Barlow Road

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The Oregon Trail in Oregon:
Following the mighty Columbia

     The Oregon Trail enters its namesake state northwest of Boise, Idaho, where it threads its way through the northeastern corner of Oregon.  Here pioneers leave the Snake River and head northwest to meet the mighty Columbia River that will lead them west. 
The stretch from the Idaho border to the Columbia River crosses the Blue Mountains, a source of elation for many of the emigrants who had endured many weeks and hundreds of miles of desert heat and parched land. Today’s travelers entering the Blue Mountains are quite likely to experience a feeling similar to that of the pioneers.  At least we certainly did. 
Terrain surrounding the trail in Oregon provided a pleasant change from the plains of Nebraska, and the deserts of Wyoming and Idaho.  Mountains and greenery became the norm as the emigrants rolled northwest toward the Columbia and then west to Oregon City. 
City, site of a marvelous interpretive center devoted to the Oregon Trail, is itself an interesting place to spend part of a day. Once the largest town in Oregon, Baker City served as a supply center both for gold miners and travelers on the Oregon Trail. 
Leaving Baker City and driving northwest through the Blue Mountains toward the Columbia River offers great scenery in addition to relief from the summer heat.  The Columbia River is simply magnificent and one can only wonder how glorious it must have looked before a series of dams were constructed along the river. 
During our own trip, we decided to take a detour from Pendleton, Oregon to Walla Walla, Washington, site of Whitman Mission National Historic Site.  The mission served as a stop for many of the trail’s early immigrants before missionary Marcus and his wife were killed by Indians in 1847. 
Following this short visit to Washington it was back into Oregon and a drive west along the south bank of the mighty Columbia River.  Roads on either side of this magnificent river provide some of the most scenic driving in the United States.  At The Dalles, many pioneers chose to loop south away from the river and head west through the mountains to Oregon City.   The southern route along the Barlow Road had its own issues but was generally considered less dangerous than the water route on the untamed Columbia.  This is the path we took, in part because of our planned return along the river when we headed back east.  The stunning view of snow-covered Mount Hood alone makes this a worthwhile drive. 
After approximately three weeks of driving from Independence, we pulled into Oregon City, Oregon, the trail's terminus.  Here we were met with one of the few disappointments of the trip; the Interpretive Center at the End of the Trail had been closed the previous fall.  Still, we were able to stroll around the grounds that remain open to the public.  The photo at the top of the main page was taken at this location.
Interesting Oregon sites along the Oregon Trail include:

1) National Oregon Trail Interpretive Center - Located east of Baker City, the Bureau of Land Management had built a marvelous facility dedicated to the Oregon Trail.  It includes exhibits, videos, and a path to the trail ruts.  Allot sufficient time for your visit that can easily consume several hours  Wagon ruts are visible at the bottom of the hill on the road from Baker City.  The hill on which the center is located offers a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape. View our video of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.

2) Oregon Trail Interpretive Park at Blue Mountain Crossing - Here visitors are able to walk along a paved path that follows ruts of the trail.  This is an excellent stop as it is lightly visited and the ruts from the wagons are in excellent shape.  Interpretive signs have been placed along the path.  Restrooms are available.  Take Exit 284 off I-84 northwest of the town of La Grande.  View our video of this site.

3) Whitman Mission (Washington) - Marcus Whitman and wife, Narcissa, started a mission at this location in 1836.  The mission, now operated as a national historic site by the National Park Service, includes the original mission site, a visitor center with a small museum, and the grave where the Whitmans are buried.  The mission was a stop for early pioneers headed for Oregon City. 
View our Video of Whitman Mission.

4) Echo Meadows - Excellent Oregon Trail ruts are on Bureau of Land Management property about five miles west of Echo, Oregon.  Echo is a small town west of Pendleton, just off Interstate 84.  Access to the ruts is via a short gravel road that intersects Highway 320.  The BLM provides a half-mile paved walking trail (with occasional benches for today's pioneers) that leads to the ruts.  This is a relaxing stop at which you are likely to encounter few other visitors.  View our video of Oregon Trail ruts near Echo.
5) Deschutes Ruts - Near where the Deschutes River empties into the Columbia is a wonderful set of Oregon Trail ruts descending toward the river.  The ruts are easily accessible from U.S. Highway 30 that parallels the south bank of Columbia River.  Park beside the road and walk the ruts to the top of the hillside for a superb view of the Columbia River Valley.  Video our video of the Oregon Trail as it descends to the Columbia River.
6) Barlow Road - The 1846 opening of the Barlow Road allowed pioneers to skirt south and loop around Mount Hood while they avoided the need to build or rent rafts that would allow them to float down the dangerous Columbia River.  The road heads south, away from the river at The Dalles, and winds through some spectacular country on the trail’s final stretch to Oregon City.  The route was pioneered by Kentuckian Sam Barlow who charged tolls that enraged the emigrants.  Taking this route offers a magnificent view of Mount Hood. View our video of the Barlow Road summit
7) Fort Vancouver – An important British fur-trading post of the Hudson’s Bay Company assisted American emigrants who arrived in the Pacific Northwest.  The fort has been reconstructed by the National Park Service and visitors can enjoy tours of the grounds and buildings.  A visitor center sits on a hill overlooking the fort.  A nominal admission fee is charged.  The fort is located on the north side of the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington.  View our video of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site