Barlow Trail

Riding deep into Oregon history

Overview

Although I wouldn’t expect many of you to similarly geek out over the history of the Barlow Road, this route does its best to follow what’s left of the historical wagon trail around Mount Hood.  Beginning in Dufur, the route travels south through Tygh Valley before heading west, crossing the White River, and joining up with the Barlow proper.   After climbing up the flanks of Mount Hood along the wagon trail, you’ll have the option of descending the now single track Pioneer Bridle Trail, another remnant of a bygone era of wagon travel, before heading over Lolo Pass and looping back around to Dufur.

More highlights of the route include the views from Postage Stamp Butte, exploring several historic cemeteries including the Pioneer Woman’s grave, drinking hard earned beers in Zig Zag, unparallelled views of all four sides of Mt. Hood, and enjoying more beers at Solera Brewing in Parkdale before killing the last long gravel descent back towards Dufur.

At a glance

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DISTANCE (MILES)
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GRAVEL

Map

Details

Route

It took several difficult trips wandering around the south side of Mount Hood before we were finally able to link up as much of the original Barlow Road as possible.  For those unfamiliar with it, the Barlow Road was one of two alternative routes from The Dalles to the Willamette Valley at the tail end of the Oregon Trail.  Unlike the auto-tour version of the route, our version follows the actual wagon trail – or what’s left of it anyways.

While the overall mileage makes this look like a long weekend trip, do not underestimate just how much climbing it involves.  You will basically be climbing or descending the entire time and it can feel pretty brutal after a couple days.  Welcome to riding around Mount Hood! That’s why we recommend doing the route over 4 days instead of 3.

The season for this route does not begin until late-spring or early-summer when the snow clears off the higher elevations.  Except for the intro section out of Dufur through Tygh Valley to the first White River crossing, this route makes a great hot weather option as you are sheltered in the forest most of the time.  There are also repeated opportunities to cool off in the rivers and streams along the way.  The best time to ride this route is generally July, August and into September.  However, the season can extend from May into October.

The only real bummer about this route, and Mount Hood routes in general, is the lack of good gravel options on the north side of the mountain.  Once you hit Lolo Pass Road (mile 81.5) it’s almost all pavement until you start descending back down into Dufur.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful and completely worth it, but for a bikepacking route there is considerably more tarmac than we prefer.  But we know folks love riding around the mountain, so this is the best we can do.  At least there’s a great brewpub in Parkdale to break up the monotony.

We generally ditch a car on the street near the Historic Balch Hotel when doing routes out of Dufur.

Check out the route forum for the most up to date information

Services & Water

Services and water access are a non-issue on this route.  Your biggest decision will be which bars to stop at as you pass through Government Camp, Zig Zag, Parkdale and Cooper Spur.

You will likely want to carry enough real food to get you from Dufur to Zig Zag, which has a real grocery store.  Until then it’s all convenience store food.  There is another grocery store in Parkdale.  This simplifies planning and packing considerably.

You can expect the following services along the route, though we suggest double checking your options before you leave for your trip:

  • Mile 0 – Dufur: Small grocery store with very limited options
  • Mile 17.2 – Tygh Valley: convenience store
  • Mile 68.0-ish – Government Camp: several bars, restaurants and convenience stores.  This is off route and requires a mile+ detour each way.
  • Mile 81.5 – Zig Zag: Several bars and restaurants and grocery store (grocery store requires a one mile each way out-and-back)
  • Mile 119.8 – Parkdale: Grocery store, bbq, ice cream joint, Solera Brewing.
  • Mile 128.4 – Cooper Spur: bar

There are creeks, springs and rivers all along the route, so we won’t bother to point out specific water access points.  However, be warned that in summer the White River becomes undrinkable without a true pump-style filter.  The river gets its name from the glacial silt coming off the White Glacier high on the mountain, turning the river into the equivalent of skim milk.  There are other water sources in this area, so just keep that in mind when deciding to fill up.

Cell service is available on-and-off along the route, depending on your carrier.  Typically you can expect good cell service in the towns with spotty service in between.

Camping

Once you enter the Mt. Hood National Forest at roughly mile 41.5, camping options are plenty.  The only two viable camping options before then are the White River Wildlife Area and camping at the BLM campground at the White River crossing at mile 36.4.  Camping in the White River Wildlife Area would mean dry camping.  However, you could climb Postage Stamp Butte and camp at the top where the old fire lookout tower use to be.  The views are amazing.  As this is only a few miles into the route, we wouldn’t expect many riders to choose use this option.  The BLM campground at the White River crossing is a great option, although it can get pretty busy on nice weekends and water can be an issue (see above).

Whether you’re into bush camping or not, we recommend consulting the Mt. Hood National Forest Map and the Benchmark Oregon Road & Recreation Atlas.  There are numerous campgrounds along the route for whatever pace you end up riding.

The only campground on the whole mountain we specifically suggest avoiding is the McNeil Campground off Lolo Pass Road.  There is no water, it’s far off the Sandy River and it’s generally a piece of shit.  I can’t believe people pay to camp there. If you find yourself in this area looking to camp, there are good bush camping options along the Sandy River about a half mile before this campground just before crossing the bridge over the Sandy River.  Note: these spots are slightly off route and marked on the GPS tracks.

Navigation

We recommend using a GPS, the Mt. Hood National Forest Map and the Benchmark Oregon Road & Recreation Atlas.  The Benchmark map is handy for the far eastern sections of the route, but not particularly useful for the rest.  You will definitely want the national forest map for the remainder of the route.

While you could theoretically ride this route without a GPS, the Barlow Road section is extremely difficult to follow (miles 42-63).  It took us several trips before we were able to piece it all together, so we expect most folks will have a difficult time navigating this section without a GPS.

Bike & Tire Selection

Despite all the pavement, we still recommend the usual rigid 29er (or similar) with ~2” tires with some tread.  The rougher sections of the route demand it, though it will admittedly be less than ideal on the long paved sections.

Route Alternatives

There are countless minor variations you can make to our suggested route to put your own stamp on your ride.  We only suggest a few major alternatives and leave the rest up to you, including possibly extending the route to/from Portland, Hood River, or The Dalles.

The best option for changing up this route would be combining parts of it with parts of our other Mt. Hood route, Gunsight Ridge.  Both routes share most of the Barlow Road section (miles 42-63), so it would be pretty easy to do.  This would increase your dirt, possibly reduce your mileage, and increase your opportunities for single-track options if that floats your boat.

There is another historical wagon trail on the route, the Pioneer Bridle Trail, The trail is now mostly single track and can make for a sweet, long descent down to Zig Zag if you’re into shredding historical wagon trails.   Riding single track on a loaded bikepacking rig may be beyond some folks’ technical abilities, so take heed.  This replaces the Still Creek descent.  The full route can be found here.

The last alternative we suggest is riding a different route through the White River Wildlife Area down to Tygh Valley.  If you’ve ridden the Oregon Stampede route, you’ll be familiar with it.  There are several creeks and camping options, but you’ll miss the amazing views from Postage Stamp Butte.

Highlights, History & Other Resources

If you’re into the historical attractions this route provides, we suggest at a minimum reading the Wikipedia entries for the Oregon Trail, the Barlow Road, and Lolo Pass, which will direct you towards additional resources, book suggestions, etc.

As a minor warning, the descent down from Postage Stamp Butte is long, steep and ends at an 8’ fence with an unlocked gate.  Once you exit this gate you are on private property.  Per the sign, you can legally pass through this area as long as you stay on the road that twists down to the main highway.  You may have to hop the cattle fence once you get to the pavement.