Ruckel Ridge is one of, if not the most challenging and difficult day hikes in the Gorge. The path is not maintained, and it is rocky and slippery due to the abundance of moss on the trail. Given the exposed risk in some portions of the hike, it is recommended that hikers are physically and mentally prepared for an enduring challenge and equipped with appropriate hiking clothes and gear. Sturdy boots with good traction are recommended.
Start at the parking lot near the Eagle Creek Camp Host station and navigate your way through the Eagle Creek Campground, past campsite 5, and follow the sign for Buck Point Trail to continue uphill. You'll follow a fence to the top of a bluff; take a fork to the right before the trail heads back downhill. Continue a half mile to Buck Point, a power line clearing where you can get your first views back into the Columbia River Gorge. Head past the power line and follow the trail into the trees.
From here, the trail becomes much more difficult and sustained. Gaining elevation quickly, the trail continues up through mossy rock and steep dirt and gravel ascents. You may spend a considerable amount of this portion of the hike with your knuckles on the ground, or using surrounding roots, tree trunks, and rocks as climbing aids. Be sure to check the validity of anything you grasp-- if it comes loose in your hand, the fall will not be a pleasant one.
The trail continues up and over basalt columns covered in green moss, creating a series of scrambles and short technical climbs. No rope is needed, but skill and focus are recommended. Approximately 2 miles from Buck Point is a feature affectionately known as "The Catwalk." This is a rocky knife ridge that cuts through the trees with widths that diminish down to 1 foot. Traverse this section with careful hand and foot placement, making sure each contact point is secure. Assume the rocks will be slippery in inclement weather; The Catwalk is rather exposed, and a fall could result in serious injury.
At the top of The Catwalk, the trail drops back downhill (a welcome downhill, but by this time, your calves are burning... keep going!). The saddle of the downhill turns into one last steep uphill slog that will test your willpower and endurance. At the top, you'll be happy to find the flat features of the Benson Plateau at 3,700 feet. Head east across the plateau, crossing Ruckel Creek along your way. There are plenty of downed trees to serve as bridges for your crossing.
On the other side of the creek, you'll find your return route, the Ruckel Creek Trail. You'll move through the trees for a bit before reaching a series of beautiful open fields. These are great spots to sit and enjoy lunch and views, as well as to pat yourself on the back for the work you've done so far. These fields are filled with wildflowers in the spring and early summer months.
Continuing downhill, you'll find two to three beautiful viewpoints of the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Hood, Mount Adams, and Mount St. Helens. Rock and scree mark the next section of trail, as well as the moss covered remnants of Native American rock pits. It's generally believed that these were religious sites for young Native Americans to seek vision quests either by self-induced starvation hallucinations or with the aid of natural hallucinogens.
Heading back into the thick old-growth trees, the trail meanders downhill alongside Ruckel Creek as it cascades beautifully through the moss and undergrowth. Follow the creek until it spills out onto the paved Historic Columbia River Highway Trail. Head left (west) on the trail and back to where it meets the Eagle Creek parking lot and your car.