Bench Canyon and Trail Creek Trails


Forest Service Trails #1937 and #1922

Why? A moonscape plus opportunities for a circle hike

Season: July through September

Ease: Difficult.

I’d tried twice before without success to get to one of the funkiest areas in the Wallowas, a “moonscape” that I was told was somewhere to the east of Wonker Pass. I finally made it by putting together a hike up Main Eagle Creek and Trail Creek, then back down to Main Eagle via Bench Canyon. While I can’t imagine circumstances that would send me down Bench Canyon again – or up it, either – I would certainly do the rest of the hike again and recommend it to anyone.

The moonscape is just that, a place of very dark rock, brown and black, cinder-like loose gravel, all of which managed to look smooth and dry and foreboding from a distance. Not much grows there. A few tiny – like 3 to 5 inches – bunches of larkspur and other flowers were the only vegetation we saw. High above, the rocks were lighter in color, with red and cream just off the nearby pass. The trail traversed the entire area, giving us plenty of time to fully appreciate the landscape.

From the pass above it looking to the west, there were lots of things to see. Marble, Red and Krag Mountains on various ridges to the east, beyond the east ridge above Main Eagle Creek. Wonker Pass and the trail that switch backs up its east side out of Trail Creek were to the west. The Trail Creek drainage was green below.

Getting to the moonscape can happen two ways. The first, from West Eagle via Wonker Pass, was the route we hadn’t managed to complete until my last year “out west,” the first miss due to weather, the second due to fire. When we finally managed it, the proved relatively reasonable. The hike down from Wonker to Trail Creek and then up to the pass just west of the moonscape was work, but not an outrageous amount. We camped on Trail, which split the distance nicely.

The second is from Main Eagle Creek via the Trail Creek Trail, and it worked just fine for that first visit to the moonscape. Plus the hike up on the Trail Creek Trail is lovely, starting with views back toward the Main Eagle drainage and Needle Point, the latter standing guard over Eagle Lake on the southwest. As the trail climbs and the vegetation becomes more sparse, rocks take over as the main interest. First, there’s mixed rock, then a fine area of primarily black and white. Columnar basalt outcrops come next, and a couple of them make a fine foreground to Needle if you stand in the right spot. After that it’s a saddle, the entry into the moonscape.

To continue past the moonscape, the Trail Creek Trail continues down to a junction with the Bench Canyon Trail. Which, once it starts seriously downhill, is steep and nasty. Higher up, it’s pleasant enough with a couple of lakes, Arrow and Heart. The Bench Canyon Trail joins that up Main Eagle about 2 ½ miles from the latter’s trailhead.

Trail Notes: At the pass after the moonscape, the trail goes up to the right, north, before heading down from the pass.

Cached Lake looks like a lake on the maps but was just a swampy wet spot when we passed it. I didn’t recognize it as the lake.

Directions: The Trail Creek Trail intersects with the Main Eagle Creek Trail 5.7 miles from the Main Eagle Trailhead. The Bench Canyon Trail intersects with Main Eagle 2.5 miles from the Main Eagle Trailhead and with the Trail Creek Trail 4.6 miles from that trail’s junction with the Main Eagle Creek Trail.

Information: U.S. Forest Service Wallowa Mountains Visitors Services, Joseph, OR, (541) 426-5546.

Maps: USGS Krag Peak and Bennet Peak, Oregon; Imus Geographics Wallowa Mountains, Eagle Cap Wilderness map.

Connections: You can continue down the Trail Creek Trail past the Bench Canyon intersection into Trail Creek. From there, you can hike up to Wonker Pass, which I have been told is not as bad as it looks, and on down West Eagle Creek or down Trail Creek to the Minam River.