Excuse the lack of clarity in the photos and the videos; they were all taken with an iPhone 6 mounted to my windshield. The road was very bumpy and your looking through the very dirty windshield .
I was asked by my son to join him and 3 other friends to traverse the Barlow Trail on Labor Day weekend. I use the term Barlow Trail and Barlow Road interchangeably as the non-paved portion of this route is considered a trail on forest service roads.
What is the Barlow Road? Originally named the Mount Hood Highway this historic road/trail was the last segment of the Oregon Trail over the Cascades from Missouri. The opening of the Barlow Road in 1846, as a toll road, allowed wagons to pass over the landscape that was both rough and steep. This ended up being the most harrowing 100 miles (160 km) of the 2,170-mile (3,490 km) Oregon Trail between Missouri and the Wilmette Valley in what was then the Oregon Territory. The original overland portion of the Oregon Trail ended in The Dalles, Oregon.
The Cascade Range of mountains west of The Dalles at Mount Hood proved to be an insurmountable obstacle to early wagon trains. Surviving the journey from Missouri the settlers found The Dalles crowded by others awaiting the expensive and dangerous passage down the Columbia River. Barge operators floated the wagons down the river, the settlors walked along the banks of the river or drove their livestock over the high-elevation Lolo Pass of the Cascades. This was the only way to complete the journey until 1846 when Sam Barlow was authorized in December 1845 by the Provisional Legislature of Oregon to build a road. The road proved popular with more than a thousand immigrants and 145 wagons using it in the first year of operation. Only about twenty percent of the old Barlow Road is still visible today, the rest being covered over by paved roads and highways.
This segment of the Barlow Road, now known as Barlow Trail (NF-3530), is open to 4x4ers, bicyclists, hikers, and those with an adventurous spirit.
Leaving early in the morning to rendezvous with the others at a roadside rest area by Mount Hood in Oregon my son and I arrived a little late, the others were waiting as we fueled up for the 32-mile overnight off-road adventure.
Heading east along Highway 26 to Highway 35 we turned off on a dirt side road to find the entrance to the Barlow Trial. Before continuing we all stopped and aired down our tires for better traction and to give us a more comfortable ride on the dirt forest service road. Our speed would not be more than 20 miles an hour although more often than not at a 5-10 miles per hour.
Turning left onto the road we stopped about 2-3 miles along under the trees for lunch. Sandwiches and snacks made, eaten and enjoyed we continued on.
At about 8 miles into the adventure we came to a bridge across a small river that was closed due to flood damage from a few years ago. Hikers and bicycles are allowed to cross but no vehicles are allowed. We went into the campground just before the closure to see if there was a way around or if we should just call it an early day and stop for the night. There is a way across the river but it is an illegal crossing and shouldn’t be used. As per Trails Off Road: “While there was once a crossing ….. the Motor Vehicle Use Map shows the crossing as being closed and all indications on the ground are that it is intended to be permanently closed. Further, the crossing itself is in a wilderness area. However, some 4x4ers still attempt the crossing illegally, damaging important natural resources in the process ………… Do not under any circumstances attempt the crossing. For those wanting to access the Keeps Mill Campground on the south side of White River, there are well-maintained roads coming from the south. Remember it is everyone’s responsibility to Stay on the Trail and Tread Lightly to protect our natural resources and help preserve access to our shared 4×4 trail system.” At the time we did not know this information but we all came to the conclusion this was probably an illegal crossing and we shouldn’t cross.
Deciding it was still too early we retraced our tracks then headed east on Highway 35 until we could reconnect with the trail on the opposite bank of the river.
Back on the trail we found a side trail that cut off to the north along the creek we had been paralleling. We drove in about a mile and found a beautiful creek side camping area to enjoy our evening. Fires were not permitted due to the high fire danger that the entire west was having so we sat around a legal propane fire pit one of the guys brought for a nice evening under the stars and a pretend fire. We all headed to bed rather early, bunch of old farts, and enjoyed listening to the stream splashing by us all night long.
After a great nights rest we got up for breakfast. Having eaten and picked up my camp I looked around the area and noticed some large cat prints in the sand down by the creek just 20 yards from camp. A mountain lion had been down to the water sometime during the night as we all were asleep to have a drink. They were relatively fresh in the sandy mud and in the water so it must have come down early this morning before we got up. My son got a little nervous at that point as his 3-year-old son with us. The rest of the time we were there as he ran around camp, the forest and creek side there was one of the 5 of us keeping our eyes open and not letting him wander to far from us.
Continuing on after breakfast we still had a fair ways to travel.
Upon completion of the trail a little after 1 PM and stopped at The Sportsman Bar and Grill in Wamic, OR for some nice big burgers before we all headed home our separate ways.
Heading north my son and I caught Interstate 84 at The Dalles and drove along the Columbia River until we crossed back into Washington on the Interstate 205 bridge. Arriving home right around 5 PM I unpacked the perishable foods from the cooler, showered and just rested until retiring for an early bedtime.
What a great time was had by all, it was great to finally meet this group of guys my son talks so highly about. I cannot wait to share some more adventures with them.