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National Park Road Trip 2010: The Barlow Road


As they neared their goal -- western Oregon -- emigrants on the Oregon Trail got a great view of Mount Hood. But they also would have to pay a toll to continue on the Barlow Road. Photos by David and Kay Scott.

Editor's note: David and Kay Scott this summer are living what many of us wish we could do: They're following a meandering path across the country to visit units of the National Park System. This installment of their trek comes from the end of the Oregon National Historic Trail in Oregon.

Greetings from Oregon City, the western terminus of the Oregon Trail. This is the promised land for hundreds of thousands of pioneers who set out from Independence and St. Joseph, Missouri.

It is estimated that about 90 percent of the pioneers who departed Missouri survived to make it to their destination in the fertile Willamette Valley of the Oregon Territory. Fortunately, we are in the 90 percent category. On average, the emigrants traveled just over 2,000 miles through storms, dust, disease, and a variety of other hardships.

Our arrival at trail's end allows us to visit Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, where a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post became an important stop for many emigrants on the Oregon Trail. The fort is north of Oregon City and was on the trail for those pioneers who chose the Columbia River route from The Dalles. It was north of the trail for emigrants who chose to avoid the Columbia by taking the Barlow Road. Completion of the Barlow Road in 1845 resulted in fewer and fewer emigrants stopping by the fort.

We arrived in Oregon City via the Barlow Road, a route that took wagons south from the Columbia River at The Dalles. The road then turned west and rounded majestic Mount Hood. Then it was pretty much a straight shot west to Oregon City.

The road was blazed in 1845 by a Kentuckian, Sam Barlow, who refused to pay the asking price to continue on the Columbia River. However, once Sam cut his way through the timber around Mount Hood, he decided to establish a toll system on his new road.

We chose the Barlow Road for several reason, not the least of which is that we will be returning east along the Columbia River as we follow the Lewis & Clark Historic Trail back to St. Louis. In addition, the easterly wind through the Columbia River valley was extremely strong and it wasn't much fun driving along the river. Perhaps things will be better when the wind should be behind us rather than against us.

Following our last note from The Dalles, we followed the Barlow Road while skirting the south shoulder of Mount Hood. The drive is quite beautiful and it was nice to gain some altitude and encounter real trees.

We located a nice U.S. Forest Service campground just west of the small town of Wamic. There were few campers (it was Monday) and a small lake bordered the north side of the campground. Plenty of firewood was across the road and, amazingly, few insects were searching for a human sacrifice. The only nearby campers were a rancher from north of Havre, Montana, and his granddaughter. They were on a bonding road trip and had been staying in motels but decided to stop at Wal-Mart and buy a tent and two sleeping bags.

Following a restful and very cool night (one wool blanket, one heavy quilt, and one sleeping bag), we built a morning fire before heading off to Oregon City via the Barlow Road. The next note will report on Fort Vancouver and our experience at the end of the Oregon Trail.

David and Kay Scott are regular contributors to the Traveler. Their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges was first published by the Globe Pequot Press in 1997 and is now in its sixth edition.

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This post is a great blend of historical "back story" and contemporary travel tips. Travelers looking for a cycling day that covers part of your route might want to check out this video on cycling the Oregon Trail / Barlow Road. Cheers!

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