Gunsight Ridge

Mount Hood at its finest

Overview

While this route lacks the panache of a full circumnavigation of Mount Hood, it more than makes up for it by linking together all the best dirt near the mountain. Beginning in The Dalles, you’ll ride through the least visited portion of the White River Wildlife Area before joining up with the original Barlow Road as you climb up the mountain towards Bennett Pass. From there you’ll get to ride Gunsight Ridge with several optional single track sections before a stellar 25 mile, 4,300 foot descent back into The Dalles.

Other highlights include jumping in the Rock Creek Reservoir, catching lake trout on the hard-to-find Jean Lake, and the views of Mt. Hood from the top of the Flag Point Lookout.

At a glance

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DISTANCE (MILES)
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ELEVATION GAIN (FT)
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RECOMMENDED DAYS
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GRAVEL

Map

Details

Route

Any time you aggregate all the best roads in a particular area, the overall route ends up looking somewhat convoluted on a map.  However, what this loop lacks in style, it more than makes up for in substance – this is our favorite bikepacking route near Portland.

As with all routes near Mt. Hood, the climbing can be a grind after a couple days.  That’s part of the reason we suggest doing this route over 4 days instead of 3; riding 40-50 miles a day on this kind of terrain is a lot, trust us.  Plus this will give you plenty of time to get some practice with your new ultra-lightweight Tenkara rod at the Rock Creek Reservoir and Jean Lake.

Although this route only overlaps slightly with our Barlow Trail route, many of the same considerations apply. For example, the seasons overlap entirely – neither route comes into shape until late-spring or early-summer when the snow clears off the higher elevations.  And except for the intro section out of The Dalles through Dufur, this route also makes a good hot weather trip as you are sheltered in the forest most of the time.  Similarly, there are repeated opportunities to cool off in the numerous creeks, rivers and lakes.  The best time to do this route is generally July, August and into September.  However, the season can extend from May into October.

We prefer riding this route clockwise in part because it breaks up the climbing, but also because of the Barlow Road portion of the route (miles 70-91).  This section is remote and difficult to navigate (see below).  It’s considerably easier to navigate riding slowly uphill than speeding downhill.

We begin the GPS tracks at a public parking area in downtown The Dalles.  Presumably you can park here overnight for a few days, but always double check whether this is still legal.

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

Services & Water

Services are very limited. You’ll be able to fully stock up in The Dalles at the start of your ride, but your only other option along the route is the very small grocery store in Dufur at mile 30.

There are some off-route options for restocking if necessary. However, the available alternatives are limited enough that we don’t believe any are worth the added effort (Tygh Valley, Pine Hollow, Wamic, Government Camp). Instead, use this low commitment route to gain experience for doing longer, more remote routes that can require carrying 4 or more days of food at a time, like our Hart-Sheldon Hot Springs route.

There is potable water at the Rock Creek Campground and in Dufur. Otherwise you will be relying on natural sources for all of your water. Generally speaking there are creeks, springs and rivers at reasonable intervals, so we won’t bother to point out specific water access points.  The only exception to this is the last 35 miles of the route. We suggest taking whatever you need to finish up your trip from the creek at the Fifteen Mile Campground. Beyond that water sources are limited to non-existent (one possibility may be the Knebal Springs Campground where you may be able to poach spring water from the horse trough).

One warning on water availability: in the summer months 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 alternative water sources in this area, so just keep that in mind when deciding when 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

There is a constant supply of camping options along the route, especially if you are into bush camping.  We recommend consulting the Mt. Hood National Forest Map and the Benchmark Oregon Road & Recreation Atlas to find established campgrounds.  Beyond that, National Forest rules allow you to pretty much camp anywhere you want absent a sign indicating otherwise.

We highly recommend one particular campsite on the route – the primitive site on Jean Lake.  The site is technically in the Badger Creek Wilderness, so bikes are not allowed. However, the trail is blocked by enough deadfall that you’d be carrying your bike anyways, so ditch the bike in the woods and hike the 0.3 mile trail down to the lake.  The unmarked trailhead off Gunsight Ridge (FS 3550) is difficult to find, so keep a close eye on your map or GPS as you get close.  There is one primo spot overlooking the lake.  There are less desirable spots nearby, but the lake is the real draw, so it really doesn’t matter where you pitch your tent.

Fifteen Mile Campground is the last good camping option. There are a couple more established campgrounds past this, but we are not certain of reliable water access.

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 70 to 91).  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.  The White River Wildlife Area may also be difficult for some folks to follow.  The road has long been abandoned and in some cases is considerably overgrown.

Bike & Tire Selection

We strongly recommend our standard rig – a rigid 29er (or similar) with ~2” tires with some tread.  This route has enough rough sections that I wouldn’t bother trying to ride this on anything skinnier.

Route Alternatives

There are countless alternatives if you want to mix things up.  We’ll leave most of them up to you beyond suggesting the following options:

  • Gunsight Ridge is amazing – it has a high alpine feel unlike anywhere else around the mountain, reminiscent of Colorado or Montana.  There are various options along the ridge road (FS 3550) to jump onto single track.  We’ll leave the research for this up to you, as many of you won’t be into riding single track on your loaded bikepacking rigs.  But it’s there, and it’s pretty special.
  • If you’re really into riding single track, we suggest skipping the Flag Point Lookout and riding some or all of Surveyors Ridge.  This may require climbing back up to reconnect with the original route, or you could possibly ride to Hood River and loop the route back around to The Dalles.
  • There are numerous other single track opportunities in the Gunsight Ridge/Surveryors Ridge area.   We can’t comment on their suitability for riding with full bikepacking loads, but we wanted to at least clue you in to the possibility.

Highlights, History & Other Resources

We geeked out on the Barlow Road in our other dedicated route, so we won’t mention much about it here even though this route also includes a section of the original wagon trail.  For those unfamiliar with its history, original Barlow Road wagon trail was one of two alternative ways around Mount Hood at the tail end of the Oregon Trail.  You can read a bit more about it here.