Replica of Barlow road toll gate with one of the original big leaf maple trees planted in the 1880s east of Rhododendron.

Experience The Oregon Trail Without Getting Dysentery

Lizzie Keenan | 08/23/2017 | Arts & Heritage, Heritage


The great migration along the Oregon Trail began in 1843, one of history’s most arduous journeys. Thousands of families made their way across the US in search of the promise land. However, once they hit The Dalles they were faced with the fear of having to raft and portage down the risky rumbling Columbia River to get to their destination: the Willamette Valley.

In 1845, Samuel K. Barlow and his family arrived in The Dalles without enough money to afford the already precarious river passage, nor the ability to take their stock with them on the river. Barlow knew there was a better way. “God never made a mountain that had no place to go over it or around it,” he proclaimed.  

Thus, the Barlow family led a 30 wagon caravan south of The Dalles, turning southwest at Tygh Valley, and then west, forging an overland trail up and over Barlow Pass (4,155 ft) on Mt. Hood.  Joining forces with Philip Foster, the two men led the construction of this historic passage through the wilderness in the spring of 1846, with only hand axes and saws.

Today, the remains of the ruts, known as swales, formed by the Barlow Road can still be seen throughout the Mt. Hood National Forest. Visit and learn about some of the pioneer’s harrowing stories at sites like Pioneer Woman’s Grave, Summit Meadow, a replica of the Tollgate where pioneer wagons had to pay for access to the Barlow Road, and the most difficult descent on the entire Oregon Trail, the 60% grade Laurel Hill.  

Looking for other ways to experience the Oregon Trail? Don’t miss a visit to Philip Foster Farm where they feature a hands-on experience of what life was like for the pioneers who forged one of Oregon’s most historic routes. Or experience part of the Barlow Road by bike. Ride along the 8 miles of Pioneer Bridle Trail from Government Camp to Rhododendron, ending at the Tollgate wayside.


Lizzie Keenan has the lucky job of promoting Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge region of Oregon everyday. When not at work, she enjoys doing yoga with alpacas, taking selfies with llamas, and eating avocados. 

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