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Barlow Trail begins at the edge of the prairies and oak scrublands of Central Oregon before heading into a dense forest of Ponderosa Pines. The pine trees give way to Douglas Firs, Western Larch, and other alpine species of fir, alders, and even a few aspen trees before reaching Barlow Pass on the crest of the Cascades. Anyone who played Oregon Trail or Oregon Trail 2 (popular educational video games in the late 80s and 90s) in grade school remembers the Barlow Road route to Oregon City and the promised land of the Willamette Valley. When the pioneers came to The Dalles, they either chose the water route down the rapids of the Columbia River long before the dams were built, or they turned south along the eastern flank of the Cascades to head over the mountains on the Barlow Road. Avid players of the Oregon Trail games most certainly remember the perils of going down the rapids where many lives were lost over the period of mass migration along the Oregon Trail. The Barlow Road route was not without its perils, especially early in the fall when snow storms could move in with little warning, covering the pass in a thick blanket of cold, wet snow. Many pioneers found it to be the most difficult 100-mile stretch of trail from Nebraska to Oregon. Construction of the Barlow Road was authorized in December 1845 by the Provisional Legislature of Oregon. Sam Barlow, who had scouted the route with a party of several wagons earlier in 1845, got to work in the spring of 1846 clearing timber and building the first crude track through the dense old-growth forests on the southern flanks of Mount Hood. Sam Barlow and his business partners only operated the toll road for two years before the toll concession passed into a succession of other hands. Today the segment of the Barlow Road between the eastern edge of the forests and Barlow Pass is now known as Barlow Trail (NF-3530) and is open to 4x4ers, overlanders, and those with an adventurous spirit.
Barlow Trail has sections of smooth, hard-packed dirt, sections of deep ruts and mud, segments of dense foliage and underbrush that come close enough to kiss both sides of a full-sized vehicle, and mildly rocky stretches that can be a fun but reasonable challenge for stock vehicles. During the late fall or the early spring, a modern-day pioneer may get to experience what life on the trail was like during sudden snow storms in the 1860s. While oxen and mules have been replaced with petrol and diesel engines, bringing a horseless carriage through the snow on a real segment of the Oregon Trail is an interesting and sometimes challenging experience. Traveling on the Barlow Trail feels like stepping back in time to the days of the pioneers, but travelers are never far from the paved Barlow Road (NF-48). Many gravel and paved roads intersect Barlow Trail. Heading north or east on many of them will bring you to NF-48 in a couple of miles. Note that the paved NF-48 is referred to on modern maps as Barlow Road, while the dirt 4x4 trail described here is referred to as Barlow Trail or NF-3530. Barlow Trail is one of the main wagon routes up the canyons to Barlow Pass at the crest of the Cascades that the pioneers once followed. While there are some other forest roads in the area that were once sections of the old wagon routes up to the pass, Barlow Trail as described here is the only one that stays on dirt and that connects all the way through. Barlow Trail is closed from December 15th to April 1st every year. The gates occasionally close early due to early fall snow in order to allow cross-country skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts access to the trail unhindered by motor vehicles. The upper segments of the trail are gated off during this period, although the lower segments are not. However, the entire length of the trail is closed per the Motor Vehicle Use Map.
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