roads to pick up singletrack. Not to worry, this short section (.17 miles) is well marked and easy to follow.

Follow signs from the parking lot up a switchback to a road leading under the highway. Follow signs right, then left to pick up the main trail (.17 miles).

Once on track, travel normalizes in a young fir and maple forest. The PCT runs fast to a short piece of road that passes under power lines (1.1 miles : 705'). Follow signs on and right back off the road to remain on the PCT (again very quick, intuitive and marked).

Road noise dims as you reach a subtle crest (1.3 miles : 810') and drop to a bridge over Dry Creek (1.95 miles : 718'). An access road branches .25 miles to Dry Creek Falls, a worthy side trip. The PCT crosses Dry Creek and resumes fast, rolling travel to the first of several openings across rock slides (2.85 miles : 810').

Keep right at an unmarked split (the left fork goes to a campsite and access to the Herman Pinnacles) just before rounding a bend to Pacific Crest Falls (3.9 miles : 875'), which is tucked just off trail in a steep-walled slot. You won't see much from this point, but a quick scramble reveals an impressive fall when volume is high.

The trail crosses another open rockslide with river views to the Herman Bridge Trail split and Mark O Hatfield Wilderness Boundary (4.2 miles : 1,020'). Here travel steepens considerably on a 4.9 mile, 3000' climb to the plateau.

The PCT rises quickly (if not uneventfully) across steep slopes and ravines before moderating across a narrow ridge (6.85 miles : 2,900') to a sudden opening with terrific views (7.1 miles : 3,025'). Look for manzanita and huckleberries along this high spine.

The PCT re-enters thick timber and climbs steadily to Teakettle Spring (7.6 miles : 3,460'). This low output spring is one of only a few water sources near the plateau, and may run dry in the summer. 

Grades moderate up to a large campsite above the spring (8.0 miles : 3,750'). The PCT eases here through uniform columns of fir before making one final steep push that levels to the Benson-Ruckel Trail #405-A split (9.1 miles : 3,969').

Take this trail to cross and circle the plateau or remain on the PCT, which traces the east side and continues south to Wahtum Lake (3,723').

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N45 39.723 W121 53.787 — 0.0 miles : Bridge of the Gods Trailhead
  • N45 39.709 W121 53.668 — .17 miles : Follow signs for the PCT
  • N45 39.578 W121 53.462 — .5 miles : Fast travel in fir-maple forest
  • N45 39.594 W121 53.160 — 1.0 miles : Steady, moderate climb
  • N45 39.590 W121 52.644 — 1.5 miles : Trail dips down off crest
  • N45 39.603 W121 52.159 — 1.95 miles : PCT - Dry Creek Falls Trail split
  • N45 39.955 W121 51.862 — 2.5 miles : Rolling travel in mixed forest
  • N45 40.169 W121 51.446 — 3.0 miles : Rolling climb in mixed forest
  • N45 40.080 W121 51.085 — 3.5 miles : Rolling climb in mixed forest
  • N45 40.143 W121 50.724 — 3.9 miles : Pacific Crest Falls
  • N45 40.305 W121 50.347 — 4.2 miles : Herman Bridge Trail split - WB
  • N45 40.506 W121 49.890 — 4.8 miles : Steep, winding climb
  • N45 40.302 W121 49.827 — 5.2 miles : Steep, winding climb
  • N45 40.155 W121 49.734 — 5.4 miles : Sharp bend in trail
  • N45 40.155 W121 49.909 — 5.95 miles : Pass defunct Wilderness Boundary board
  • N45 39.899 W121 50.040 — 6.5 miles : Steep, winding climb
  • N45 39.842 W121 50.160 — 6.85 miles : Trail opens across high ridge with views
  • N45 39.704 W121 50.266 — 7.1 miles : Trail opens across high ridge with views
  • N45 39.517 W121 50.368 — 7.5 miles : Resume steep, steady climb
  • N45 39.445 W121 50.535 — 7.65 miles : Teakettle Spring
  • N45 39.299 W121 50.548 — 8.02 miles : Large campsite to right
  • N45 38.736 W121 50.618 — 8.72 miles : Moderate travel along ridge
  • N45 38.369 W121 50.866 — 9.1 miles : Benson Ruckel Trail split

Worth Noting

  • The Herman Creek Trail is another good starting point that would save close to 4 miles on the roundtrip. Still, as mentioned, the climbing is about equal.

Camping and Backpacking Information

Camping Rules and Regulations

  • An overnight fee is required (see rules and regulations).
  • Group size is limited to 12 individuals or any combination of people and stock.
  • Camp in established sites whenever possible. Sites are first come, first served. Some may be closed for restoration
  • Bury human waste 6-8" deep, at least 100' from any trail or water source.
  • Campfires - Columbia River Gorge NSA: Campfires are permitted in the CRGNSA, with potential seasonal and area-specific restrictions. Up-to-date rules are posted at the trailhead and along the trail. 
  • Campfires are permitted in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness, but with location and seasonal-specific restrictions. Up-to-date rules are posted at the trailhead and along the trail.

Rules and Regulations

  • A valid Recreation Pass is required to access the Bridge of the Gods - PCT Trailhead ($5 day use fee | overnight use requires payment for two days). Complete the form and display as directed at the trailhead board.
  • Benson Plateau is located within the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness, where a free day / overnight use permit is required. These forms are available at the wilderness boundary. Complete the form and carry with you as directed.
  • Dogs must be leashed at all times.

Directions to Trailhead

Directions to Bridge of the Gods Trailhead in Cascade Locks:

From Portland (and points west):

Travel east on I-84 to Exit #44 / Cascade Locks. Follow signs to Bridge of the Gods / Stevenson. The road to the bridge winds up to park just before reaching the toll booth. This is Bridge of the Gods Trailhead. Park here. A valid recreation pass or $5 day use fee is required. 

From Hood River (and points east):

Travel west on I-84 to Exit #44 / Cascade Locks. Head west from the exit ramp on the main road through town, and follow signs for Bridge of the Gods / Stevenson. The road to the bridge winds up to park just before reaching the toll booth. This is Bridge of the Gods Trailhead. Park here. A valid recreation pass or $5 day use fee is required. 

Bridge of the Gods Trailhead is closed in winter months. When closed, use public parking spaces across the street from the park and walk up to the trailhead.

Contact Information

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
902 Wasco Ave | Suite 200
Hood River, OR 97031

Hood River Ranger District
6780 Highway 35
Parkdale, OR 97041

Mt. Hood National Forest Headquarters
16400 Champion Way
Sandy, OR 97055

Hours: Monday – Friday, 7:30a – 4:30p (closed 11:30 – 12:30)

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