The Barlow Road at the End of the Oregon Trail

In the early 1840s the first emigrants to Oregon sailed up the Missouri River from St Louis to what are now various suburbs of Kansas City and from there set off on foot, horseback or wagons on a two thousand mile journey through the present states of Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon until they got as far as the Dalles on the Columbia River. And then they were stumped. They ran out of trail for their wagons. So they built rafts and floated down the river to the British trading post called Fort Vancouver and from there they ended their long voyage with a short trip down the Willamette River to the Willamette Valley. It was a dangerous undertaking and many people drowned. Then Sam Barlow came to the rescue and built a wagon road from The Dalles in 1845-46 that stretched close to a hundred miles around the south side of Mt Hood and finally ended in what is now Oregon City in the Willamette Valley about 20 miles south of Portland.

The Barlow Road started at the Dalles on the Columbia River, wound around the south side of Mt Hood and finally ended in the Willamette Valley just south of present-day Portland.

Click on any photo to see a larger version of that photo.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Lewis and Clark bus tour we took when we attended the Oregon-California Trails Association (OCTA) convention in Vancouver, WA in 2004 (see here). This tour went west to Cape Disappointment on the north side (Washington) of the mouth of the Columbia River and to Fort Clatsop on the south side (Oregon). There was another bus tour that explored the area east of Vancouver and included The Barlow Road, the final stretch of the original Oregon Trail. OCTA members call themselves “rutnuts” and they like to walk along the ruts and swales of the original trail. And so we signed up for this tour, too.

Multnomah Falls, one of Oregon’s most scenic spots.

Our drive took us eastward along the Columbia River for about 100 miles passing through the Columbia River Gorge where the river bisects the great range of volcanoes called the Cascade Range that begins in Canada and then goes down the middle of Washington and Oregon pretty much in a straight line. The range finally ends with Mount Lassen as the last volcano before the range meets the Sierra Nevada in California.

Shortly after stopping to visit Multnomah Falls we turned south to pick up the Barlow Road halfway up Mount Hood where we walked for awhile and then rode west to the End of the Trail in Oregon City.

OCTA members listen to tour guide Jim Tompkins talk about the Barlow Road. Jim is a former president of the Northwest Chapter of OCTA and an expert on the Barlow Road.

OCTA rutnuts walking a portion of the Barlow Road.

Sam Barlow’s wagon road stretched for about 100 miles from the Dalles to present-day Oregon City.

DAR memorial for an unknown Oregon Trail pioneer who died on the Barlow Road.

Grave site for the unknown pioneer woman.

View of Mt Jefferson from the south side of Mt Hood. Lewis and Clark named the mountain after their boss, the third president of the United States, who sent them on their historic journey.

The Barlow Road winds around the south side of Mt Hood. This spot is less than a mile from Timberline Lodge.

OCTA plaque honoring the End of the Oregon Trail. George Abernethy was elected Provisional Governor of the Oregon Country in 1845 and served in that capacity until 1848 when Oregon became an official territory of the United States.

Our tour included a visit to the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Oregon City.

About 20% of the original Barlow Road still exists but there is no longer any vehicular traffic. Cars and trucks today travel on the Mt Hood Highway (US highways 26 and 35).

Our tour ended with a 20-mile drive up I-205 from Oregon City to Portland and then across the Columbia and back to Vancouver.



About crowcanyonjournal

I am a family man with interests in family history, photography, history and travel.
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6 Responses to The Barlow Road at the End of the Oregon Trail

  1. disperser says:

    The Multnomah Falls setting reminds me a lot of similar falls on Mt. Rainer, but when I went back to look at my photos, I can’t find one like it. Old age be nice, no?

    Anyway, nice set of photos. We did hit many of the L&C sites when we visited in 2004.

  2. Peter Klopp says:

    As always beautiful scenery! I sometimes wonder if with all the hardships the early pioneers and explorers had to endure they were able to take the time to marvel at the grandeur of nature all around them.

  3. Well, we know from those who kept journals that they did take the time and they also came up with creative names for the landmarks they encountered. Lewis and Clark knew about the mountains that were named by Vancouver or his lieutenant a few years before but when they passed by Mt Adams they thought it was Mt St Helens and then when they passed Mt St Helens that thought it was Mt Rainier! So they didn’t always know what exactly they were looking at.

  4. What gorgeous views! What did you think of the bus tour?

  5. StillWalks says:

    This looks like a fantastic trail – could I be a “rutnut” too someday? That would be cool 😉

  6. rezinate says:

    Great photo of Multnomah – a few years ago prior to my domestication I spent a
    lot of time hiking and backpacking through mountains and wilderness from the
    Dakotas to Oregon and Washington and into B.C. and along the Peace River in

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